Most of Nkhotakota is made up of miombo woodland with large patches of tall grasses and occasional areas of rainforest. At 1800 sq km, it is Malawi's biggest game reserve and a wonderful example of true wilderness, which particularly attracts those who wish to enjoy a walking safari, fishing and climbing. The reserve is difficult to access because there are few roads or driveable tracks.
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve’s heart is the Bua River valley, which bisects the reserve, tumbling from the high plateau west of Lilongwe to empty into Lake Malawi. Inside the reserve, the river has cut deep, rocky gorges, interspersed with quiet, tree-fringed pools, the haunt of some very large crocodiles.
The river is the breeding ground of the lake salmon or Mpasa as it is known locally. This fish is endemic to Malawi and provides excellent angling (strictly catch and release) particularly between April and June as the river starts to clear.
Nkhotakota is a wonderful example of true, unspoiled wilderness, which particularly attracts those who wish to enjoy a walking safari, fishing and climbing. It is less about the game viewing and more about nature.
Lake Malawi is very closely located eastwards of the park and is a short day trip away. The sparkling waters of this famous lake are home to an abundance of fish and offer some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world.
Nkhotakota town, which is situated in between Lake Malawi and the reserve carries a history of the old slave trade of the 19th Century. In those days, converting to Islam meant that one couldn't be enslaved, which has resulted in the primarily Muslim faith in the area today.
Tongole Wilderness Lodge is an exciting new eco-tourism venture deep within the rugged and breathtakingly beautiful miombo woodland of the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. A mere 30km west of Lake Malawi, Tongole is the only high-end facility of its kind in the region.
This is the largest reserve in Malawi, with significant numbers of elephant, as well as lion, leopard, buffalo and upwards of 11 species of antelope. Game sightings are fairly infrequent due to the rough terrain and dense vegetation, although it is great for bird-watchers with an offering of over 280 species of bird recently recorded (including giant kingfishers and palm-nut vultures).
Nkhotakota is about the wilderness and nature. The reserve is superb to explore on foot with guides, and visitors may be able to spot any number of the game species that exist here. The reserve is located in one of the main districts affected by the past slave trade in the country and the local religion is primarily Islam.
Steeped in history, Nkhotakota was once visited by Dr David Livingstone who attempted to convince its ruler to abandon slave trade; and the tree where Dr David Livingstone and Jumbe met still stands for visitors to see today.
Malawi’s climate remains at moderate temperatures for most of the year, only getting quite cold in the chilliest winter months of June, July and August. Early morning and evening game drives will require some bundling up, but by midday the sun is out and the skies are clear.
Summers are obviously much warmer and after the season starts changing in September and October, the temperatures start to climb and the clouds prepare for rains. The mountainous topography of the country means that the low-lying areas around Lake Malawi get a lot hotter than the higher levels.
November brings the rain, some years, while other years the rain abates until December. During December, January, February and March, Malawi receives its rainfall and the vegetation begins to grow until it is wonderfully green and lush. It is not the best season for game viewing, though, as the game spreads out and becomes more difficult to see. April and May see the return of the dry weather and the temperatures drop.
Accommodation options within the reserve range from the upmarket Tongole Lodge (can be accessed by light air transfer) to the mid-range Bua River Lodge (smooth driving access). The reserve is not frequented by tourists and guests will often have the pleasure of enjoying their visits in relative seclusion.
Tongole Wilderness Lodge is the only high-end lodge in the reserve and offers unique wilderness experiences with ecotourism at the heart of the venture. It is beautifully built using wood and thatch and has endless decks and wide windows letting in the sunlight. It is positioned on the banks of the Bua River, offering stunning views.
Bua River Lodge is a newly established and highly acclaimed tented lodge, and also the first permanent accommodation in the Reserve. It has 3 categories of accommodation to suit all budgets, including the 'island tents' which are reached via a bridge offering a level of seclusion.
Malawi is primarily a driving destination and there is very little use of light air transfers. The country is very small and the roads have been well maintained, making for efficient and enjoyable road transport.
The primary international airport is in Lilongwe, the capital city, which is located in more or less the centre of the country. Sun Safaris will fly their guests into Malawi at Lilongwe International Airport from where they will connect with an arranged road transfer that will take them to their wildlife destination.
In other cases, Chileka International Airport, located 16km out of Blantyre, can be used as a domestic terminal for guests choosing to fly as close as possible to their destination in the south of Malawi.
Guests visiting Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in east-central Malawi will be flown to Lilongwe and road transferred the rest of the way to the lodge. The roads in the reserve are not easy going and it could be a 2 hour 4x4 journey.