Checking into Africa's Elephant Hotel

Checking into Africa's Elephant Hotel

SOUTH LUANGWA, ZAMBIA – As the “trunk” slowly moves across the lobby of the spectacular Mfuwe Lodge, a recently arrived guest screams.

The “trunk,” you see, is attached to a four-ton African elephant named Wonky Tusk.

The amazing site of a full-grown elephant strolling through the posh Zambian resort’s reception area with her offspring in tow might be startling, but Wonky Tusk’s arrival is an annual event at this magnificent safari lodge high above Mfuwe Lagoon in South Luangwa National Park.

The elephants have the run of the place — Wonky Tusk’s youngest, Lord Wellington, was born on the lodge grounds in 2009 and was introduced to the lobby when he was just two days old. He isn’t shy about snuggling against the reception desk and trying to snag a pen with his trunk.

Camera-wielding guests snap photos of the elephants, which come to the national park late each year in search of the sweet wild mangos that grow here in abundance.

It’s all great fun for the guests and the scene is repeated every year between October and December at places like Flatdogs Camp (lodge), a neighbour of Mfuwe Lodge, and many other properties scattered throughout South Luangwa National Park, one of the great animal sanctuaries in the world.

The park supports large populations of elephants, rhinos, giraffes, water buffalos, lions and leopards, and is renowned for its “walking safaris.”

The lodges in the park are some of the most beautiful in Africa and, as Wonky Tusk and her family prove, let you get close to the park’s natural inhabitants.

Owned by the famed Bushcamp Company, the Mfuwe Lodge is one of the most-visited in the park and offers 18 well-appointed chalets that were all refurbished and modernized in 2010.

The Bush Spa adjacent to the lodge is a pleasure palace with all the latest treatments. No wonder Mfuwe Lodge was voted Best Lodge in Zambia in 2009.

The Bushcamp Company also operates six “Bushcamps” in the national park, which runs along the Luangwa and Kapamba Rivers. Many guests like to combine stays at the modern Mfuwe Lodge and the “Bushcamps,” where it’s not unusual to wake up to African wildlife close by.

Zambia is becoming one of Africa’s “must see” destinations, but an unknown gem in these parts is tiny Malawi, a sliver of a country sandwiched between Zambia and Tanzania.

Called “The Warm Heart of Africa,” Malawi offers visitors a combination of breathtaking scenery — its highest peaks rise 3,000 metres — along with lush rainforests and dramatic river valleys.

The Rift Valley, a vast chasm that Lake Malawi fills, is one of Malawi’s greatest natural treasures along with the Central African Plateau, characterized by a series of dramatic escarpments, such as at Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, and the Highlands, a vast area accented by clear mountain streams, heaths, rolling grassland and evergreen forests.

Accommodation in Malawi ranks among the best in Africa, and there’s no better example of that than Huntingdon House in the Highlands area just south of Blantyre. The luxury boutique hotel sits in the shadow of mighty Thyolo Mountain, where rolling tea estates dominate.

Huntingdon House is on the Satemwa Tea Estate and offers five luxury suites and the Chawani Bungalow — a four-room self-catering complex that’s perfect for families. Huntingdon House was recently refurbished but the owners have preserved Chawani Bungalow much as it was when it was built in the 1900s. 

Although small, Malawi offers travellers a host of accommodation that makes the rest of Africa green with envy. Other properties in Malawi include:

Ku Chawe Inn, on the spectacular Zomba Plateau, a four-hour drive from the capital Lilongwe. Open all year, the resort offers 37 ensuite rooms with jaw-dropping views.

Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park, a spectacular game reserve in the southern region of Malawi. The park offers safaris jeeps or boats on the river.

Zomba Forest Lodge is an ideal place to explore the Plateau. The five luxury rooms have no electricity, so fireplaces and candles make for a romantic setting.

Makuzi Beach Lodge has water sports, secluded beaches, historic landmarks and lots of bird life. Its 11 thatched cottages are unique to the region and you can go snorkeling and kayaking in Lake Malawi.

Kaya Mawa Lodge You need a boat or plane to reach this secluded island resort, which has recently been refurbished and is now Lake Malawi’s premier resort with chalets and private homes as part of its accommodation inventory. Kaya Mawa was voted one of the Top 10 most romantic places on Earth by Conde Naste magazine.

Safari Beach Lodge is in the Senga Bay Forest Reserve. It sits on the shore of Lake Malawi and offers a private beach setting that’s perfect for romantic interludes. The six gazebos and four rooms are the ideal place to pop “the question.”

Norman Carr Cottage in the Southern Lake Shore, is a tranquil, gentle and restful lakeshore escape, with boating, snorkeling, sunset cruises and exceptional home cooked food.

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