Park life - Wedding Album

Park life

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As soon as the engine cuts, we can hear him. We can hear the branches snap as they’re caught by his prehensile trunk, and then crack as he swirls and churns them around his mouth. Steve, River Bend Lodge’s resident lone bull elephant, is so close, we can count the long black eyelashes flicking from his eyelids.

‘He’s very relaxed,’ says Zimbabwean-born Darlington Chaonwa, our guide. This is a relief, as we are blocking most of the gravel road that Steve was using as his early evening restaurant, pulling off pieces of acacia as he lumbers along. As he approaches our open-top Landie, he stops to sniff the olive-green bonnet and do what looks like a curtsey, before swivelling around to start his journey past the car.

When you visit a five-star lodge, as River Bend is, you expect certain things: mini towers of gourmet food topped with something you can’t really pronounce, an oversized bed drowning in pillows and cushions, excellent service … all the common bragging rights establishments use on their websites to entice travellers.

River Bend certainly has all these boxes ticked, but then they add a few of their own. Firstly, the size of the lodge itself – there are only eight suites – means that once you enter the gates, it’s like you’re visiting a friend. Your name is learnt by every member of the staff, and small gestures such as printing a dinner and breakfast menu addressed to you and leaving a handwritten note from the head chef on your bed make you feel at ease.

After our first dinner there, we were reluctant to leave the veranda (dinner is served on the terracotta-splashed veranda or, if it’s chilly, inside the powder-blue dining room). The sounds of the bush shaking off the heat from the day provide a wonderful aperitif. But we had had a really early morning planned with Darlington, so we moseyed back to the room.

At 5 am, our phone rang. ‘Hello. Are you ready for your game drive? Would you like some tea or coffee in your room?’ It was Darlington. A few minutes later, he appeared at the door with a tray full of freshly brewed coffee and home-made rusks. It was a wonderful gesture that immediately eased the pain of getting up so early. We met him 10 minutes later at reception, where we trundled out hoping to spot some of River Bend’s critters. They recently introduced three lions into the reserve, which was already home to around 140 elephants, black rhinos, buffaloes, jackals and red hartebeest. We spotted all of these, as well as Steve.

He swivels with such grace, I think he might just be able to make it past the car. It’s tight, but Steve doesn’t look too fazed. He slides past silently and we watch in awe as he continues up the road and over the crest of the hill, dropping off into the horizon like a big grey sunset. ‘He loves it here. He felt right at home from the very first day,’ says Darlington.

Yes Steve, I did too.

THE DETAILS

Getting there River Bend is a short one-hour drive from Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape.

When to go The best time of year to visit River Bend is from January to March, as the weather is still warm, but not unbearable.

Game drives Morning and evening game drives are included in the price. Don’t be fooled by the warm days – being exposed on an open-top Landie can get bitingly cold, so take a warm jacket, scarf and beanie. These drives are taken within the private game reserve, as well as in the main section of the Addo Elephant National Park.

Extra specials For those seeking a little more privacy, you can ask for your dinner to be served on your veranda. Honeymoon couples will also be treated to a romantic turn-down service and complimentary bottle of Champagne.

Wedding Album | River Bend Lodge

Wedding Album | River Bend Lodge

Wedding Album | River Bend Lodge

Wedding Album | River Bend Lodge

Wedding Album | River Bend Lodge

Wedding Album | River Bend Lodge

Photographs Courtesy

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