TAKE A LOOK | These enormous safari suites in the Sabi Sands are among SA's most lavish

Business Insider SA
Views from the outside lounge and deck in Tengile River Lodge rooms.
Views from the outside lounge and deck in Tengile River Lodge rooms.
  • Tengile River Lodge is one of the newest and finest safari lodges in South Africa.
  • Enormous rooms include a range of high-end comforts, plus panoramic views over the Sand River.
  • The surrounding wildlife sightings are equally spectacular.
  • The lodge is also conveniently located just 20 minutes from Skukuza Airport and is one of the easiest to reach by air.
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Tengile River Lodge, in the southeastern section of the Sabi Sands game reserve, opened its doors just months before Covid-19 forced it to shut back down. This makes it one of the newest luxury lodges to open in the country - and it's among the best, too. 

"Tengile" is Tsonga for tranquil, and the lodge lives up to its name in several ways. There are just nine suites that host a maximum of 18 guests across a lengthy tract of land. These are spaced between 10 and 30 metres apart and set among dense trees on the banks of the gurgling Sand River.

tengile suite safari
View of an individual suite at Tengile. Photo: Andrew Thompson

Each room at andBeyond's Tengile River Lodge is 200 square metres and resembles a luxurious holiday home more closely than a typical safari lodge room.

Suites have a private pool deck, plunge pool, loungers, and an outdoor shower. Sprawling glass-walled bathrooms and bedrooms offer views across the river. And an indoor and outdoor lounge, fully-stocked minibar with two fridges, a gas fireplace, and two dining areas make for one of South Africa's top safari suites.

tengile bedroom
Bedrooms include king-size bed and sliding glass doors that open onto the pool deck. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

Staff, if guests choose, will deliver meals directly to the rooms - course-by-course, if you must - for the ultimate private dining experience. Most guests choose this option for at least one meal - but there's also value in stepping out of the suites to embrace the equally luxurious communal spaces.

The lodge's shared spaces pay homage to the heritage of this famous corner of the Sabi Sands.

Suite bathrooms at Tengile include giant bathtub w
Suite bathrooms at Tengile include giant bathtub with sliding doors, plus indoor and outdoor showers.

A library features historical photographs and relics from the region and some of the Sabi Sands' original farmers and hunters.

And terrazzo floors, accented by stonework from the nearby historic Selati Railway, lead out onto green manicured lawns. On warm Lowveld days, guests dine in the adjacent boma or on the patio set beneath the gentle swishing of ceiling fans set into wood-slatted ceilings. There's a fire pit for post-game drive drinks, and when the weather cools, an indoor dining area warmed by an oversized wood-burning fireplace.

Overindulgence is a given at a lodge like this, and an in-house chef prepares meals to exact requirements three times a day. Drinks, including a range of craft beers, gins, rare wines, and other top-shelf liquor, are available throughout the day. During evenings, bar staff whip up cocktails while guests discuss the day's sightings.

For those who feel the need to exercise while in the bush, there's a fully-equipped gym adjacent to a lap pool. In the same wellness section is an intimate massage Sala where guests can receive a range of spa treatments followed by sparkling wine or herbal tea.

massage sala
Massage Sala at Tengile.

According to andBeyond CEO Joss Kent, the lodge was designed to give guests maximum space.

"At over 200 square metres per guest suite, the lodge has some of the largest rooms in the Sabi Sand," Kent said. "With the emphasis on both comfort and privacy, the rooms are designed to highlight the magnificence of the setting, with bespoke materials and designs that echo the colours and textures of the bush."

tengile river lodge
Tengile River Lodge from across the Sand River.

This space and attention to detail are so pleasing that leaving for morning and evening game drives feels slightly wrong - and may even be difficult to justify if what surrounded the lodge wasn't equally rewarding. 

The private Sabi Sands reserve dropped fences with the Kruger National Park in the early 1990s, and andBeyond's private concession area runs along the border with the national reserve. It's just a few kilometres from the famously wildlife-rich Skukuza area - and yet allows for off-roading on a private section of land.

leopard cub impala carcass
A young leopard peers down over an impala carcass. Photo: Andrew Thompson

Being the Sabi Sands, leopard sightings over an extended stay are near-guaranteed and often spectacular if they do occur. So habituated are the leopards in the reserve that most don't bat an eyelid to an approaching vehicle, allowing for memorable viewing.

A resident leopard, now named after the camp, is a regular sighting at Tengile - and within 10 minutes of our inaugural drive, guide Joel Hlatshwayo and tracker Robert Manzini found one of her two cubs. Later, they found another young leopard feeding on an impala hoisted up a tree by its mother, who lolled nearby.

leopard cub tengile
The cub of Tengile, a leopard named after the lodge, walks past the signpost 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 buffalos are frequent sights in the riverbed, and birdlife is prolific.

lilac breasted roller bird
Lilac breasted roller in the Sand River. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

The large Sand River pride of lions frequent the concession - and on more than one occasion, Manzini hopped off the Landcruiser armed only with a two-way radio to locate them in dense blocks.

lions hunting
The Sand River pride hunting in the morning sunlight of the Sabi Sands. Photo: Andrew Thompson

Rarer animal sightings are also possible, like of the pack of wild dogs that occasionally trots across from neighbouring Kruger Park. 

But a sighting late into the first evening elevated the already high bar for a trip to Tengile. 

"So," Hlatshwayo said while Manzini scanned the surrounding bush with a spotlight. "How are your spotting skills? There's an opportunity to see some unusual nocturnal animals on the way back, like porcupines, aardvarks, and pangolins."

If it was a device used by Hlatshwayo to drum up a conversation for the remaining portion of the first evening's drive, it worked. As we drove through the dark, our fellow guests shared stories of their recent pangolin sightings in Phinda Private Game Reserve, attempting to convey just how memorable the rare experience was.

"It sounds like you're sitting in front of the pangolin whisperers," Hlatshwayo said with a grin.

Which, give or take a few seconds, was when Hlatshwayo brought the vehicle to a dramatic halt - and appeared speechless.

To our left, a silent Manzini rested his spotlight on a large scaly pine-cone-like creature skulking slowly across a sandy patch in the adjacent bush. An incredulous Hlatshwayo eventually mustered his strength to stammer out an identification.

A rare pangolin wanders into the spotlight on a game drive in the Sabi Sands. Photo: Andrew Thompson.

"Oh my word!" he said, reaching for his radio. "That's... a pangolin!" 

The enormity of the situation hit home quickly. As per protocol, Hlatshwayo called in the sighting to fellow guides, who, before he could return the radio mouthpiece to the dashboard, responded with requests to join.

And with Hlatshwayo assuring us he had no forewarning of the pangolin sighting despite the unbelievable timing of his comment, he allowed us to step off the vehicle for a closer look - as guides from elsewhere in the concession drove in with equal incredulity and excitement.

For the next 30 minutes, we stood metres away from perhaps Africa's most exclusive wildlife sighting, with the knowledge that just a few kilometres away was a safari lodge that could easily lay claim to a very similar title.

Andrew Thompson was a guest of andBeyond Tengile River Lodge.

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