I hold on tight as we race through scrub, night air fresh in our faces. A report has come in on the radio: a male leopard has been spotted in one of the forested areas of Sabi Sands Game Reserve. That’s where we’re headed, to try to get in on the action – things can move quickly out here, hence the rapid pace of our Jeep. Our tracker, David, says something to our ranger that makes him swing the truck to the right, cut the engine and angle a torch towards one of the trees. And then there, right in front of us, ambling along, is a leopard. He barely even glances our way – in the Jeep we’re too big to be prey, but presumably, too odd-looking to be taken seriously as a predator. As we watch, he scales another tree, roots around, then emerges with a mouth full of baby zebra.
The private pool at one of the nine suites at AndBeyond Tengile River Lodge
Jonty the ranger tells us that the leopard must have stored this stripy snack up there to keep it safe from hyenas, who can’t climb trees. He then moves the torch to show a hyena staring up at the leopard, who now appears to be peeling his zebra. He looks profoundly at ease (the leopard, not the zebra). It’s like stepping into every David Attenborough documentary I watched, jaw dropped, as a child.
Safari on Sabi Sands
OK, I realise that hearing the noise a leopard makes as it rips into a zebra may not sound romantic. However, I can honestly say that my trip to andBeyond Tengile River Lodge in South Africa has convinced me that a safari is the perfect way to spend your honeymoon. Seeing magnificent animals in their natural habitat – and this leopard is only the start on our trip – is truly awe-inspiring. What better way to start married life than sharing a series of spectacular experiences? And you can easily include this as part of a South Africa honeymoon itinerary,
The bar at AndBeyond Tengile River Lodge
Unlike neighbouring Kruger National Park, rangers are allowed to drive off road at Sabi Sands, giving us the chance to really get up close and personal with the wildlife. We do two drives per day: one at dawn to catch the animals before they retreat from the heat of the day, and another in the hours right before dusk. On one morning drive, we find ourselves mere metres away from a herd of elephants bathing in the river. The baby elephants splash and play, while the elders calmly spray themselves with water.
One curious elephant – a teenager, our ranger explains – notices us and wanders over. He fusses a bit, flapping his ears and stepping towards us, then stopping. We look nervously at Jonty and David, but they’re unworried, and sure enough, the youngster soon gets bored and returns to the serious business of thwacking his playmates with his trunk.
The sun is sparkling off the water, and there’s barely any sound apart from the splashing and grunting of the elephants and the hum of insects. It’s idyllic – many of our animal encounters are. On one drive, we watch two hippos slumber; on another, we see a pair of lions dozing in the middle of the track, magnificent manes trembling in the breeze. At some point during almost every drive, we round a corner to come across a giraffe or three, ponderously stripping leaves from the trees. If I wasn’t such a terrible photographer, my Instagram feed would look amazing right now.
Elephants at AndBeyond Tengile River Lodge
Leopards and impala and hyenas, oh my!
There are adrenalin-rush encounters, too. Due to some skilful manoeuvring by David and Jonty, we end up perfectly placed to watch a female leopard stalking a herd of impala. The sweet-faced antelope graze obliviously as she creeps closer and closer. No one in the Jeep moves a muscle; it’s as addictive as the latest must-binge Netflix show. When something finally startles the impala and they run for safety, I’m surprised to feel rather disappointed for the leopard after all the effort she put in. We watch leopards fighting in a tree. We also swing by a hyena den, where we attract the attention of three excitable cubs. They frolic around the Jeep, nibbling at the tyres and trying to chew the exhaust. On every drive, David and Jonty are full of information about all the different birds and animals, giving us a context for what we’re seeing. But they also know when it’s the right time to let us sit in awed silence and simply drink everything in.
Private terrace at one of the suites at AndBeyond Tengile River Lodge
Luxury safari accommodation
You’d think our accommodation would struggle to live up to these daily doses of natural beauty. But andBeyond Tengile River Lodge was designed to work in harmony with the landscape, using natural and reclaimed materials, and with river views from each suite, as well as from the main lodge. The result is one of the most beautiful places I have ever stayed. My suite, one of nine, is spacious and chic – a relaxing place to wake up in, and a soothing retreat after several hours out in the bush. There’s a particularly inviting living area that leads to a sunken deck with private pool. The bedroom and bathroom are full of light, and there are thoughtful touches everywhere, from the warm wrap to take on game drives (those early-morning starts can be chilly) to the mosquito spray and sun cream. The mini bar is an actual bar, with drinks included in the room rate, so I confidently predict that if you come here on honeymoon, you’ll build into your daily routine a just-the-two-of-us sundowner on the private deck, taking in those magical views as the sun glows golden over the bush land. On a more prosaic note, laundry is also included. I send my dust-encrusted safari clothes to be laundered each morning, only to have them appear, beautifully scented and pressed, on my bed later that day. This makes me feel like actual royalty – a feeling that’s heightened when I have a heavenly body massage in the spa.
It’s amazing how much of an appetite I work up sitting in a safari Jeep looking at wildlife and being pampered, so it’s fortunate that the food is plentiful and delicious. I generally just have a coffee before the morning game drives, with a snack and hot chocolate prepared by Jonty and David partway through, which means I’m ready to devour the breakfast buffet when we return. Lunch is a spread of hearty but healthy salads, falafel and dips, and there’s always freshly prepared cake before the afternoon drive, which wouldn’t be out of place at the chicest of London patisseries. But my favourite foodie experience here is the boma dinner we have one evening. In the lodge’s circular, roofless structure, we tuck into an outrageously good feast of meats, salads and breads. As a nightcap, I have a G&T served in a glass approximately the size of my head, made from craft gin. I am as happy and content as a leopard peeling a zebra.
Hannah Davies was a guest of AndBeyond. Africa Odyssey offers three nights at AndBeyond Tengile River Lodge from £4,000 per person, including internal and international flights, africaodyssey.com