Saturday, 12 October 2013

Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve

Shortly before semester started, I organised a weekend away to Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, a place I had heard many good things about which, despite the fact it was easily accessible from Mzuzu, I had yet to visit. Vwaza is managed by the Nyika-Vwaza trust, and has an open border with North Luwanga in Zambia which means that the animals freely move between the parks. In comparison to most other parks in Africa, Vwaza is small, a mere 900sq kilometers and is dwarfed by it's neighbour Nyika. However, being so compact makes for great wildlife viewing and a highly accessible park, just 40km from the nearest town of Rumphi. And so I decided to organise a trip there for anyone who was interested.

On the Saturday morning Sarah, Sanja and I set out from Mzuzu on a minibus to Rumphi (MK1600). We were keeping the trip as budget as possible, so Sarah had made her delicious veg chilli to bring with us for dinner that night. And I was tasked with breakfast. Once we arrived in Rumphi, I bought eggs, milk and bread. Then we started looking for transport to the park gate. We were approached by a minibus driver, however we looked at the minbus to find it completely empty. Now a tip about minibuses in Malawi, they will not leave the depot until they are full. Not full as in all the seats are taken but full as in 25 people in a 12 seater minibus. So an empty minibus could take hours to leave! After much negotiation with a local taxi driver, we got him to bring us to the camp AND collect us on the Sunday afternoon for the same price most were quoting just to take us there (MK18,000). So after about an hour on the dirt road we reached the park where, once again, I negotiated resident's rates (although in fairness they have a rate for "Non-Malawian residents".)

Our chalet
A short 5 min walk from the gate brings you to Kazuni camp, overlooking Lake Kazuni, home to hundreds of hippos who punctuated our stay with their constant grunting. Having brought tents and blankets (it gets cold here in winter), we found out that when there are 3 people, it works out cheaper to have a chalet. A chalet is MK6,600 with a double bed and a single, while camping is MK 2,750 per person. So we perched ourselves on our porch to have lunch while watching the hippos sun themselves about 20m from where we sat. Unfortunately as we had traveled here without our own car, we could not go on a game drive but the view of hippos, warthogs, baboons and impalas from our porch was more than enough for a few hours. That afternoon Sarah took an afternoon game walk (Sanja and I decided to wait for our morning one, 3 hours for $10). When she arrived back we had a few cheeky sundowners while watching the sun set over Lake Kazuni.
Girl's trip to Vwaza

After our delicious chilli and sweet potatoes we headed back to the chalet for a few more drinks. At about 7pm we were rewarded with the sight of 4 big bull elephants making their way slowly through the campsite. It was amazing. The elephants were framed by the trees, moon glistening on the lake behind them as they walked, no more than 10m from where we were sitting. We sat in silence and watched these amazing animals make their way through the camp before exclaiming like little children once they were out of view.

Sunrise before our game drive

The next morning we got up for our 7am game walk. Our guide (who had a big ass gun) was able to tell that the elephants who had walked through the camp the night before were male by their foot prints (to do with the amount of cracks on their feet). We walked past the hippo run, the path worn into the ground, surrounded by broken shrubbery. The hippos use the same path into and out of the water and you are not supposed to get between one and the water.And looking at the size of some of them, I reckon the sight of a hippo charging towards you would be enough to elicit some bowel movements. As we walked into the bush, my imagination ran wild. In my head, every branch that cracked under foot was a lion stalking us, any loud noise was an elephant about to charge. This was not helped by the fact that when we asked our guide when he last used his gun, his response "Not too long" and proceeded to tell us about a time when an elephant picked up a Norwegian tourist and THREW him. Luckily the guy was a gymnast and wasn't very badly hurt. However, the guide first shot the elephants leg, but he kept coming and eventually he had to shoot in the brain. The elephant stumbled off into the distance and was not seen again. Needless to say, I hoped we would have no use for the gun!

After three hours we had wandered through the beautiful reserve spotting many impalas and bushbucks, hearing the hippos constantly, spotting elephant and hippo tracks and dung! I look forward to going back to Vwaza, ideally with a car to go on game drives, hopefully to spot more elephants and ideally a lion! Who knows  but I did love sitting, watching the hippos, reading my book and generally enjoying the silence and break from city life.


The beautiful Lake Kazuni