Exploring the warm heart of Africa on a family safari
12 Aug 2018
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In July this year, my two daughters (5yrs & 3yrs) and I along with another family of five (5yrs, 3yrs and 15mths), plus a very close as well as patient, child-loving friend, set off for a family safari in Malawi.
If like me (pre-trip), you have no idea where Malawi is located you will find this small, slim, landlocked country neatly sandwiched between Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia on the Eastern side of Africa. As a group, we were looking for a bit of an adventure, away from the norm but also a place where we felt safe to travel with the children and where they could get their first taste of Africa. Malawi hit the spot.
The journey to Blantyre is pretty arduous but I assure you wholeheartedly that it is worth it to stay in the three Robin Pope Lodges – Mkulamadzi, Kuthengo and Pumulani. Mkulamadzi and Kuthengo for safari and Pumulani to rest and relax. Each lodge has a different offering in terms of accommodation, location and experience and they complement each other perfectly.
Half way through our trip it was my daughter’s 6th birthday. On that day we were staying in Kuthengo and then heading to Pumulani that afternoon. Kuthengo is a new, small and luxurious lodge where you arrive and depart by boat – a fun experience for the children. The river and river banks here are teeming with wildlife, particularly hippo and crocodiles but also zebra, elephant, waterbuck, warthogs as well as numerous bird species.
Our beautiful room in Kuthengo (I believe no. 4) is the closest of all the rooms to the Shire River and my daughter woke up on her 6th birthday to the grunts of the many hippo wallowing in the water just a very short distance from our room.
Jason and Steegan who run the lodge along with their friendly team had arranged a light breakfast for us before we departed by boat for our ‘mini birthday adventure’. Armed with the ‘child friendly’ animal checklists provided by Steegan, we headed up river to see beautiful Lake Malombe before heading back downstream, all the time spotting wildlife along the way. I may be biased but it is surely a wonderful way to spend your birthday – cruising along a vast river in the company of your little friends whilst counting crocodiles, spotting fish eagles and looking for baby hippos.
Around half 9, just as the children were starting to get hungry we pulled up to a remote spot along the riverbank and were greeted by the team from the lodge. Not only did we find a fully set table in the shade of a tree, bacon and eggs cooking on an open fire and tea in the pot but also brightly coloured cupcakes on a cake stand each with a candle. My daughter was over the moon. Following our delicious breakfast, we all sang Happy Birthday and tucked into the cakes. Just as we were getting ready to move on, this time by jeep back to the lodge, two elephants casually walked through the trees. They gave us a steady stare before gently moving on. We were astonished to have been so close to them and their timing was perfect.
From Kuthengo we travelled to Pumulani, a hillside lodge overlooking the vast Lake Malawi. Run by two gregarious people – Garth and Roseanne - you can’t help but relax into this beautiful place.
One of the many positives of staying in these properties is that the people who run the lodges talk to each other on a daily basis. This means that from the start they are gathering small titbits of information about the group and passing it on to the next lodge, making our experience all the more personable and welcoming along the way.
By the time we arrive at Pumulani, Garth and Roseanne know all the children’s names and of course have been briefed about my daughter’s birthday. She couldn’t believe that they knew this and was especially delighted when they gave her a pretty card, handmade by one of the staff, as well as a Malawi bracelet and a beautifully crafted wooden bicycle. We spent five wonderful nights at Pumulani. Our days were easily filled – lazing on the private beach and swimming in the Lake, heading out in their luxury boat to Cape Maclear, picnicking and snorkelling in the crystal-clear water, wake boarding and kayaking as well as taking the sunset cruise on the dhow.
Our experience of Malawi was spectacular. It is an overused and often misused phrase but for my family it was honestly a trip of a lifetime. The people we met along the way, the animals and the places we saw as well as these unique lodges all played their part to make such wonderful and lasting memories for us all.
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