Tongole is a fairly new luxury lodge in Malawi's Nkhotakota Game Reserve
Tongole Wilderness Lodge: Our full report
Located in the heart of the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, on the banks of the Bua River, the eco-friendly Tongole Wilderness Lodge is the only luxury lodge in the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, one of Malawi's last unspoiled areas. It aims to offer a truly wilderness experience from a very comfortable base.
Tongole Lodge was started up as part of the Tongole Foundation, a charity set up by the Directors of Tongole to help vulnerable communities in Malawi, specifically in the Nkhotakota area.
The Tongole Foundation initially came about after the sudden death of a 16-year-old Malawian boy, Vitu Kalanga. At the time, Vitu’s father, Bentry Kalanga, was working in the UK for a charity – and Vitu himself was seeing a British girl, Hannah Cole. Hannah’s father, David, and Vitu’s father, Bentry, decided to set up a project in his memory, and thus the Tongole Foundation was born. One part of this foundation owns and runs Tongole Wilderness Lodge, which employs 30 full time staff; the other part is a charity, which currently supports three local schools.
Tongole Wilderness Lodge has four spacious thatched chalets built and decorated using locally sourced materials and fabrics. All are open fronted, with a large, private wooden deck offering panoramic views over the river below and the forest beyond. Wrought-iron shutters enable guests to appreciate the view and the fresh air, yet still feel secure at night.
Inside Tongole’s chalets, the floors are polished red concrete with locally-made rugs beside the bed. King-size or twin double beds, draped in a mosquito net and covered in crisp white bedding, dominate the rooms, which are also furnished with two armchairs and a low table with nature magazines. 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 that doubles as a plunge pool. Hot water is available all day.
At the time of our last visit, in November 2013, a family cottage was under construction at Tongole Wilderness and is due to open in April 2014. This will feature two en-suite bedrooms, separated by a spacious lounge and dining area, and with a private deck affording views over the Bua River.
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 where guests can 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. During our recent visit a table was laid out here for a relaxing lunch. At the back of the main area are the guest toilets, and a small curio shop selling a few items of safari clothing and locally made curios.
Tongole stands in the rugged terrain of Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, which has a mix of vegetation zones, including miombo woodland. Big game here includes buffalo, elephant, hippo and the occasional lion and leopard. The forest here is often thick, and poaching is still an issue – so the big game is fairly scarce and skittish. That said, see our comments on Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve for some promising developments in the reserve.
Activities at Tongole Wilderness Lodge focus on walks with an armed guide through the bush, game drives in the reserve, fly and fresh-water fishing, canoeing and motorboat trips. More adventurous travellers may be tempted by fly-camping in the reserve, too – available for stays of three nights or more. As there are no other lodges for miles around you are unlikely to encounter any other visitors in the area.
Tongole has very strong links, through the Tongole Foundation, with the local community, helping with building schools, and teaching about conservation to help change attitudes to poaching. Guests may visit a local village and see some local craftwork – with the option of purchasing woodcarvings, paintings and masks. Any profits earned by the lodge are shared with the local community. During our recent visit the lodge had just received some blackboard paint and a supply of chalk for the local school – thanks to a donation from recent visitors.
Our viewWe really liked Tongole Wilderness; the team were very friendly and keen, and we felt that the ‘vibe’ was very good – doubtless helped by respect for the ethics of the foundation behind the lodge. Tongole is very comfortable and is set in a remote location with a real feeling of ‘wilderness’. Although it’s not currently a good game destination, it is a great spot for keen walkers and birders and we are optimistic that we’ll see a positive change in the game in Nkhotakota in the coming years.
Ideal length of stay: Three to four nights would be ideal to discover this remote wilderness area.
Directions: It's approximately a 3½-hour road transfer from Lilongwe to Tongole, or one hour by light aircraft from Lilongwe to Tongole's airstrip, located five minutes from the lodge.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Privately owned
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: We only spent one night at Tongole on our recent trip, and found the food that we had good and wholesome.
- A breakfast buffet was laid out with a choice of cereals and fruit juice, and while a hot breakfast was made to order with eggs, bacon, sausage and tomato.
- Lunch was simple – a vegetable and ham quiche served with coleslaw.
- In the afternoon, prior to the day’s second activity, afternoon tea is served with a sweet and savoury snack alongside tea or coffee. We were offered homemade shortbread biscuits and very tasty vegetable samosas.
- Dinner was a three-course meal with a butternut soup starter, followed by fillet steak served with potatoes and fresh vegetables. Dessert was a delicious chocolate mousse.
Dining style: Mixture of group dining and individual tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Drinks are included except for premium wines, spirits and champagne, which are available at an additional cost.
Walking: From Tongole Wilderness Lodge you can explore the rugged terrain of the remote Nkhotakota Wilderness Reserve, with its miombo woodland, rivers and patches of rainforest – an interesting option for walking in Malawi.See more ideas for Walking in Malawi
Attitude towards children: Children over the age of 12 years are welcome in the main lodge. Those under the age of 12 are accepted only if the entire lodge is reserved for exclusive use. That said, children aged eight years and over will be welcome in the new family cottage.
Property’s age restrictions: No children are accepted under 12 years in the main lodge and no children under 8 years in the family cottage.
Special activities & services: Board games are available in the main area but nothing is specifically designed for children.
Generally recommended for children: We think that Tongole is more suited to mature children over the age of 12. Activities are not geared towards children, and there is no swimming pool to keep them occupied during the day.
Notes: Children must be under the constant supervision of their parents as this is a remote location and elephants do wander through the camp.
Communications: Wi-Fi is available in the main building and a satellite phone is available in case of emergency. There is no cellphone reception.
TV & radio: None
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: Hot water is available all day
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The nearest doctor is an hour’s drive away in Nkhotakota town. The lodge also has an airstrip so it is possible to fly any serious medical cases straight to Lilongwe, an hour’s flight away.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: An armed scout is based in the camp. Guests may not walk around the camp alone after dark, when they are escorted to their chalets by nightwatchmen.
Fire safety: Fire extinguishers are located at each room, as well as in the main area and the kitchen
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included.
Money: There are no safes in the rooms so valuables need to be left with the manager who will secure them in the office safe.
Accepted payment on location: Credit cards are not accepted at Tongole. Cash payments may be made in US dollars, South African rands, euros and Malawi kwacha.