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Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve is a 130 000 hectare protected area, situated next to the Gonarezhou Game Reserve in the southeastern part of Zimbabwe. It is a haven for some of the more endangered animals in Zimbabwe that have suffered from poaching during the recent political turmoil. It boasts not just the Big 5 (including black rhino), but also the rare roan antelope, Lichtenstein's hartebeest, Livingstone's suni, oribi, lynx and African wild dog.

The Chiredzi River flows languidly through the riverine forests, and herds of up to 500 buffalo can be seen ambling along its banks, munching on the lush grass and wallowing grumpily in the cool mud. Meanwhile lions stalk unseen in the tall grasses of the basalt flats to the east of the river, patiently waiting for an unsuspecting meal to wander past. It is a place where you can sit back and take the time to appreciate not just the big animals, but also a variety of little critters that crawl through the bush.

Over 400 species of birds are found in the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve. It has one of the highest breeding populations of large birds of prey in the world, with 14 species of eagle, 11 species of hawk, and 9 different species of owl calling this home! In the summer months, migratory birds swoop in by the thousand, coming from as far as the Asian Steppes to take advantage of the warm weather and opulent food supply. And for bird enthusiasts, it is good to know that the guides are renowned for their passion and expertise when it comes to avian life in the area.

The rainy months – from November to March – are when nature really puts on a full show, the wild flowers bloom, the grass is long and lush, and dramatic storms clear the hot humid air once or twice a week. However, the dry season is peak game viewing time. That is when the grass is sparse, and trampled flat by the larger animals. The golden brown colours of the falling leaves are truly beautiful, and the gentler winter sunshine is ideal for photography much longer into the day. Animals converge around watering holes as all the other surface water dries up, and spotting animals lurking in the shade of trees is much easier without the thick vegetation.

There are only two lodges that have access to this huge reserve, and it is unlikely that you will bump into any other people as you enjoy this private piece of paradise. Stopping for a thirst-quenching sundowner on a dramatic sandstone outcrop, overlooking a tranquil waterhole, or watching a herd of elephant come down for their own evening drink, will have you believe that you are one of the only people on the planet – which you may indeed be for that brief moment in time.

Best time to visit