the big 5 (majete wildlife reserve, malawi) by karen kranenburg

In recent year’s superstar Madonna’s Raising Malawi campaign has brought this little known East African nation to the world’s attention.  What once was one of Africa’s sleepy hidden treasures, is now on the radar of the traveling public looking for a safari destination with a difference.  

Apart from being home to Lake Malawi, the world’s eighth largest fresh water lake, the geographic diversity of Malawi is impressive; from the towering peaks and mist-covered forests in the deep south to the ethereal beauty of the Nyika Plateau and the rolling grasslands in the north.  

With such extraordinary lures, it was becoming increasingly hard to ignore the magnetic call of Malawi, so after a trip to Lesotho in 2018, I decided to “hop” across to see if all the hype was justified.  I chose the Mkulumadzi Lodge (Robin Pope Safaris) in the Majete Wildlife Reserve as my watering hole for 5 days, quite appropriately as the lodge sits on a 70,000 acre concession at the confluence of two rivers.  The journey began with a 4 hr flight from Maseru to Blantyre followed by 1hr drive to Majete.  The highlight of the journey is its final part, the precarious 100ft wooden swing-bridge, which is about 60ft above the rocky Mkulumadzi river bed below. You must cross this bridge on average at least twice a day as it is the only way in and out of the lodge, which is perched on an escarpment with spectacular views of the Shire River. Mkulumadzi is a collection of shabby chic, tastefully decorated bush chalets shaded by expansive Leadwood trees, amongst which wildlife roam freely.

This is a place where peace and tranquility reign supreme without interruption; there is no 4G  or Wi-Fi here.  Apart from the traditional game drives, you can also explore the reserve on foot and by boat or relax in the lodge’s swimming pool.  Mouthwatering meals are also on offer, and if all of that isn’t enough, you can go one step further for an interstellar journey of a lifetime, and sleep under the stars on the “star deck”; with no ambient light, you are able to see mother nature twinkle in all her absolute glory.

Undiscovered Majete is a true wilderness, there are no hordes of tourists in safari jeeps, vying for the best possible vista.   Every trip into the bush with their experienced guides feels like a private adventure.  My mother always used to tell me “good things come to those who wait”…. and I certainly truly understood what she meant here on more than one occasion, sitting in a Hide by a watering hole, my patience was justly rewarded one day with a gang of buffalo and another day with several herds of elephants and zebras communing together, not to mention the odd kudu, impala, warthog and monkey dropping by for a curious peek.

But it wasn’t always like this, decades of poaching had seen the reserve’s wildlife completely eradicated by the 1990s. What we see today is a true tale of a park rising from the ashes—a model of sustainable development and biodiversity. Majete is one of the outstanding success stories of African conservation.  In the last 17 years African Parks has transformed it into a productive and flourishing haven for Africa’s most iconic wildlife, making it Malawi’s only Big Five destination.

So if you are looking to go off the beaten path for an experience of a lifetime..  pack your pith helmet and safari boots.. Malawi is calling you.

Better known to her friends as the Global Nomad, Karen Kranenburg has traveled to over 94 countries; from scaling the heady heights of Mount Everest to diving with sharks in Borneo… Her travel stories have been published in numerous magazines and newspapers around the world. For more photos of Malawi and other inspirational destinations from her global travels, check her out on Instagram @karenkranenburg