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Real Honeymoon: South Africa

Sun, sea and safaris for Matt and Maria Carroll

Honeymoon Review: Luxury in South Africa

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When it came to booking our honeymoon, Maria and I had rather different ideas about what constituted ‘bliss’. While I like things a bit more adventurous – you know, wild animals, rugged landscapes, that sort of thing – Maria’s idea of holiday heaven is to park herself on a beach with a book – preferably within easy reach of something cool and refreshing from the bar. Luckily, we’re both partial to obscene luxury (who isn’t?), so our solution was a two-week blend of sea and safari, staying in a bunch of swanky South African lodges before arriving on the paradise island of Benguerra in Mozambique. It promised to be the trip we’d both been dreaming of.

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Where the Wild Things Are

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After all the excitement of the wedding (not to mention months of planning), we arrived at Camp Jambulani to find six luxurious bungalows arranged around a riverbed – and a herd of friendly elephants waiting to whisk us off into the bush. Unlike the usual safari experience, where you sit in the back of Land Rover the whole time, here you get to climb on the back of your own Nelly – for an altogether more intimate encounter with the local wildlife.

Nelly the Elephant

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The resident elephants – including the eponymous Jabulani himself – were all rescued from Zimbabwe a few years ago, and brought here to Kruger National Park to be looked after by a team of experts. This was Maria’s first time in Africa, and although I’ve been here before, we were both blown away by these amazing animals. They’re highly intelligent, sensitive creatures, able to remember up to 80 different instructions – as their handlers demonstrated. Even more striking, though, was the bond that existed between the elephants themselves; as we plodded our way through the jaw-dropping scenery, we heard a constant soundtrack of low grumbles as the eles communicated with each other. Being on the backs of these huge beasts gave us an opportunity to see things that you’d normally miss – like exotic birds that usually flit off when a 4×4 bursts onto the scene, and skittish antelopes. However, it only got better…

The Big Five

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Aside from the elephant-back walks and luxurious lodges, Camp Jabulani also offers regular game drives, and thanks to our expert guide, Fred, we got to see all the animals on our wish-list within the first three days. These included a lioness who was still polishing off a kill from the night before, herds of buffalo and (luckiest of all) a leopard – sat nonchalantly showing off her spots beside a lake. We even got to stroke a cheetah, on a trip to a local rescue centre; it purred just like a regular tabby. As we moved on to our next stopover, though, things got even more dramatic…

Raging Bulls and Fine Wines

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Singita Lebombo is like a hip hotel in the middle of the African backcountry. Located less than two hours’ drive from Camp Jabulani, it features 15 enormous, glass-fronted apartments scattered across a rocky hillside, each overlooking a pristine valley where hippos wallow about in the river below, crocs lurk on the banks and eagles circle overhead. The moment we arrived, we were handed a refreshing drink and mint-infused towel, before being shown to our suite – which was the size of our London flat and a lot more stylish. Our butler brought us a bottle of gin for those all-important G&Ts, and we sat back on our verandah to watch an elephant casually munching his way through the greenery in the valley below. The service here was outstanding, from the friendly waiters and expert sommelier (the wine cellar here has over 12000 bottles!) to our expert guides, James and Given.

Full of Surprises

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Throughout our week here, Argidio constantly surprised us – spending hours building a pagoda on the beach using palm leaves and flowers (which made the other guests green with envy), bringing cocktails to our room at sunset and even etching little pictures into our breakfast butter. The food was exquisite – freshly caught fish, delicious steaks and mouthwatering salads – with our table set up on the beach like one of those Jack Vettriano paintings. More importantly though, Maria got her wish – spending each sun-soaked day reading and taking dips in the pool, while I got to enjoy barefoot runs along the shore. Utter bliss.

Treetop Bliss

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The final stop on our grand safari tour was Lion Sands – a cluster of enormous suites with private pools and outdoor showers on an exclusive conservancy just off Kruger. What we loved about this trip was that every place we stayed at had its own style – the traditional luxury of Jabulani, the cutting-edge cool of Singita, and the spacious opulence of Lion Sands. Perhaps the most memorable bit of our seven-night safari, though, was the candlelit sleepover in a treehouse. After a day where we’d got within stroking distance of another leopard, our guide dropped us off at an enormous old tree, which had been decked out with romantic lamps, champagne, delicious food and – more importantly – a sumptuous double bed. With the sun’s rays setting the sky on fire, we sat back and toasted yet another day of bliss. Next stop, the beach…

Paradise Island

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Staying at Lion Sands meant we were only a short flight away from Mozambique, which has 1700 miles of pristine white beaches. But to ensure that we really got away from it all, we took a helicopter across to Azura on the paradise island of Benguerra – just a few miles off the coast. Minutes after arriving, our butler, Argidio, escorted us to our beachfront villa (private pool, outdoor shower) and set the table up for lunch in the garden.

Paws for Thought

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We thought we’d seen it all with Fred back at Jabulani, but that was nothing compared to what we saw here. In just two days we watched tiny lion cubs falling over each other and annoying their mum, leopard cubs peeking out at us through the long grass, a herd of 50 elephants surrounding our truck and a bunch of other sights that we’ll never forget as long as we live. The highlight, though, was seeing a trio of male lions chasing after three buffalo bulls – the latter charging towards us at top speed in a desperate attempt to avoid being the lions’ next lunch. The enormous cats came bounding out of the bush, blood and drool dripping from their chops, in a chase that lasted hours. Although one of the buffalos ended up with a nasty gash on their back leg, it was the their lucky day, and eventually they got away. All’s well that ends well!

Go There

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Stay for two nights at Camp Jabulani in a Luxury Suite, two nights at Singita Lebombo & Sweni Lodges in a Lebombo Lodge Suite and seven nights at Azura in a Luxury Beach Villa from £8915 per person. Price includes all-inclusive accommodation, economy flights from London Heathrow with British Airways, internal flights with South African Airways and Lam Mozambique, and transfers. Based on 6 August 2011 departure and two people sharing. For further information, please contact Elegant Resorts Reservations on 01244 897515 or visit our website elegantresorts.co.uk.

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Full-board accommodation at Lion Sands is available from £1070 per room, per night, including game drives. For more information, call World Big Cat Safaris on 01273 691642 or visit: worldbigcatsafaris.com. For more info on Camp Jabulani, visit: relaischateaux.com/jabulani.