I hadn’t realized how much I missed hearing the breeze in branches, and nothing else. Or smelling the sun warming the dry grass— a mildly sweet, earthy aroma. When was the last time I laid in a tent, listening to night noises and gazing out at softly starlit shapes of trees? It took a daybreak hike to the highway, two buses, a circuitous walk through the market in Blantyre, and a taxi to get to one of the most peaceful and rejuvenating places I’ve found on earth: Majete National Park.
A conservation success story, this 70,000 hectare reserve was nearly bereft of wildlife only a decade ago due to heavy poaching and low law enforcement. Taken under the management of African Parks, a non-profit conservation organization backed by private donors and some heavyweight charitable foundations, it underwent intensive infrastructure improvement, wildlife reintroduction, and community engagement. Now, populations have soared from roughly 2,000 head of stock introduced to around 10,000 animals. Poaching has been nearly eliminated by frequent patrols and game counts. And with the more recent addition of African lions, this alluring ecosystem has officially reentered the register of Big Five parks.
Thawale Lodge, which is nestled inside the park only a few hundred feet from a well-trafficked water hole, is the scientist’s dream safari experience. A wholly underappreciated gem, this 8-tent camp offers an intimate nature experience with the luxuries of down blankets, hot showers, well-prepared meals to suit any dietary needs, and an invaluable degree of solitude to enjoy them in. The spacious and extremely private safari tents are simply but tastefully appointed, and the view out the netted wall into the unfenced and unfiltered wilderness is unparalleled.
Absent are the gimmicky game drives that rush up to jaded mammals and roar over degraded landscapes in search of an adrenaline high. The sundown excursion, led by experienced guide Sam and ranger Damiano, brought our Land Rover within an awe-inspiring but respectful distance of two male lions (Sapitwa and Chimwala), elephant, buffalo, numerous species of antelope and the sweeping panoramas of the Shire (sheer-ee) River at dusk. We even witnessed a foiled hunt that culminated in a troop of baboons barking viciously at the would-be ambusher, and Sapitwa roaring in angst as he slipped into the darkness. It doesn’t get any more raw than that.
The dawn bushwalk proved to be an equally lovely and unique way to appreciate the landscape, but as promised, resulted in few close encounters with wildlife, as the animals have a healthy fear of intruders. In every way, Majete favors the genuine over the sensationalized, and has remained true to its mission as a wildlife conservation area rather than a tourist trap against much pressure to increase revenues. The fortunate visitors who stumble on this tract of remnant landscape in the southern corner of Malawi are treated to a rare brush with wild Africa. And after three weeks of close encounters with the human kind, it’s just what the doctor ordered.