andBeyond’s brand new Tengile River Lodge opened on December 1, 2018, in the wildlife-rich and iconic predator-dense Sabi Sand Game Reserve. With only nine guest suites dotted along the banks of the Sand River, a refined spaciousness fused with sleek interiors ensures an exceptional experience is guaranteed.
The impala alarm calls signal a possible threat. As we approach the area where ranger Chris and tracker David think it is coming from, giraffe and impala all look in one direction – the drainage line. With fresh drag marks, we know we have struck gold. We must have missed the kill by a few minutes, as we are staring at the white-tipped tail of the Teardrop female leopard and an impala carcass.
She tears open the rump, starts eating nervously, looking up every few moments. Just as she’s tucking in, two hyenas storm towards her and she abandons her meal. Ten minutes later, the hyenas have ripped the carcass to shreds and run off with the rest. She is wise enough not to fight the hyenas – any injury to her will put her two cubs’ lives at risk if she’s unable to hunt and provide food for them.
Teardrop returns, manage to eat some more and with a piece of liver safely tucked in her jaws, starts making her way towards her cubs, a good distance away, which we estimate to be almost a mile. She lays down under a tree and starts calling. They scramble towards her, happy to see mom and the male cub finds the hidden liver, enjoying it all by himself, with his sister receiving grooming from mom.
My daughter and I left Cape Town the previous day on our Airlink flight between Cape Town International Airport and Skukuza Airport. The streamlined Embraer 135 flies directly to Skukuza Airport in just 2 hours and 30 minutes, ensuring that passengers reach their destination well in time for lunch or High Tea and an exemplary afternoon in the bush.
We are collected at Skukuza Airport by ranger Chris, who drives us to the lodge in the andBeyond Tengile River Lodge safari vehicle. A warm welcome is bestowed on us by the staff, with a cool refresher towel and a thirst-quenching drink. The entrance is strikingly designed and as we walk down the stairs, we reach the level for the bar, library and dining area.
Lunch is a gastronomical indulgence, cooked up by executive chef Tamarin and the mezze platter consists of the most delicious food. We are joined by a lone elephant, who grazes adjacent to the boma. After an enjoyable meal, we are taken to our suite and given the option whether we would like to walk or use the golf cart to get there. Wanting to immerse ourselves into the bush adventure, we opt for the walk to our suite but decide after realizing our level of (un)fitness, we will from here on out be zipped around in the golf cart by our butler, Simon.
The guest suites at andBeyond Tengile River Lodge are sized at over 2,150 sq ft, making them both spacious and comfortable, with the emphasis on privacy. Designed by Johannesburg-based architects Nick Plewman (design architect) and Ursula Randall (project architect) from Nicholas Plewman Architects (NPA), with interiors by Durbanite Michele Throssell from Michele Throssell Interiors, they merged their collective areas of expertise to create something so classic and contemporary, it’s breathtakingly worlds apart from the typical safari lodge build and color choices.
“I was inspired by so many different aspects of the surroundings for the interiors,” says Michele. “Bringing the outside in, playing on bark surfaces from trees as a source of inspiration, as well as textures from animals and their different coats, such as velvet and frayed edged upholstery. As we all know, the bush has an intoxicating lure, with the dangers of big game and the elegance of certain animals married together to create a relationship of electric tranquility.”
Michele worked on the premise of electric furnishings – patterns on fabrics, design details, organic elements, contemporary & colonial to create a modern mix. Coupling the electric with tranquility, she created comfort, privacy and becoming one with nature. “We have brought this concept into our design by producing contrasting pieces, organic elements, and items with bespoke designs.”
This is evident in the repurposed aspects of the lodge, such as the stone from the Selati Railway, which was used to create the terrazzo floors throughout the lodge and suites. Rich in history, the railway used to run through the area, connecting the gold mines of Johannesburg with the port city of Maputo in Mozambique. The stones have many contrasting colors, with dark greens, rust colors and varying shades of black. Slatted raw wood on the ceilings wrap down onto the walls as cladding creating a cabin-like feel, whilst celebrating the amazing trees and bark outside. High ceilings with great expansion of glazing create beams of natural light.
“We enjoy working closely with our interior designers”, says Ursula. “This enables both the architect and interior designer to create a more integrated and user-friendly end-product. The NPA philosophy is to always fashion architecture that is site appropriate, hence our material palette resonated with elements such as the Setali railway stone floor, local quarry stone cladding and reused railway sleeper cladding. This allowed the building to blend effortlessly into the surroundings.”
An emphasis on sustainability is a core ingredient at all the andBeyond lodges and is mirrored by their treading lightly on the earth ethos when constructing a lodge, especially in a remote location such as the Sabi Sand. “There are naturally many logistical problems working in an otherwise inaccessible area, the biggest stumbling blocks being material transport and on-site coordination”, Ursula explains. “Fortunately, we worked with an experienced group of professionals – Mike Buyskes Construction, who conducted the operation without a hitch. This helped us to lessen the impact on the environment and have a minimally invasive construction process. This meant that we had amazing close-up encounters with the resident animals, which was the greatest feather in our cap that the wildlife did not feel disturbed or threatened by our presence.”
After the most delectable High tea, consisting of home-made pastries and nougat, we set off to see what the bush has on offer for us. I had learned that we are in good hands as Chris’s favorite animal also happens to be a leopard. Traversing through the 26,000-acre concession, Chris gets notified that Ncila is still ‘static’ at his current location. This could only mean one thing – this gorgeous male leopard has a meal suspended from a tree branch and will only leave the area when there is no more food left. I snap a photo of Ncila, looking up to see if the half-eaten impala is still where he’s positioned it. He’s not taking any chances as hyenas have made it known that they are there for the taking.
Only two vehicles are allowed per sighting, and we leave Ncila to continue his slumber on the tree branch. In a typical cat-like manner, he has fallen asleep on the branch, with his paw tucked in underneath his face. The sun has started setting, and the silhouette of a troop of baboons bounding around in a tree catches our attention.
Back at the lodge, we are treated to pre-dinner drinks in the bar area and a scrumptious supper. Simon drives us to our suite where we look forward to a good night’s sleep and the prospect of what lies ahead for us the following day. After a cleansing shower with andBeyond’s Argan Oil & Lemon Verbena Healing Earth products, we retire to bed, with the only nocturnal disturbance the faraway sound of a lion roaring.
Pre-dawn in the bush is always an extraordinary preamble to what the day has in store and this morning is no different. After our incredible sighting of the Teardrop female and her cubs, we stop for a morning coffee break. On our way to the lodge, my daughter is impressed that she gets the use of Swarovski binoculars during our stay to view her favorite feathered creatures up in the treetops or on the ground. We pause to admire a lilac-breasted roller, perched against a bright blue sky, and further afield, wait for a martial eagle to take flight.
Breakfast is served in the dining area and is a veritable feast of pastries and hot breakfast. We spend the afternoon at leisure in our room, taking in the wonderful scenery from our sunken lounge and having a dip in the pool. Our option to have lunch provided in-room is a genius idea, and we dine on the most perfectly prepared gourmet burgers, fries, and pizza.
Our afternoon game drive is jam-packed with leopards – Ncila has hoisted the remnants of his impala so high up in the tree, he has to perfect his balancing act not to let his prey fall to the ground into the claws of the waiting hyenas or unceremoniously lose his footing. With dusk drawing closer, we notice an animal crouching down in the long grass. It’s the Tamboti young female, taking a chance on an unsuspecting herd of impala grazing in the distance. Using the game drive vehicles as cover, she stalks closer but doesn’t manage to gain enough momentum to make a catch.
The animals of the Sabi Sand certainly make an impression on guests and visitors alike. “Early one morning, around 06:30 am, we were startled by movement and the sound of running animals,” Michele recalls. “We were not sure where they were coming from, when all of a sudden, a herd of bushbuck and kudu ran through the lodge. Unsure of what was happening, the whole team ran for cover. A few seconds later, once the frightened bushbuck and kudus had disappeared, we saw a pack of twenty-two wild dogs who had been on their morning hunt.”
Ursula remembers the young female leopard, who was born around the start of the project with fondness. “She made the building site her home. We watched her grow up, practicing her stalking skills, closely monitoring the construction workers from a nearby tree, checking in on the electrician and hiding her kills under the decks. She became the ‘mascot’ in a sense and was later named Tengile, after the lodge.”
Today, we are Johannesburg-bound from Skukuza Airport. Our onward journey takes only on hour on the Airlink Embraer 135, with the prospect of an unforgettable island experience in Madagascar’s Nosy Ankao.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
Thank you to Sarah Coyne and Chloe Hager from Alice Marshall Public Relations for arranging our stay.
Airlink – How to Get There
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