I quickly finished my tea and rushed towards the sound with anticipation to find the African Parks’ chopper parked just next to my room at Mvuu Lodge. A crowd of staff members and guests had started to form as I was greeted with a beaming smile by the pilot Brad Reid looking like something out of Top Gun.
His passion for his work with African Parks and Liwonde itself was immediately apparent as we stood in the bush listening to the joys of his day to day life. Much of which involves managing the mischievous ellies – one such chap recently hooked his particularly large tusk on the top of the boundary wires, and promptly shorted the electric fence before barging through it to browse the delicacies of the surrounding farmlands. This is where Brad comes in with the helicopter to shoo him back inside before the reaction team set to work repairing the fence. All in a day’s work!
After our chat we were given a short safety briefing and a boarding pass(!) and we were ready to set off. The rotors began to turn and soon we were being lifted up into the air, my stomach jumping with excitement as the grass and dust whirled beneath us, showering our fan club.
Now, the ‘green season’ as we call it, otherwise known as the ‘rainy season’ gets a lot of bad press, because of, well… the rain, but truth be told, it is my favourite time of year to be in the bush. Granted, it can hinder some of your wildlife sightings if you do get caught in a downpour during your game drive, but this rain creates an emerald nirvana. The vibrancy and life that bursts out after just one rain seems almost hyper-lapsed – never before has the hashtag ‘no filter’ been so relevant, and this exquisite backdrop is a photographer’s dream. Liwonde National Park in particular stands out in this respect and it has shot to the top of my list as the most beautiful place on earth. Now imagine seeing all this from above…
The little broccoli trees beneath us flickering in the wind, surrounded by rich earth, swaying grasses, and a smattering of waterholes and tributaries trickling off from the Shire River that’s bursting at its banks.
We moved further south and came across an open plain, we did a low swoop of the area and emerging in the distance were the little grey splodges of an elephant herd frolicking in a stream and tangling their trunks in the branches of a mopane tree. Unfazed by us, we did a little loop and got some great pictures and video from above, some of them raising their heads to get a good look of the big bird in the sky.
We veered west over the Shire River and witnessed the unmistakeable impact of African Parks and the Department of National Parks & Wildlife on this little corner of Malawi through the clearly defined borderline of the park, with one side thick and forested and the other a stark open land ravaged by deforestation. It is here where we caught a glimpse of the projects sponsored by African Parks and IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) to help empower the community and steer them away from a life of poverty that has been the catalyst of the bushmeat trade and illegal fishing for many years.
Fish farms (IFAW) and honey farms (AP) beam up at us from below and Brad explains that bees aren’t an elephant’s favourite friend so they keep them at bay. African Parks procures the honey from the community farmers to create the demand so the farmers can earn a stable income, and then African Parks can sell the honey to generate a small profit that goes straight back into their projects – win, win, win… win!
We carried on over the river and over the guests on the Mvuu boat safari, and continued over the lofty borassus palm trees that are so iconic to this national park. Soon we were making our way back to the lodge and we gently found ourselves back on terra firma.
African Parks offer these helicopter flights as a way of bringing tourism into the park which is so beneficial to wildlife protection projects such as this – the park fees generated by tourism pumps money into the park and the more exposure the park gets, the more funding and sponsorship they receive. The money generated on the flights themselves also go straight into their work so your high fly in the sky is not just an indulgence but is actually contributing to a great cause whilst giving you an unforgettable experience that will stick with you for many years to come.
There are two flight options available and the helicopter can take up to 4 passengers:
Option 1: 15 – 20 minute experience over Liwonde NP. The flight covers an aerial perspective of various conservation challenges over the past 4 years such as the illegal fishing, bush meat trade, ivory poaching, Human Elephant Conflict and some unique photographic opportunities from the air.
Cost – $200 per person
Option 2: 45 minutes – 1 hour with a bit of Malawi’s history and the slave trade. It covers the same conservation challenges in Liwonde mentioned above. However, the flight covers the old slavery route used by slave traders and takes you into the Mangochi Forest Reserve where you can see the anti-slavery fort built in the 1800s. The conservation challenges such as encroachment, habitat loss and the history of Mangochi FR are covered.
Cost – $450 per person
Contact us to book your flight today!
PLEASE REMEMBER – This helicopter still has to fulfil its primary conservation roles which includes law enforcement, emergency response, wildlife rescue and other park management related duties so there is always an outside chance that the helicopter may not be available for a scenic flight. They will do their best to fulfil as many bookings as possible.