Honeymoon in the wilds of South Africa
Celebrate your honeymoon with wildlife, conga dances and the hospitality of Tanda Tula safari camp in South Africa. crack
It was 5.45am and pitch black when we were woken by a cheery morning call and the promise of two steaming mugs of tea and warm muffins lying outside our tent.
Sleepily pulling on thick woollen socks, hat, trousers, t-shirt and fleece, we stumbled from our temporary home perched on the edge of a dry river bed and hauled ourselves onto an open-top Land Rover.
In less than a minute, we were wide awake, peering through the pre-dawn gloom to catch a glimpse of the wildlife which lures millions to South Africa each year.
It was day three of our honeymoon, we craned our necks to spot the elephant, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, lion and leopard we knew were out there somewhere.
Our holiday was planned to meet our particular interests by To Escape To, a tiny operator specialising in fixing honeymoons to an impressive list of destinations: South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Mozambique, Uganda, Botswana, Namibia, Seychelles and Mauritius.
Its staff have first-hand knowledge of all the destinations they handle - and know how to make the most of a specific budget. They even operate a wedding gift list, enabling guests to chip in towards the cost of the trip.
That morning, we were searching for one of the rarest animals in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve, with its open borders leading into the two million hectares that make up the Kruger National Park.
The night before there were reported sightings of the elusive creature. Rumour had it, there were three of them.
Between the six of us in the Land Rover - including our ranger Dale and tracker Jack - there was an unanimous decision to spend the morning finding them.
An hour and a half later, we were frustratingly close. The jeep's engine fell silent as we strained our ears to listen for movement. Then suddenly the radio crackled, a call came through from a nearby ranger and we hurtled off down one of many dirt tracks criss-crossing the reserve.
Clinging on tight, we flew over pot holes and hollows, excitement rising in all of us - even the hardy, experienced tracker.
And there they were.
A full-grown female cheetah with her two tiny cubs, teaching them to feed on a deer carcass. She looked warily at us, putting herself between us and her offspring.
They were startlingly beautiful, with soft fur coats and whiskers twitching in the early morning sun.
Humbled by intruding on their breakfast, we left shortly after, taking a few hurried snaps and marvelling at what we had seen.
The thrill of the morning was part of three truly fabulous days at Tanda Tula safari camp, staying in a luxurious tent a world away from conventional camping - complete with wrought-iron double bed and ensuite outdoor shower.
Our days were made up of early-morning and late-afternoon drives interspersed with traditional meals eaten in the open air and relaxing around the swimming pool.
One afternoon as we dipped our feet in the water, we spent an hour watching an elephant taking advantage of the cooling mud pool just 50 metres away.
Standing wrinkled-knee deep in mud and scratching his vast leathery back on a tree, the animal seemed unperturbed by our presence. He exemplified everything Tanda Tula stands for.
The camp is luxurious but not over the top; in fact, everything is pitched perfectly.
Tanda Tula prides itself on keeping the wild the priority, aptly describing itself as a bush experience with luxury, rather than the other way around.
Genuine warmth from the staff makes it a place where we want to go back.
But our stay in the bush would not have been so enjoyable if we had not had two days - post wedding - to collapse and catch up on sleep.
The most perfect vantage point to do just that was Tanamera Lodge – five separate huts tucked away on the edge of a hillside. Central to the lodge is the wood-finished restaurant and bar with a stunning view over the wooded valley and ravine below.
You could happily spend hours gazing at the stunning view, and we did, stretched out on our wooden deck with the sun, delicious food and a bottle of wine.
To complete the week, we spent one night in Johannesburg at the beautifully turned-out Melrose Arch Hotel. It is a place that takes the word "hip" as its mantra. Sleek and sophisticated, the place exuded cool.
But one night in this wonderful hotel gave us very little idea of what Johannesburg was truly like. To get a real flavour, we would have to go back for longer to give any intelligent opinion - just possibly on our first anniversary.