Mkulumadzi Lodge is a luxury retreat set at the confluence of two rivers in Majete Wildlife Reserve.
Mkulumadzi Lodge: Our full report
Overlooking tumbling rapids at the confluence of the Shire and Mkulumadzi (sometimes written 'Mkurumadzi', or even 'Mukulumadzi') rivers, Mkulumadzi is the newest safari lodge owned by Robin Pope Safaris and opened in July 2011. It's a small, smart camp in a newly revitalised reserve.
Majete Wildlife Reserve was proclaimed in 1955 and covers 700km2. In 2003 it was taken under the management of The African Parks Network, who have done great work to ensure the long-term viability of the park and its wildlife. (Read more about African Parks here…)
We first visited Mkulumadzi lodge in May 2011, when it was in the final stages of building. It follows in the style of Pumulani, Robin Pope Safaris' beach retreat beside Lake Malawi, in that it's been built very solidly, to a high spec and incorporating some innovative 'eco' ideas.
There are eight chalets at Mkulumadzi, all built on a high riverbank overlooking the Shire River. Six are designed for two people and in each of these a large, kingsize bed stands at the centre of the room, surrounded by a walk-in mosquito net. (Two of these chalets can be converted to twin-bedded units; the others must be doubles.) Inside the mosquito net is an innovative air-conditioning unit which re-circulates the cool air, and thus uses so little electricity that it can be run by the lodge's largely solar-generated electricity.
The focus of Mkulumadzi's rooms is the view, and one side of the room (a large, semi-circular 'wall') is largely open. This faces out across a partially shaded wooden veranda to an impressive view of the river below. Spaces rather than windows are inset into this wall, so northing obstructs the view. At night, to close up the room, curtains unfurl inside as canvas blinds are rolled-down outside.
The adjacent bathroom is again very spacious. There are twin washbasins beneath a lovely long mirror; a very large shower which is partially open at the side to the river views; and a slightly sunken bath beside a semi-circular window – which folds back to open up the bathroom.
All of the chalets, bar one, have sloping 'green' roofs which have been very strongly constructed to support soil, and planted with local grasses. This should help both to keep them cool and to blend in. By contrast, room 6 – the honeymoon suite – has a traditional, high thatched roof.
Nearest to the main lounge/dining room area are two two-bedroomed family chalets, rooms 7 and 8. The bedrooms are separated by a central lounge area, and each has its own en-suite bathroom, making the chalets very suitable for two couples to share.
Mkulumadzi 's central lounge/dining area wasn't complete when we last visited – but it was shaping up into a large and beautiful space with a high thatched roof, and one side completely open to the river – supported by some huge old leadwood trunks. Closer to the riverbank is a swimming pool, which again was being constructed when we visited.
In common with RPS's usual style, activities will be very flexible – with walking safaris a feature and always on offer. The valley of the shallow Mkulumadzi River is a particularly good venue for these. There is a good network of all-weather game-drive roads, and night drives will also be possible. Several game hides are planned; watch this space for news.
Whilst the river in front of the lodge is too choppy for boating, there are quiet stretches nearby. It opens out into a lake just above the Kapichira Falls – the edges of which promise to be a lovely place to explore in the lodge's motorboat (which has a shade cover.)
The park's birdlife is good, with a real variety of dry-land habitats, from miombo woodlands to small kopjies. Riverine woodlands line some of the waterways – which themselves vary from a placid lake to sections of bubbling rapids and ephemeral tributaries.
One big attraction at Mkulumadzi should be the guiding. The manager for at least the first year will be Mark McKenzie, who is a top-class guide, and his team will be experienced guides who have been trained to Robin Pope's standards.
Our ViewAlthough we visited Mkulumadzi before it was complete, it's clearly going to be a class act: spacious, well built and high spec. It should raise the bar for safari camps in Malawi. Majete Reserve itself is rugged and, like the antelope species found here, interesting and quite unusual. It will be a new park for most visitors, so ideal for those who want to trail-blaze. The only real downside is the absence of a few key game species. However, a more important factor for us is that the animals that do live here are generally relaxed.
Ideal length of stay: A stay of 3–4 nights at Mkulumadzi is ideal, especially as it's a distance from any other safari camp – and in a park that's quite unlike any other. It would be natural to combine Mkulumadzi with Robin Pope Safaris's other camps in Zambia's South Luangwa: Nkwali, Tena Tena and Nsefu, and Pumulani beside Lake Malawi.
Directions: Mkulumadzi is about 70km southwest of Malawi's second city, Blantyre – which is linked to Lilongwe and Johannesburg by direct scheduled flights. It's about two hours' transfer from Blantyre to Majete, on a good tarred road; this is quite a varied and spectacular trip down the escarpment, and a great way to arrive.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: We haven't yet eaten from the lodge's kitchens (they were still being finished when we visited) but RPS's food is generally very good.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Drinks included: All local drinks, including beers, wines and soft drinks are included; vintage wines, champagne or imported spirits would be charged as extra.
Communications: There's a satellite system for communications in an emergency, including an internet connection, but no phones in the rooms.
TV & radio: There are no radios or TVs here.
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: Closest doctor and hospital would be two hours' drive away, in Blantyre.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service in included