Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is Malawi’s largest and oldest wildlife reserve. Years of poaching drastically reduced animal populations but due to concerted conservation efforts, including one of the world’s largest wildlife translocations, animal populations are on the up. With better park management and increased animal numbers (including over 500 elephants), visitor numbers are increasing. I thought it was a great time for me to visit this revitalised animal reserve and I made Tongole Wilderness Lodge my base. Tongole is an unrivalled eco-tourism property set deep within the rugged and beautiful miombo woodland of Nkhotakota.
Tongole Wilderness Lodge is located in the heart of the 1,800 square kilometre Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, which covers about half of Nkhotakota District, and is about three and a half hours’ drive from Lilongwe. The lodge is accessible via road or aircraft. It is about 250 kilometres from Lilongwe. By air, it takes you only 28 minutes from Kamuzu International Airport.
We started off early one Saturday morning and were in Nkhotakota by midday. We passed by the Chia Lagoon – something I had seen only in my geography books. It was such a pretty view and exceeded my expectations.
We tried to find our way to Tongole using Google Maps, to no avail. You don’t realise how dependent you are on the programme until you can’t find a place you’re looking for. I then remembered that the Tongole team had given me detailed directions on how to get to the lodge. I checked the information I’d been given and we were back on track in no time.
The warmest welcome
We arrived at Tongole shortly before 5pm, and were warmly welcomed by William (Tongole’s general manager) and his amazing team, who assisted us with our bags from the car to the reception, and then our room.
At the reception area, we were met by William’s lovely wife, Charmaine, who gave us a brief history of the lodge. Charmaine is a warm lady and is always willing to share Tongole’s backstory with interested guests. I am more introverted than my partner so for the most part I sat and listened in as they chatted away about all things Tongole.
There is no cellular connection at Tongole – meaning this is a place you go to disconnect completely and become one with nature.
The lodge was finely crafted in the style of a luxury tree house. It blends perfectly with its surroundings, and rises majestically from the tree canopy to give guests gorgeous views of the Bua River, and the reserve.
I really fell in love with the rooms, more than anything else. All the rooms have decks that give you a view of the Bua River and a brilliant sunset. Each room is secluded, affording you privacy and tranquillity.
Tongole comprises of three luxurious riverside suits and one exquisite family suite – which consists of two separate units, with an expansive interconnecting deck.
Each spacious, open fronted suite affords complete privacy, sheltered amongst the trees and blending in flawlessly with the unique natural setting.
The suites have an open floor plan, with a large hand built sunken bat (supplied with running hot water) with a view to the right side of the room and a lovely shower. I loved the taps the most, because they have an antique vibe.
Tongole prides itself on the friendly and personal, yet unobtrusive service.
We had arrived pretty late, and Charmaine told us that any time is tea time at Tongole. My kind of place! We headed to the deck upstairs, and enjoyed the stunning sunset as I had some tea.
After sunset, we went to freshen up, and headed back to the main deck for dinner. Our four course meal was a delight and as a bonus we were visited by a couple of elephants on the lower side of the deck.
We had a good night’s sleep and were visited by some more elephants. I was kind of scared, to be honest, and kept my fingers (and toes) crossed that they would not come inside the room.
Adventure and Relaxation
I woke up early, to enjoy the sunrise around the lodge. I walked to the front deck, which is the only place around the lodge where you can connect to the Wi-Fi. I wanted to catch up on some emails before my partner woke up. About half an hour later, I headed back to the room and prepared for the bushwalk.
We were escorted by a guide from the lodge, and a game ranger to a location just about a 10 minute walk from the lodge. One thing about me is I do not walk – anywhere! The most movement I get is on a treadmill (after which you will find me panting like I have been chased by a rabid dog). The ten minute walk was a whole work out, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I was pleased when we got there, to see some crocodiles along the river bank catching some sun. They were far off in the distance, but looked pretty big.
We returned to the lodge, and were welcomed warmly by Vincent who was waiting for us with some cold towels, and some juice.
We went on the canoe ride shortly after; escorted by the deputy manager Emmanuel and Timothy It was such a relaxing experience, and I found myself really enjoying the scenery around. We spotted some beautiful birds and saw two baby crocodiles.
On our way back, I was allowed to paddle and it’s harder than I expected. But I learned a few tricks and can’t wait to perfect my skills the next time I visit.
We wrapped our trip up with lunch on the top deck, and enjoy some fried chicken; paired with some mac and cheese. Tongole, and Nkhotakota in general, are among my favourite places in Malawi.
Visit tongole.com to find out more about Tongole Wilderness Lodge and Nkhotakota, as well as a list of lodge contacts.