Hippo Spotting on the Shire River

Liwonde National Park has the Shire River running along almost the entire western side of the park, this means that Liwonde based safari lodges are able to offer boat safaris, as well as game drives and walking safaris.

Why choose a Boat Safari:

You may be wondering what the main differences between a game drive and a boat safari is. I think you may well be pleasantly surprised by the answer.

Firstly, animals are often more relaxed when at the water’s edge rather than out on the open plains. They barely take notice of a boat moving past which lessens the chance of them slipping away and leaving you with only the sight of their beautiful rear ends to put in your photo album. Instead, one will often see wildlife acting more naturally and less concerned of potential threats.

Secondly, comfort. Many could argue that this is a much more dignified way to enjoy the excitement of game spotting, only surpassed in stability, style & view via hot air balloon. The boat option certainly avoids the occasional bone crunching off roading which is necessary to access the perfect game sighting spot when in a 4×4 safari vehicle.

Please make no mistake, whilst I do love the excitement of being driven in an open top land cruiser, wind blowing through my hair, with the feeling that round the very next corner is the animal you’ve waited your entire life to see in the wild, even I must confess, it’s a lot easier to drink a gin and tonic or take a steady photo from the comfort of a boat.

Let us not forget the advantage of having open space all year round as Liwonde National Park does. For those who have had the pleasure of a game drive in what is considered the best animal spotting season, you will no doubt have braved the savannahs of dried grasses which is a stark difference to the post rainy seasons abundance of green vegetation with tall dense grass, bushes weighed down with thick growth and trees overladen with leaves all obscuring game viewing. It is no wonder that many safari lodges offer discounted ‘green season’ rates over this period of extensive greenery as a herd of elephants can be stood a mere two metres away from your game vehicle and unless they decide to cross the road directly in front of you, they’ll remain completely invisible. Believe me, I’ve been there. The rains which bring the green season to life also produce more water sources meaning that not only are the wildlife better hidden from the camera lens, but also the hide at the water hole is no longer a guarantee of spotting game.

However, with the sound of water lapping around you, the open river offers its own reflective plain and you feel less claustrophobic and more out in the open. Whilst some permanent residents of the park may well choose other locations as their preferred beverage spot, you’re still likely to enjoy visitors getting a tipple or having a bath on the river banks.

Not just hippo spotting on the Shire River:

The Shire River in Liwonde National Park is positively bustling with wildlife and on my last boat safari there, I found myself completely enthralled watching crocodiles lying on the bank of the river basking in the sunshine, mouths open to regulate their body temperature whilst large pods of hippopotamus avoid the unforgiving blazing African sun by almost entirely submerging themselves in the water, only exposing more than their eyes, ears and snout to show off their gaping jaws and sizable tusks when they yawn lazily before dipping back underneath the surface. Others, feeling more peckish one assumes, climb up onto the luscious green banks and munch greedily on the fresh tasty grass growing all around them.

It is not uncommon to spot elephant drinking and washing at the edge of the river as their young frolic in the mud. Or to have herds of buffalo strolling along the waters edge.

With over 380 species in Liwonde, the birdlife along the river is beyond spectacular. Be it geese or great white pelicans in their V formations, buzzards and eagles circling above, African jacana walking on the reeds, malachite kingfishers and weavers with their vibrant colours darting between the reeds, hamerkop flying into their enormous nests or pied kingfishers darting below the rivers surface to snatch an unsuspecting snack,  Liwonde’s boat safaris are a treat for birdwatchers.

Shire River Liwonde National Park Information:

The Shire River itself is the largest river in Malawi and the only outlet river of Lake Malawi. It is over 400km (250 miles) in length and eventually flows into the Zambezi River in Mozambique. The famous British explorer David Livingstone travelled the Shire River in 1861. Further south, dams at Nkula Falls and Tedzani Falls which are northwest of Blantyre on the Shire River are used to produce Hydro-electric power for the country.

Liwonde National Park is not just worth visiting to enjoy hippo and elephant spotting whilst floating down the Shire River, but also because Liwonde National Park has undergone one of the most exciting and successful animal reintroduction journeys imaginable, there is so much more game to view. A few years ago, most avid safari enthusiasts would get their game spotting fix by crossing the border into Zambia and making the journey to South Luangwa National Park where an undeniable abundance of wildlife can be sighted.

Now, after years of hard, diligent work by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) alongside NGO African Parks, amazing things have happened. The largest elephant relocation project in history involved Liwonde National Park, as well as other wildlife reserves and national parks within Malawi in order to ensure that no areas were overpopulated by elephants, the project was a huge success. Black rhino, wild dogs, cheetah and lion have all been moved into the park. This now means one is able to spot the BIG 5 in Liwonde National Park. Poaching has also been tackled and Liwonde National Park now boasts a well-trained and efficient team of park rangers dedicated to protecting the now flourishing wildlife. All of this hard work means that Liwonde National Park is now growing in popularity as more and more people flock to enjoy this charming and exciting national park.

In Summary:

The calm waters let you enjoy a vast array of wildlife away from the more predator-filled plains. You’ll be able to get that perfect photo as the boat glides smoothly through the waters getting you up close and personal with hippos, elephants and a host of other animals.

When you’re visiting this incredible part of the world, safari is most certainly at the very top of most visitors’ lists. Whether you’re a professional photographer, a first time safari goer, or just the kind of person who finds a good sunset is more enjoyable with a cold drink in your hand, think about making at least one of your game activities a boat trip when you are next on safari.  Whatever floats your boat, please keep in mind that there are more ways to spot game than being sat in a game vehicle!


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