Written by CHARLES MKULA
LIWONDE--Moths danced around and bounced on the security lights while other insects whined around the heads of guests who sat on the neatly trimmed lawn enjoying a whiff of the cool evening breeze coming from the river where colonies of hippopotamus howled at a distance under a not so brilliant moonlight.
In the restaurant, a group of budget travellers with huge appetites savoured celebrated Chambo fish dishes which they washed down with beer and cocktails.
From the darkness behind, a man appeared carrying a rifle on his shoulder. He was accompanied by three men carrying relatively long sticks. They sauntered to the edge of the river where an uninhabited engine-boat waited.
Billy Mphande, owner of the river side real estate, now branded Shire Camp and Safaris, explained that the man was Gillette Hassan, one of the country’s top crocodile hunters.
He said Hassan had hired the speed-boat to go and hunt giant Nile crocodiles. The aim is to reduce their numbers in Malawi biggest river, Shire, to keep the ecosystem in balance.
Shire River crocodile hunting is fast taking root in Malawi. The reptiles are either hunted for their prized skins which are exported to overseas markets for leather manufacturing or for their meat. A number of investors in the country have started opening up crocodile farms where they breed the reptiles.
After about two hours, Hassan docked on the Shire Camp resort beach with three dead, large and fiercely looking reptiles.
“The night is not very favourable,” he said leaving his assistants to hurl the animals
from the boat while he pulled a chair to sit next to Mphande.
Shire Camp and Safaris is situated in Liwonde, 120 kilometres north of Malawi’s commercial capital of Blantyre.
It’s ideally situated for budget travellers wanting to visit the 548 square kilometer Liwonde National Park, home to the largest remaining elephants in the country and a bleeding home for the black rhino, which were re-introduced recently after poachers had terminated them from existence in the wildlife park.
The park also has a big population of yellow baboon, impala, reedbuck, waterbuck, warthog and majestic sable which is a species quite uncommon anywhere in Africa today.
Kudu and impala, together with sable herds, haunt the woodlands beyond the floodplain. Buffalo, Lichtenstein's hartebeest, roan and eland which had also previously been hunted to extinction, have since been re-introduced into a 4, 000 ha sanctuary, a reservoir for rare species, within the park.
The park offers a spectacular ground for bird watchers with its variety of flora and bird species. A dense population of hippo can be found in the Shire River, which snakes across the park, while the monstrous Nile crocodile can be seen lazing on the sandbanks.
Liwonde has relatively dry mopane woodlands cover. It is interspersed with unworldly candelabra trees, while patches of miombo woodland occur on the limited hill slopes in the south and east. Palm savannah and numerous baobabs lie alongside the extensive floodplains of the Shire where dense riverine vegetation adds a tropical feel to the habitat.
The township is a crossroads for leisure seeking and business travelers wanting to go to visit the lakeside resorts of Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest fresh water lake, Lilongwe, the country’s capital city or those intending to take a train ride to Mozambique and the Indian Ocean.
Shire Camp and Safaris offers the visiting traveler a spacious camping site and five self contained grass thatched bungalows built with a mixture of traditional and modern architectural skills standing side by side with neatly plaited reeds making for the walls on two opposing sides while bricks makes for the other two including the ceramic tiled toilet and bathing rooms.
It has a bar and restaurant facing the river and positioned to take in picturesque views of the morning rising sun, the National Park vegetation and the towering Machinga and Zomba plateaux.
“We offer boat rides for visitors who would like to go to the park through the river or those who just want to see both the marintine and land wildlife from the boat,” said Mphande who was among the first to investment along the Shire River before it became fashionable, said the resort also offers purpose built vehicles for customers who want to visit the park by land.
He said the camp uses a 10 passenger boat duly certified by the government to cruise the waters of the Shire. “We also have a qualified captain trained by government’s marine department who navigates the boat,” he said.
A United Kingdom traveller, Griffins McCoy, said his two-day stay at Shire Camp and Safaris was memorable.
“The place offers peace and tranquility every visitor running away from the hustle and bustle of the so called developed world would want,” he said disclosing that he and his team of five tourists had decided to extend their holidays at the Camp before they proceeded to South Africa through Mozambique.
Mphande said one of the reasons that make the place tick is the resort’s ability to accommodate budget travellers while offering top notch services.
“Some say Malawi is an expensive tourist destination but this I think is in reference to the big hospitality establishments such as hotels who don’t target budget travellers,” said Mphande claiming that budget travellers form the largest number of tourists in Malawi.
He noted that budget travellers take time, even years, to save money to use for their tour to Africa. “This niche of tourists, who also comprise of school going students, can’t afford to spend their hard earned money on hotel bills,” he said.
©2012 The Maravi Post. Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment.