Creature Comforts
Belle Magazine Australia|June/July 2019

A new safari lodge set in a South African game reserve brings the outdoors into view in a rip-roaring way.

At a waterhole in South Africa’s Sabi Sand Game Reserve, an elephant the size of a Mack truck is finessing his synchronised swimming. The water turns his cracked dusty hide a sleek glossy black as he plunges in trunk first, bottom up (yes, it does look big) and then, newly buoyant, he rolls not once but three times. Clearly, his pre-breakfast dip feels good.

On a game drive from Tengile River Lodge, the newest member of the &Beyond safari lodge portfolio, it’s not just about sightings. What thrills is the immersion in the beautiful and often brutal soap opera that is life in the wild. We turn a corner and surprise a pride of lions. The two males are in a food coma, lying on their backs, legs in the air, like cats wanting their tummies rubbed. The lionesses are gnawing on leftovers.

On safari you never know what each game drive will bring. With luck the ‘big five’ – lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros – but just as bewitching are some 300 species of birds, among them the lilac-breasted roller, the red bishop, the rare saddlebill stork, and the vivid yellow African masked weaver whose mating antics could provide more than enough material for its own reality TV show. The male masked weaver fashions his intricately woven nest from plant material. It hangs like a pouch from the tree, along with dozens of others. If the female is impressed enough by a potential mate’s building skills, she lines it with feathers and soft grasses. If she doesn’t like it, the suitor might have to trash it and start again.

The masked weaver isn’t the only creature with an interest in construction. Tradesmen working on the Tengile River Lodge, which opened in December 2018, always knew when their honorary project manager had dropped by. The mystery visitor had left telltale paw prints in the wet cement of the pool outside lodge suite no. 5 and would deposit the leftovers of whatever she’d sourced for dinner under the deck of suites no. 6 or 8. She also liked to sneak up on the electricians at work, was sometimes found stretching out on the cool terrazzo floors, and was once discovered inside a rolling rubbish bin she’d fallen into while making sure its contents were up to standard.

The inquisitive creature, who would be named Tengile (which means ‘tranquil’ in the local Tsonga language) after the lodge, was born on a rocky outcrop not far from suite no. 9. By a kind of mystical osmosis, Tengile River Lodge emerged as sleek, muscular and spectacular as the young leopard herself.

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