Tongole Wilderness Lodge, Nkhotakota

The Nkotakota Reserve is in its infancy. 500 elephants, a not insubstantial number, have been translocated to the reserve. African Parks have taken over the running of this Park, and have put hundreds of kilometres of elephant proof (and poacher proof) electric fence round the reserve - this wire is being extended annually to create a vast area of managed game.

Tongole Lodge is at the edge of the reserve, and will, no doubt, be a great place to see elephants in the future. But right now you will be lucky to see one elephant, let alone hundreds. The reason being that the animals are still spooked from the journey to this park from other areas. Hence the elephants stick to more remote places in the centre of the park, that currently have no road access. The one existing road is round the edge of the park, and hence tourists and elephants are doomed to miss each other - though we did see elephants on our way out of the park after our 2 day stay in Tongole Lodge

Having said that I think Tongole is a really wonderful hotel, one of the very best that we have ever stayed at. They sell themselves as a "wilderness Lodge" and not as a "Game Lodge". And that is indeed what they are (until the animal side of things improves over the next few years). We went on bush walks with the knowledgeable guide Emanuel - and as everywhere else in Malawi, we had to have an armed guard with us. The rifle was an elderly WW1 era 303 that I suspected had been taken off poachers and recycled to the rangers. And also a memorable canoe trip along the river for a sundowner, with masses of colourful birds - don't worry, the guide does the paddling. And we had another sundowner trip to a waterfall that was very scenic.

The lodge has really luxurious villas, an exceptional reception/dining area and a good swimming pool. Inside Tongole’s villas, the floors are polished red concrete with locally-made rugs beside the bed. A king-size double bed, draped in a mosquito net and covered in crisp white bedding. Behind the concrete and wood headboard is a luggage storage area. Each room has a luxurious en-suite bathroom, open-plan to the bedroom, containing twin locally hand-crafted marble basins, a separate flush toilet, a spacious shower and a large sunken bath beside the open window. Hot water is available all day - this needs to be said, as many of the remote lodges have limited supplies of hot water. But not, oddly enough, sufficient hot water to actually fill more than a few inches of the large bath.

Our sojourn was slightly disrupted when a monkey got through the open bars of our villa, grabbed the sugar off the tea tray, and smashed it on the floor to get at the sugar. The management accepted that something needed to be done to deter the monkeys, but that not everyone could agree how it could be done!

Linked to Tongole’s chalets via sandy pathways, the massive A-framed thatched main area incorporates a lounge, bar and dining area. To the front is a large wooden deck set with comfortable chairs to take in the view, while steps lead down to two further seating areas. From the centre of Tongole’s main area a winding staircase leads up to yet another seating area, high up in the apex of the roof and with views over the river to the hills beyond. We had our first lunch up here.

The manager, David, is really welcoming, socialises with guests and ensures that this remote lodge runs smoothly. We spent two nights here and thoroughly recommend it. In a couple of years the new park will be humming with animals, and the lodge will have even more to offer. But no need to wait, go now