“Now is where the journey really starts,” announced our guide, Bruce Nobela, as we switched from his van into a 4×4. From the Polokwane International Airport in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, it’s an hour drive to the entry point of Leshiba Wilderness, a private game reserve tucked away in a hidden valley on top of the Soutpansberg mountains. While Nobela is the CEO of local tour operating company Nhlamulo Destinations, it was even his first time to this luxury lodge sitting above the clouds.
One of more than 28,000 private game reserves in South Africa, Leshiba is not the typical safari lodge your clients may envision. It’s a steep, hour-long ascent by 4×4 to the top of this “Venda Village,” but once couples catch a glimpse of the view of the valleys below—especially from the sunken tub in the open-walled lodge bathroom—they’ll immediately fall head over heels.
“What you can see here is nature; you can smell it, you can feel it, you can touch it,” says general manager Kathryn Straughan.
When Straughan came across the dilapidated huts in 1995, she decided to bring the traditional village back to life as authentically as possible, restoring five en-suite huts with clay and dung bricks, and inviting Venda artist Noria Mabasa to recreate the camp crafting sculptures throughout. Two luxury suites now flank either side of the eco lodge, which runs on solar power, but your clients won’t be glamping by any means.
Tucked away in the bush, these private villa-style retreats feature plush bedding, expansive stone baths, outdoor showers, plunge pools and an open fire place. There’s no restaurant and no menus, so guests won’t be joining other groups for a stuffy, sit-down affair. Instead, the chefs prep globally inspired, three-course meals (that please even the pickiest of eaters) using produce grown in the nearby garden and meat sourced from markets in town. Before an evening game drive, couples can linger over a lavish high tea spread while watching giraffes graze in the valley. When they return and freshen up, dinner will be ready and waiting on their private terrace. Rates start at $190 pp dbl.
It’s these types of “hidden gems” like Leshiba, as well as the variety of experiences within close proximity, that are transforming South Africa into a destination for younger, more adventurous couples.
“South Africa continues to gain in popularity as a top honeymoon destination,” says Kimberly Krusell, founder and executive travel consultant at Honu Travel. “It’s easy to see why so many couples are falling in love with its magical combination of luxurious safaris, breathtaking scenery, welcoming people and some of the world’s best wines. With the exchange rate favoring the USD, South Africa is also amazingly affordable, putting these incredibly romantic experiences easily within reach for many couples beginning their lives together.”
Just two hours from Leshiba, your clients can experience another type of safari escape at Mopane Bush Lodge. Located near Mapungubwe National Park, the four-star lodge features 12 thatched-roof chalets with verandahs overlooking the bush. In the evening, couples can set off on a game drive for sundowner cocktails or toast next to the lodge pool, where they can dine on gourmet South African fare under the stars. Rates start at $233 pp per night.
Thanks to three airports serving Kruger National Park, your clients can quickly jet
off to the bush from Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban with South African Airways’ Airlink. Flights are around an hour, and the second your clients step off the plane, they’ll hop right into a safari vehicle and be on their way for an authentic South African safari experience.
South African Airways makes it easy for couples to honeymoon hop from Johannesburg to other destinations across Africa. After landing in the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg, recommend your clients escape to the secluded five-star Saxon Hotel, holing up in one of the villa luxury suites. Jetlag will quickly slip away after a dip in the infinity pool and a soothing hammam session at the spa. Rates for a luxury suite start at $525 per night.
When couples are ready for part deux, pair a South African experience with a trip to neighboring Mozambique. In just 45 minutes, travelers will land in this rugged piece of paradise with a coastline stretching 1,535 miles along the Indian Ocean. On the coast, recommend the five-star White Pearl Resort, a 30-minute helicopter ride from Maputo International Airport.
The ultimate romantic escape, this private beachfront resort features 21 hilltop villas perched on stilts overlooking the sea. Couples will be treated to five-star service as dedicated butlers prep everything from multi-course picnics on the sand to candlelit dinners in the privacy of villa terraces. The best way to soak up views? With a dip in the plunge pool, followed by stargazing on your suite’s chaise lounges, with a glass of South African bubbly in hand. Rates for a pool suite start at $625 pp per night and include all meals, drinks and activities, from ocean safaris to horseback riding along the beach.
Leshiba Wilderness: leshiba.co.za
Mopane Bush Lodge: mopanebushlodge.co.za
Nhlamulo Destinations: nhlamulodestinations.co.za
Saxon Hotel: saxon.co.za
South African Airways: flysaa.com
South African Tourism: southafrica.net
White Pearl Resort: whitepearlresorts.com