“Sunbird Thawale Lodge,”:https://www.sunbirdmalawi.com/index.php/thawale in Majete Wildlife Reserve, was our final safari destination in Malawi. It was a dramatic drive from Blantyre, with hills, hairpin bends and spectacular views of the Lower Shire Valley and river. A sign eventually indicated we were 17km away, all along a bumpy dirt track.
Having dispensed with formalities at the entrance to the Reserve, we were soon at Thawale Lodge having seen impala and nyala on the way. There are six, well-spaced, tented chalets overlooking a man-made watering hole. We were in number 6, the luxury chalet, and the one furthest away from the main lodge. Whilst the interiors are similar, we had an amazing bathroom completely open to the elements and a group of tame baboons and impala. As well as shower, there was a sunken tub which we just had to experience after we’d removed the leaves. It was the first time I’ve sat on the loo and had a bath in the open air whilst game viewing. However, going to the loo in the night was an interesting experience and involved finding the torch, checking and putting on shoes and the light, opening the door, and shining the torch to check for animals before venturing out.
The interior of the zip-up tent was good with double bed (no mosquito nets required), bedside cabinets, a desk and chair, hanging space and ceiling fan. Once again, whilst there was usually power in the chalets, we arrived to find a problem with the transformer and it was a few hours before the electricity came back on.
There were two director’s chairs on a raised stone terrace right outside our tent flap. From here we had fabulous views over the watering hole, which was floodlit in the evening. Because animals were all around, we were not allowed to walk unescorted in the dark.
The main area, with thatched roof also overlooked the watering hole and housed the bar, restaurant and lounge where there was a tea/coffee station (with cafetieres).
On our first night there were four other guests, but by the time we returned from our early morning game drive, they’d gone and we had the place to ourselves for our second night. Despite being quiet, breakfast was a splendid affair with lots of fruits, salad, cheese, cereals, juices and hot breakfast cooked to order with eggs, sausage, bacon, tomato and baked beans all on offer.
Lunch, at 1pm, was a single course, and tasty but huge, so after struggling with a mound of chicken and mushroom pasta on the first day, we asked for small portions.
Dinner was scheduled for 7pm and immediately after our evening game drive, but we said we’d like to shower and change first. Having been escorted back to our tent, showering in the dark was an interesting experience and the following night, we made sure we’d changed before we went out. Dinner was a three-course affair and on our first night was a thick butternut squash soup and rolls, followed by tender beef fillet, mashed potatoes and crunchy vegetables with crème caramel for desert.
Because of the location, Majete was stiflingly hot with daytime temperatures reaching over 40 degrees. But we loved simply sitting overlooking the watering hole with a cold beer, binoculars and cameras to hand and we were fortunate to see huge amounts of water buffalo, baboons, impala, nyala, warthog and the odd elephant and zebra.
The camp was taken over in February by Sunbird, who own a number of hotels in the country, and who manage a lodge for day visitors at the Park’s entrance. This was where we had to pay our bar bill which involved lots of paperwork, complete with carbon copies, and required passport numbers. Our pristine dollar bills were painstakingly checked as the government had decreed notes before 2009 were not valid, despite their condition (however, our guidebook implied that this only applied to $100 notes). Unfortunately, a single 1 $ note was 2003 which caused great consternation until we found a later one. We subtly pointed out that the Kwacha notes we’d been getting were ancient and not looking their best, but the irony was lost.