A Cape Town bride on honeymoon in the Okavango Delta was bitten through the heart by a hippopotamus and died in the arms of her new husband.

Janice Bartlett, 32, married Bruce Simpson, 30, barely two weeks ago at a glittering wedding at Zevenwacht wine estate near Kuils River.

The couple set off on their exotic honeymoon a week ago, flying first to Maun in Botswana, later to spend time at three luxury bush camps in the Okavango Delta.

At the second camp, Eagle Island Camp, they set out on Tuesday on a guided tour in a dug-out canoe.

On their return, they came across a herd of elephants between them and their camp 200m away. After waiting some time, their guide turned the dug-out around and began plotting another route back to camp through the reeds.

Lauren Salters, Janice's sister, said: "Bruce said they turned around, and there was this hippo standing next to them in the reeds.

"It charged them and threw all three of them out of the boat and into the water. Bruce dislocated his shoulder, but looked around to find Janice. He saw her lying there, but she was already gone.

"The hippo had attacked the middle of the boat where she was sitting. She had been bitten through her heart and lung. She died instantly.

"Bruce sat with her while the guide went for assistance. She died in the arms of the man she adored more than anyone in the world."

Salters described her older sister as "one of those people who leave something with you".

"She was radiant, a bag of fun, a party animal, such a go-getter."

Janice grew up in Johannesburg, but moved down to Cape Town five years ago. She and Bruce met at Sanlam, where Bruce still works. Janice had moved on to Old Mutual.

Salters said: "They were an awesome couple - they did so much together. They went skiing in Austria and to Dubai at the beginning of the year. They're both trout fishermen and they went on lots of bush trips and holidays together. And they had just bought a house in Panorama. They have two new puppies.

"Their life was so on track - she was blissfully happy," Salters said.

"We have absolutely no regrets because she lived life to the full."

Salters said the company which organised the holiday, Orient Express Safaris, had flown both Janice and Bruce's parents to Maun this week and had provided Bruce with counselling.

"Bruce is shattered," Salters said. "We're holding together, but we're very worried about him. He's extremely angry and wishes it had been him. He's absolutely broken."

Janice's body is expected to be flown back to South Africa on Thursday.

A spokesperson for Orient Express, Gabrielle Palmer, said it had been a freak attack and the hippo had probably been "frightened".

Dug-out excursions had taken place from the camp for the past 10 years without incident.