South west of Blantyre, the Shire river enters its final phase before leaving the country and joing the great Zambezi in Mozambique. This is the Lower Shire Valley, an extension of the Rift Valley and home to no less than three national parks/wildlife reserves. The river descends to the lower valley via a series of rapids and waterfalls before broadening out to meander along a wide floodplain utilised by vast sugar plantations. These are Malawi’s lowest areas, with altitudes below 50 metres above sea level. Access down to the Lower Shire Valley is along the M1 south of Blantyre and down the steep Thyolo Escarpment, which affords glorious views into the valley. Once in the valley, game viewing is offered in Majete Wildlife Reserve, Lengwe National Park and Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve. Accommodation on the Thyolo Escarpment at the beginning of the descent into the Lower Shire Valley is provided by Fisherman’s Rest – the views are magnificent! In Majete Wildlife Reserve, Thawale Camp and the Community Campsite provide a luxury en suite bush tents and camping sites respectively whilst a highly luxurious new lodge, Mkulumadzi, run by Robin Pope Safaris, opened in 2011. Further south Chibembere Camp has a dormitory just outside Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve, whilst inside the Reserve, Migudu Campsite provides tent pitches and the new Njati Lodge offers self-catering or fully catered en suite chalets.
Another important element of the Lower Shire Valley is its cultural heritage. Jambo Africa, the managers of Nyala Lodge, are also involved in the Lower Shire Heritage Trust. The Trust’s objective is to preserve and promote the culture of the Lower Shire Valley and the traditional ways of life of the people of the area. At the gate of the park a heritage centre – Tisunge! (which is the Chi Chewa for ‘Let us preserve!’) – Lower Shire Heritage Centre – boasting a small museum, an arts & craft shop, a (research and children’s) library, an education and manager’s office, an open plan meeting area and an ablution block, has been realised (there are plans for a children’s club, a repository and a weaving area). Many ethnographic objects, from traditional and modern culture, have been collected in the villages with the aid of staff from the Department of National Parks, the Department of Culture and many volunteers. These objects, together with archaeological findings and the history and environment of the park, shall form part of the exhibit which is in the process of being set up. The Trust, through Tisunge! has also initiated several projects relating to the preservation of culture and the environment.
The Trust also aims to assist in the preservation of the environment by planting indigenous trees along the Nkhombedzi river to strengthen its banks. This river that runs through the park and the surrounding villages is prone to flooding. The planting and care of the trees is the responsibility of the local football and netball teams. This year the Trust hopes to start a small plantation of 10,000 indigenous trees on land made available by one of the local Group Village Headman – Chief Singano – who himself is an ardent conservationist.
Visits and guided tours to Tisunge! and other cultural sites in the area can be arranged through Nyala Lodge.