TAKE A LOOK | These huge safari suites in the Sabi Sands are among the most lavish in SA
- Tengile River Lodge is one of South Africa’s newest and finest safari lodges.
- Huge rooms include an array of upscale comforts, as well as sweeping views of the Sand River.
- Sightings of the surrounding wildlife are equally spectacular.
- The lodge is also conveniently located just 20 minutes from Skukuza airport and is one of the easiest to reach by plane.
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Tengile River Lodge, in the southeastern part of Sabi Sands Game Reserve, opened just months before Covid-19 forced it to close. This makes it one of the newest luxury lodges to open in the country – and it’s also one of the best.
“Tengile” is Tsonga for tranquil, and the lodge lives up to its name in many ways. There are only nine suites that can accommodate a maximum of 18 people on a long stretch of land. These are spaced 10 to 30 meters apart and surrounded by dense trees on the banks of the gurgling Sand River.
View of an individual suite at Tengile. Photo: Andrew Thompson
Each room at andBeyond’s Tengile River Lodge measures 200 square meters and looks more like a luxurious vacation home than a typical safari room.
Suites have private pool decks, plunge pools, lounge chairs, and outdoor showers. The expansive bathrooms and glass-walled bedrooms offer views of the river. And an indoor and outdoor living room, fully stocked minibar with two fridges, gas fireplace and two dining areas make this one of the best safari suites in South Africa.
The bedrooms include a king-size bed and sliding glass doors that open onto the pool deck. Photo: Andrew Thompson.
The staff, if you wish, will deliver meals directly to the rooms – dish by dish, if you must – for the ultimate private dining experience. Most guests choose this option for at least one meal — but it’s also worth stepping out of the suites to enjoy the equally luxurious common areas.
The shared spaces of the lodge pay homage to the heritage of this famous corner of the Sabi Sands.
The bathrooms of the Tengile suites include a giant bathtub with sliding doors, as well as indoor and outdoor showers.
A library features historic photographs and relics of the area and some of Sabi Sands’ early farmers and hunters.
And terrazzo floors, accented by stonework from the historic Selati Railway nearby, lead to manicured green lawns. On hot Lowveld days, guests dine in the adjacent boma or on the patio to the gentle rustle of ceiling fans set into wood-slatted ceilings. There’s a fire pit for post-game drinks, and when the weather turns cold, an indoor dining area warmed by an oversized wood-burning fireplace.
Excess is a given at a lodge like this, and a chef prepares meals to exacting requirements three times a day. Drinks, including a range of craft beers, gins, rare wines, and other premium spirits, are available throughout the day. During the evenings, the bar staff mixes cocktails while patrons discuss the day’s sightings.
For those who feel the need to exercise in the bush, there is a fully equipped gym adjacent to a lap pool. In the same wellness section is an intimate massage room where guests can receive a range of spa treatments followed by sparkling wine or herbal tea.
Massage Sala at Tengile.
According to andBeyond CEO Joss Kent, the lodge was designed to provide guests with maximum space.
“At over 200 square meters per suite, the lodge has some of the largest rooms at Sabi Sand,” Kent said. “With an emphasis on both comfort and privacy, the rooms are designed to showcase the magnificence of the setting, with bespoke materials and designs that echo the colors and textures of the bush. “
Tengile River Lodge across the Sand River.
This space and attention to detail is so pleasing that heading out for the morning and evening game drives feels slightly out of place — and may even be hard to justify if what surrounded the lodge wasn’t equally rewarding.
The Sabi Sands Private Reserve abandoned fences with Kruger National Park in the early 1990s, and the Private andBeyond Concession Area runs along the border with the National Reserve. It is only a few kilometers from the famous area of Skukuza, rich in wildlife, and yet offers off-roading on a private stretch of land.
A young leopard looks down at an impala carcass. Photo: Andrew Thompson
Being the Sabi Sands, leopard sightings over an extended stay are almost guaranteed and often spectacular if they occur. The reserve’s leopards are so habituated that most don’t blink at the approach of a vehicle, making for a memorable sighting.
A resident leopard, now named after the camp, is a regular sighting at Tengile – and within 10 minutes of our maiden ride, guide Joel Hlatshwayo and tracker Robert Manzini found one of her two cubs. They later found another young leopard feeding on an impala hoisted into a tree by its mother, who was lounging nearby.
Tengile’s cub, a leopard named after the lodge, walks past the sign bearing his mother’s name. Photo: Andrew Thompson
But the location on the Sand River also lends itself to other remarkable experiences. General game abounds, elephants and buffaloes are frequent sites in the river bed and birdlife is prolific.
Lilac Breasted Roller in the Sand River. Photo: Andrew Thompson.
The great pride of the Sand River lions frequents the compound – and on more than one occasion Manzini has jumped out of the Landcruiser armed only with a two-way radio to locate them in dense blocks.
Sand River Pride hunting in the morning sunlight of the Sabi Sands. Photo: Andrew Thompson
Rarer animal sightings are also possible, such as the pack of wild dogs that occasionally trot across from nearby Kruger Park.
But a sighting late on the first evening raised the already high bar for a trip to Tengile.
“So,” Hlatshwayo said as Manzini scanned the surrounding bush with a searchlight. “How are your spotting skills? There is an opportunity to see some unusual nocturnal animals on the way back, such as porcupines, aardvarks and pangolins.”
If it was a device used by Hlatshwayo to initiate a conversation for the remaining part of the first night’s ride, it worked. As we drove through the darkness, our fellow guests shared stories of their recent pangolin sightings at Phinda Private Game Reserve, trying to convey how memorable this rare experience was.
“Looks like you’re sitting in front of the pangolin whisperers,” Hlatshwayo said with a smile.
Which, within seconds, was when Hlatshwayo dramatically stopped the vehicle – and appeared speechless.
To our left, a silent Manzini shone his spotlight on a large, scaly pinecone-like creature that was creeping slowly over a patch of sand in the adjacent bush. A disbelieving Hlatshwayo eventually gathers his strength to stammer an identification.
A rare pangolin walks in the spotlight on a game drive in the Sabi Sands. Photo: Andrew Thompson.
“Oh my word!” he said grabbing his radio. “It’s a pangolin!”
The enormity of the situation quickly hit him. As per protocol, Hlatshwayo called the sighting to other guides, who, before he could put the radio mouthpiece back on the dashboard, responded with requests to join.
And with Hlatshwayo assuring us he had no warning of the pangolin sighting despite the incredible timing of his commentary, he allowed us to get out of the vehicle for a closer look – while guides from elsewhere in the concession came with equal disbelief and excitement.
For the next 30 minutes we stood mere meters from Africa’s most exclusive wildlife spotting, knowing that only a few kilometers away was a safari lodge that could easily claim a very similar title.
Andrew Thompson was a guest of andBeyond Tengile River Lodge.