Tongole Wilderness Lodge

Tongole Wilderness Lodge: Our full report

Rooms
4 cottages plus the 2-bedroomed family cottage
Traveller's rating
Good (90%) From 10 reviews
Children
Best for 12+
Open
April to January

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 which is one of Malawi's last unspoiled areas. It is building a reputation for operating in the most sustainable way possible and making a positive impact to the surrounding communities.

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. The foundation works actively to reduce poaching in the Reserve promoting the conservation of endangered species.

Tongole Wilderness Lodge has four spacious thatched cottages built by local craftsmen 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 cottages, 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.

The family cottage has two en-suite bedrooms, separated by a spacious lounge and dining area, and a large 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 closer to the river. 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 forest and hills beyond. During our last visit in November 2013 a table was laid out up here for a relaxing light 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.

Since our last visit to Tongole a swimming pool has been added which is located beside the main area.

Tongole stands in the rugged terrain of the unspoilt Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, which has a mix of vegetation zones, including miombo woodland. The game in this park has not been exposed to large groups of people, which makes it an authentic wilderness area. Big game here includes buffalo, elephant, hippo and the occasional lion and leopard. The forest here is often thick, and poaching, although more under control, can still be an issue – so the big game is fairly skittish. That said, see our comments on Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve for latest developments in the reserve.

The emphasis at Tongole has always been to protect the park and its natural habitat with a low impact on the environment. For this reason all activities at the lodge try to be non-motorised – either by foot or on the river. Walks are with an expert guide and armed scout through the wilderness. The park’s topography is varied and offers a mixture of rugged terrain, with miombo woodland and patches of rainforest. Fly and fresh-water fishing are also available as well as canoeing. 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. It is also a great spot for keen birders with its riverside location offering an abundance of birds such as black storks, fish eagles and giant kingfishers. Tongole has a specialist birding guide who will take you through the reserve, either on foot or by vehicle, to see some of the most varied birdlife in Africa.

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 last visit the lodge in November 2013 they had just received some blackboard paint and a supply of chalk for the local school – thanks to a donation from recent visitors.

Our view

We really liked Tongole Wilderness; the team was 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

Geographics

Location: Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, Malawi

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

Key personnel

Owner: Privately owned

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: We only spent one night at Tongole on our trip in November 2013, and found the food to be 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.

Special interests

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

Children

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.

Equipment: None

Notes: Children must be under the constant supervision of their parents as this is a remote location and elephants do wander through the camp.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Solar Power

Power supply notes: 24 hour power and hot water is solar powered with a back-up generator.

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

Sustainability

Education in Nkhotkota Wildlife Reserve

Education in Nkhotkota Wildlife ReserveA tragic accident led to the foundation of the Tongole Wilderness Lodge and the Tongole Foundation, a twofold project which creates employment opportunities in a very deprived part of Malawi while investing in education for children in the local areas.

Building Tongole Wilderness Lodge created 100 job vacancies with 30 full-time employees being hired at the end of the construction project. Currently, the Tongole Foundation focuses their efforts on improving the standards of living for local communities surrounding the Nkhotkota Wildlife Reserve.

Facilitated by Tongole Wilderness Lodge and their guests, progress in community-based projects has been made. The main beneficiary is Mwalawatongole F.P. School, where over 70 pupils come to study daily and are accommodated in 6 permanent classrooms and 2 temporary ones. During rainy season, the obstacles imposed by transportation are tackled by providing teaching staff with on-site accommodation to ensure educational programs are not affected. Moreover, two other schools- Chankhokwe F.P. School and Wozi J.P. School have been supplied with educational materials such as exercise books, blackboard chalk, pens and pencils and footballs.

Another initiative is ‘The Chicken Project’ which was designed to help socially disadvantaged families in Nkhotakota, Malawi. Each family is given 1 cockerel and 2 hens. Once the hens start producing chicks, 3 chicks are then donated to another family. Chicks and eggs are sold and money helps cover children’s education costs.

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

Extras

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.

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