Honeymoons can be tense affairs. Or so they tell me. Until now, I couldn’t possibly comment, but here I am with the wonderful woman who has agreed to marry me and I’m praying (a little nervously) that the next few days will go spectacularly well.
This is Natasha’s first time in Africa. She’s not exactly an animal lover and she has spent the past week panicking about taking the correct malaria tablets.
So as we come into land having flown almost an hour across the dry bushveld in a bumpy eight-seater Cessna aeroplane in the heat of the day, I slip into the conversation that a handful of celebrity guests have all stayed at Londolozi, including Tina Turner, Fleetwood Mac and Nelson Mandela. She seems impressed. But what really does the trick is when we are shown to our lodge overlooking the crocodile-infested Sand River in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province near the western border of the Kruger National Park —and offered a glass of bubbly.
A panorama view of the Blyde River Canyon Reserve in Mpumalanga province, where Freddy Halliday honeymooned
An hour or so later and we’re off. ‘This is my first safari,’ Natasha tells our tracker, Milton. ‘Fresh meat for the leopard, then,’ he says.
Londolozi’s biggest draw is its thriving population of wild leopard. On our very first outing we stumble across a female called Ximungwe, feeding on a young impala she had killed only metres away from our vehicle, her cub playing in the sand nearby.
‘She needs to eat quickly before the lions and hyenas arrive to steal her kill,’ says Chris, the guide.
We have front-row seats as the drama unfolds, spine-chilling yelps of the hyenas in the distance. This healthy leopard population is chiefly down to Londolozi owner John Varty’s conservation efforts, driven by a deep personal affinity with the species.
He even sings songs about leopards with his band The Big Cats round the fire in the evenings (or the ‘boma’, the Swahili term that Varty uses to refer to our camp) to entertain cheery guests after dinner.
An American chap from New Jersey is so moved by one of these performances that he decides to get down on one knee and propose to his girlfriend in front of the entire lodge.
African drums beating, guests dancing, celebratory Shangaan songs being performed in the background . . . ‘I couldn’t think of a more perfect moment to ask you to be my wife,’ he declares to rapturous applause from the boma. Not a dry eye in sight.
It isn’t all back to nature, however. Guests are just as likely to be enchanted by Ralph Lauren-inspired interiors and chic black-and-white framed photography as they are by belching hippos on the banks of the nearby watering hole.
Mpumalanga province, which runs into Kruger National Park, offers visitors some spectacular views
We sip sundowners at dusk by the plunge pool on our balcony at Varty Lodge (there are five camps here, each with their own style). Lions roar in the distance and a passing herd of elephants rustles quietly through the acacia trees below.
This is safari at its most sumptuous, but with a warm heart and welcoming family atmosphere.
Just watch out for the Vervet monkeys when you are escorted back from dinner to your lodge in the evenings. Natasha, despite her worrying constantly about being on safari, is surprisingly emotional when it comes to leaving — ‘I don’t want to go, everyone here is so lovely’, she says bleary-eyed as we wave goodbye to our hosts sitting on the bonnet of their Land Rover, on the edge of our private airstrip in the middle of the bush.
So after three nights at Londolozi, we were back in the bumpy Cessna towards the Azura Boutique Retreat on Benguerra island, one of a collection of dazzlingly beautiful islets that make up the Bazaruto Archipelago just off the mainland coast of southern Mozambique.
After his incredible safari, Freddy and his wife flew to the Bazaruto Archipelago (pictured) just off the mainland coast of southern Mozambique
Freddy Halliday travelled with The Ultimate Travel Company (theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk, 0207 386 4646). Three nights at Londolozi Founders Camp and five nights at Azura Benguerra (inclusive of a special honeymoon deal) from £7,450 per person, including flights and transfers.
We arrive in style — a 15-minute helicopter ride from Vilankulo airport, with spectacular views over the bleached white sand dunes and clear waters of the Indian ocean.
Look closely and you’ll catch a glimpse of turtles, reef sharks, dolphins and humpback whales darting in and out of the waves.
Natasha gasps. And we both smile as we wander through the palm trees sipping mango cocktails, waving at the local children skipping along the beach on their way home from school.
There are 20 glamorous beachfront villas here, each with their own private pools, tropical gardens and chattering birds. Our honeymoon is going well and I am perfectly happy to take all the credit.
Mind you, Abel, our dedicated host, has played a role, bringing us cocktails and even arranging a honeymoon dinner (yes, cringe if you wish, but we love the theatre of it) for us on the beach.
It’s not just romance and relaxation at Azura. ‘We do a lot of work to support the local community,’ says Eugene the hotel’s South African manager, ‘many of whom do not have access to electricity or running water — first we provide full-time employment to our 180 hotel staff (most of whom live within walking distance), but we have also opened the island’s first school and health clinic since we started welcoming guests just 11 years ago’.
Then we take a guided tour through tiny nearby fishing villages and communities to get a real flavour of island life here and the medicinal qualities of the local flora — finishing with a climb up the biggest sand dune on the island, overlooking a freshwater crocodile lake and miles of uninhabited beaches.
Guests can also enjoy Dhow cruises in traditional Mozambican fishing boats, island hopping on the hotel’s speedboat (including a delicious lunch of crab salad and fish kebabs, eaten on an empty, powdery beach) and snorkelling and diving in the protected marine reserve’s coral reefs. Just keep an eye out for the (harmless) reef sharks.
As we head back to the villa on our final night, there is a rustle of leaves and a flick of sand in front of us.
‘A snake,’ says Natasha and turns quickly back towards the safety of the hotel reception. ‘Don’t worry,’ says a member of staff, ‘it’s only a grass snake. You should see the Mozambique spitting cobra on the mainland. Now that’s dangerous.’
I assume we might be sleeping in reception after this, but Natasha rallies. Her first trip to Africa has had a calming affect and I am thrilled.
I sense we will be returning to this bewitching continent, but I also know we are unlikely to experience it in quite such comfort next time.
A trip on an Antarctic icebreaker, tracking mountain gorillas and paradise islands: Honeymoons that will make the start of marriage a real adventure
Now this is how to kick-start a marriage.
Forget a bland spa hotel by a big golf course, plump instead for something with the distinct whiff of adventure about it.
From a trip on an icebreaker in the Antarctic to tracking gorillas in Rwanda, these are honeymoons with a difference.
Feeling hot (and cold)
Ski Safari offers a honeymoon that combines skiing in Whister with a stay on the amazing island of Maui (pictured)
Blow away the cobwebs of wedding day celebrations on a honeymoon that combines skiing in Whistler in Canada with a stay by a beach with great surfing on Maui in Hawaii.
There’s also the chance to spot humpback whales and go snorkelling with turtles. Sixteen nights from £3,375pp including flights and transfers (skisafari.com).
Cruise the far south of the globe and see penguins amid some of earth’s most dramatic landscapes
This is a marriage initiation for the brave… don a dry-suit and take the plunge together into the icy waters of the Southern Ocean on a cruise beginning in Ushuaia in Argentina and continuing to the Falkland Islands and Antarctica. Activities include snorkelling past icebergs and visiting the penguin rockeries.
Twenty-one days including accommodation, meals and transfers, but not flights, from £15,349pp (vivaexpeditions.com).
Hand in hand in Patagonia
A honeymoon to Torres del Paine National Park (pictured) involves being surrounded by epic mountains
Go hiking together in Patagonia amid mountains, glaciers and lakes on a fortnight-long trip for adventurous honeymooners. Fly to Buenos Aires, then travel south to Torres del Paine National Park, the Perito Moreno glacier and the lakeland of Tierra del Fuego.
Fourteen days from £3,799pp including flights and hotels (tucantravel.com).
Go wild in Borneo
A stay on Gaya Island (pictured) comes at the end of a 12-day honeymoon adventure by wildfrontierstravel.com
Explore the wilds of Borneo while staying at sumptuous hotels and tucked-away jungle lodges on this 12-day adventure that includes rainforest expeditions to see orangutans and sun bears. And the trip ends at a peaceful beach resort on Gaya Island.
Twelve days from £4,797pp including flights and some meals (wildfrontierstravel.com).
Tipi for two in Greenland
Tipis, catching salmon with your bare hands and kayaking on fjords are all on the agenda on redsavannah.com’s Greenland honeymoon
Sleeping in a tipi is one of the highlights of a honeymoon in Greenland in which you can — if you like — leap in ice-cold Arctic waters (said to be good for your health). There’s also a chance to catch salmon with your bare hands and kayak on fjords on this back to nature honeymoon.
Seven nights full-board from £14,500 with flights (redsavannah.com).
Romantic eco-pods in Cosmoledo
Stay in an eco-pod on the isolated island of Cosmoledo. Activities include snorkelling and diving
Stay at the newly opened Cosmoledo Eco Camp, on the isolated island of Cosmoledo — about 600 miles from Mahe, capital of the Seychelles. There are eight gorgeous eco-pods at this romantic hideaway. Activities include birdwatching, snorkelling and diving.
Thirteen days from £10,800 pp including flights, most meals, four nights on Cosmoledo and five on Alphonse Island (reefandrainforest.co.uk).
Jungle love in Rwanda
Black Tomato offers a trip to Rwanda to track mountain gorillas. After that guests fly to Zanzibar for a beach break
Head deep into the Rwandan jungle to track mountain gorillas before flying to Zanzibar for a romantic beach break. In Rwanda you stay in a top-class eco-lodge set in an old volcanic cone, while in Zanzibar you hole up in a cosy lodge on Mnemba Island (pictured below).
Eleven nights with accommodation and flights from £14,000 pp (blacktomato.com).
Find your inner tiger in India
Claw-some honeymoon: Take a trip to see tigers in Pench, Kanha National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park (pictured)
Fly to Mumbai and back from Delhi on a ten-night honeymoon that includes trips to a tiger park in Pench, Kanha National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park, where you stay in a cosy-chic kutiya (jungle hut). Explore Delhi on your last day, staying at a five-star Oberoi hotel.
Ten nights from £3,935pp including flights and some meals (abercrombiekent.co.uk).
A trip in a hot air balloon is a great way to see the sand dunes of Namibia – a remote and magical landscape
Admire the spectacular Sossusvlei sand dunes in Namibia before touching down in your hot air balloon for a champagne breakfast. The balloon ride is one of the highlights of a trip to this remote, magical landscape with its towering dunes and clear, starry skies.
Ten nights at Little Kulala Resort with flights from £7,500pp (trueluxury.travel).
Love in a South African treehouse
Wild times: Kuoni can arrange a honeymoon to the Kruger National Park in South Africa (pictured)
Listen to lions roaring on the plains while staying in a super-comfortable treehouse at Lion Sands Game Reserve at Kruger National Park in South Africa. A delicious picnic dinner is provided and it’s possible to sleep beneath the stars. Twice daily game drives are organised.
Nine-night breaks with one night in the treehouse, a night in Lion Sands River Lodge and seven nights at the Victoria & Alfred hotel in Cape Town from £4,433 pp including flights, transfers and some meals (kuoni.co.uk).