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Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve/Malawi

Introducing Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve

This 1000-sq-km reserve is not on the mainstream tourist track, but with its compact size and plentiful buffalo, elephant and hippo population, this is a park that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The park ranges in appearance from large flat areas of mopane woodland to open swamp and wetlands. The Luwewe River runs through the reserve (draining the marshland) and joins the South Rukuru River (the reserve’s southern border), which flows into Lake Kazuni. It joins the Zambian Luangwa ecosystem to the west.

A good network of driveable tracks in the reserve is easily explored in a 4WD or high-clearance vehicle; if you’re in a 2WD, ask at Kazuni Camp for advice on the condition of the tracks. The best driving route is along the southern edge of the reserve, parallel to the river, heading to Zoro Pools. A better way to witness wildlife is on foot – either around Lake Kazuni or on a longer wilderness trail – but you must be accompanied by a guide.

Like many of Malawi’s parks, poachers have hit Vwaza. As well as a plethora of antelope – puku, impala, roan and kudu, to name a few – there are around 2000 buffaloes and 300 elephants; it’s not unusual to see herds of 30 or 40 of them. Vwaza’s birdwatching is also excellent. There are some 300 species present here and this is one of the best places in Malawi to see waders, including storks and herons. There are few predators here but occasionally lions and leopards are spotted, as are wild dogs that sometimes pass through from Zambia.

In fact, just sitting around Vwaza’s main camp will bring plenty of animal sightings, for it looks over Lake Kazuni (which is inhabited by more than 500 hippos), and on most days you’ll see crocodiles lying out in the sun, hippos popping their heads out of the water and a steady parade of animals coming down to the lake to drink.

The best time of year to visit is in the dry season; just after the rainy season, the grass is high and you might go away without seeing anything. There are whispers that the excellent Barefooot Safaris may tender to run the concession here, which will be good news for travellers looking for more security and comfort. The park costs US$10 entry fee per person and US$3 per vehicle.