The location of Bushman’s Baobabs was selected by a Liwonde expert. It is found at a quiet junction of the great Shire River and a seasonal tributary river at Liwonde National Park.
Wildlife Sightings or Relaxation or….both
To decide how best you will appreciate Bushman’s Baobabs decide first which of the following is your objective. Do you aim to maximize wildlife sightings and your enjoyment of the views over the landscapes and the river or instead must you retreat to the bush to unwind and relax? The answer to that question may depend upon whether you have many opportunities to go on safari or whether you have a short window of opportunity. Firstly, let us get some background.
Liwonde National Park – What’s so Special?
Elephants and hippos are regular visitors to Bushman’s and numerous other forms of wildlife are in close proximity or can be seen from the elevated viewing platform at Bushman’s Baobabs. Liwonde’s wildlife area is one of the top bird-watching hotspots in Africa as over 400 different species of birds have been recorded within the boundaries of the National Park. Although neighbouring countries have world famous safari locations (some even have traffic jams of tourists), as a descendant of David Livingstone said to me recently, there is something special about watching the wildlife on the river here. Like much of Malawi’s charm there is the aspect of being away from the crowds and therefore feeling as though you have the wild and the wide expanse of beauty all to yourself. When you consider the entrance fees for wildlife parks in neighbouring countries then you realise that you are in a privileged position at a fraction of the cost. Therefore, in assessing how you can best enjoy Liwonde National Park from Bushman’s Baobabs, consider that you have a front row seat to great wildlife in a fantastic setting, sometimes all to yourself, and …. tranquility, the ideal environment for relaxation and renewal.
Bushman’s Baobabs vs the Rest of the World
Liwonde National Park has it’s unique appeal, so too does your place to stay in the wild. I’ve never read ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ but the title sounds like a good one for Bushman’s. The location was selected by someone who knows the National Park, Malawi and Africa very well. He has inherited his taste for style and architecture appropriate for the surroundings from his father, the national architect. Interestingly enough, for the design of his website he selected the daughter of another of Malawi’s most famous architects. I am saying that Bushman’s Baobabs has been put together in a way that is entirely fitting for the surroundings. If you came here to watch the telly in the evening…you got the wrong address. Once you experience the sunset, the home cooking, sitting round the fire afterwards and staring up and sky and listening to the hippos at night and other strange sounds of the wild, you will be glad of the break from the ‘civilised’ world.
There is more than one way to wake up in the morning here. If you have only one night here you may select an early morning game drive when the wildlife are active in the extraordinary beauty of the early morning light. Get a coffee before you go and return for a full cooked breakfast as a bonus. If you are like me you will want to spend some mornings being woken by one of the most diverse choirs in dawn chorus circles. Of course I am talking about lying in a comfortable bed listening to the diversity of bird songs and calls.
It is of course both the sound of silence as well as the distant and near sounds of the wildlife that give you the most powerful sense of being enveloped within the natural world. Therefore, while you should go for River Boat Safaris and Drive Safaris, you should also take time for silence and looking and listening either under the stars or from the elevated platform.
The Wildlife Maximization Option
Please note that the suggestions I make here are only suggestions. You can use these suggestions as a framework for thinking about your own specific plans or as a start point for discussions with others or the staff at Bushman’s once you arrive.
The Local Speciality
Having read the brief description above let us describe the best way to appreciate Bushman’s Baobabs if the pursuit of wildlife sightings is your top priority. Secondly, let’s look at what you can do if relaxing and unwinding in the wild is what you need. Firstly, be aware that wildlife do not always make scheduled appearances but they do have patterns that can help you plan your activities. As already suggested, veterans of much of Africa’s most high profile wildlife areas admit that there really is something very special about the wildlife and the river here. I would recommend that you make a River Boat Safari a top priority and that you do it either in the second half of the morning or the first half of the afternoon. You have the shade from the roof of the boat to protect you from the sun.
Starting with you Arrival
I have suggested a day-time Boat Safari as your priority and plonked that somewhere in the main part of the day for you. Now, let’s instead think of planning the rest of your time starting with your likely arrival time and let’s assume that you get to Bushman’s sometime between lunch and dinner. Adapt what I write if you arrive at another time.
After getting settled in your chalet, tent or dorm I would suggest retreating to the viewing platform with a drink from the bar. Relax on an arm chair in the shaded area or sunbathe on a recliner if that’s what you need. You can usually see wildlife from the viewing platform, the most likely are antelope or warthogs grazing and colourful birds in the long grass of the stream below. Look out however for elephants or a herd of buffalo. What is surely guaranteed is the landscape of the wild laid out below you and into the distance. It is this that will truly take your from your recently completed road journey into a oneness with nature.
Selecting your First Evening Options
Decide whether to go on a sunset drive based on whether you need to unwind from your journey or whether you are raring to go. This can be discussed on arrival, or at any point, with the management on site at Bushman’s Baobabs. If the need is to unwind then prepare yourself on the viewing platform for a striking sunset. Make sure you have everything you need: a drink in hand, a wildlife or birdlife book (perhaps you can borrow one from the open air lounge?), binoculars and camera? The sunset safari can always be contemplated for the following evening.
A highlight of any day at Bushman’s Baobabs is the three course home cooking dinner. While self-catering is always an option someone I know who often selects self-catering points out that the quality of the food makes the evening dinner the right choice at Bushman’s Baobabs. Seating is usually with other guests and the quiet, remote and candle-lit setting always seems conducive to making new friends. Perhaps it is the atmosphere generated by the setting but meeting and talking with other families or couples or small groups never seems artificial or contrived. Having a private table is also perfectly normal. If that is your preference I would suggest mentioning it to the staff upon your arrival at Bushman’s Baobabs. Otherwise I think the general assumption is that people are happy to eat together at one of the long tables. Perhaps it is the shared experience of being alone (and together) with others in the candle-lit wild that is propitious to unwinding the usual inhibitions associated with meeting strangers.
During the meal the campfire is lit and that is always my next stop. Warmed by the fire you look up to the tops of the baobabs and the stars or across to your fellow guests and if you are very lucky, the owner. I say ‘very lucky’ because he is one of the most well-known characters in these parts and these days he spends a lot of time on another of his projects elsewhere. If you prefer to be shielded from ‘real life characters’ by glossy corporate brochures and the carefully crafted emptiness of marketing and PR department press releases, then you may not appreciate as much as most people do, the extraordinary stories from a lifetime in the bush.
During the Night
Soon however, the discussion moves on to elephants and hippos. A determined wildlife spotter will resolve to resist the appeal of their comfortable bed and fortify their mindset to stay awake and watch the hippos and elephants from the security of their bed-time quarters. As surely as the campfire chatter will eventually die down, the night-time wildlife will arrive. Politely, and with some prudence, the elephants and hippos will wait for the fireside chatter to have disappeared before they arrive.
I and others have noticed that for whatever reason, the beds at Bushman’s Baobabs are very comfortable and as I fall into the category of those who prioritise ‘relaxing’ over ‘maximizing wildlife sightings’ I often content myself with the knowledge that I am surrounded by the wildlife while asleep in the security of the bedchamber.
Dawn and Early Morning
The heights of peace and tranquility that can sometimes be achieved when listening to the dawn chorus of the extremely diverse birdlife at Bushman’s Baobabs can rarely be matched elsewhere. For those who are here to relax this is the first choice option for the early morning. Meanwhile others will be enjoying a coffee at the first sign of light as they prepare for an early morning Game Drive. It is in those earliest hours of the day (along-side the late afternoon and early evening) when the wildlife are out and about and not hiding in the shade. Those who are going out to see as much as they can see will have a great cooked breakfast to look forward to on their return. If they are then tired then there are few places better than Bushman’s Baobabs to do some day-time catching up on a little bit of shut-eye.
Those, like myself, who part-listened and part dozed their way through the dawn chorus will be well on their way to a deeper state of relaxation as they turn up for their hot breakfast.
Daytime and Lunch
As stated elsewhere there is something special about boat safaris on the Shire River. All boat safaris I know on the river are quite different from each other and all I would recommend, including that part of the river that is near Bushman’s Baobabs. The reason for the diversity of River Safaris is to do with the different character for the river in different places. Near Bushman’s the river is sometimes very wide and the sky seems to just about meet the river for a long way or the horizon. While on the subject of the horizon, the local expert who pilots your boat will more than likely spot distant elephants in the reeds or on the banks. It’s the best place I know on the river for photographing the reflections of the hills in the water. Hippos and wildlife grazing on the banks are pretty much guaranteed. Although not a bird-watching aficionado myself, the diversity of the large water birds is quite an experience. I remember a friend being transfixed by a colourful little bird while an elephant stood 15 yards to the right.
Several times on the Shire, or on it’s banks, I have noticed the frequency of experiencing extraordinary and unexpected wildlife events. Prior to a safari one might say to oneself “I want to see x animal or y bird” but afterwards you tell your friends “You’ll never guess what happened...”.
Of course, it is the unexpected and unknown which gives a safari some of it’s quality. Not knowing whether you will see some of the more rare and unexpected creatures should keep you on alert with your eyes scanning from the horizon to the near undergrowth.
Meanwhile back at Bushman’s if you are more seeking contentment rather than the extraordinary you may find yourself sinking deeper and deeper into a good book in the open lounge or from the vantage point of the viewing gallery. Occasionally one looks up from the pages to see if a herd of elephants has appeared beneath your feet or to check progress on the drink that you are carefully nursing. The hardest work you may face could be applying sunscreen or walking to the bar. The time for contemplation will give you the inspired thoughts you need.
I am not going to spend much time talking about lunch. Let’s just say that the fresh and tasty salads and pastas are perfect for the setting.
Daytime Self Drive
Do you fancy the challenge of driving with a high possibility of encountering elephants on the road? Even if you have done this many times you must always remain cautious and you must never take these meetings lightly or get too close to your new friends. Also, when driving, never leave the safety of your car.
Bearing in mind that you truly are in the African wild, with all it’s unpredictability… you may consider a guided canoe safari. The absence of a motor and the low elevation in the water gives you one of the most intimate entries into the life of the bush. Your experienced local guide will take your through the tributary river full of the plants that grow flat on the river. This is one of the best ways to come close to the extraordinary water birds and then later the wildlife drinking at a lagoon on the main river. Given the presence of dangerous animals, which you will see, it is as well that your guide knows these waters.
Making Your Own Decisions
We are now coming round to the point of a full 24 hours at Bushman’s Baobabs. While it is impossible to experience and enjoy all that there is in a short period of time I hope that the sketch I have made of the day helps you to consider what options you have around the clock for your second and third days and so on. I hope that you can appreciate that can see my point that ‘sightings maximization’ or the necessity to achieve rest and rejuvenation away from the blaring sounds of civilization and the rat race may help you to decide what to do and when.
Do let me know what questions or thoughts occur so that I can improve this article for the benefit of others who are planning a trip to Bushman’s Baobabs.