Sabi Sands Lodge: Cheetah Plains

WORDS Leana Clunies-Ross IMAGES Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes

Not your traditional luxury lodge, Cheetah Plains redefines the conventional, translating urban sophistication into the bush.

With his work well known for its modern clean lines, celebrated architect and ARRCC director Stefan Antoni may not be the first name that springs to mind when looking for someone to design a game lodge in the famous Sabi Sands Game Reserve. It’s a choice that has nonetheless translated impressively well, creating sophisticated structures that manage the difficult trick of being different enough to stand out, yet still blending into the surrounding environment. Natural materials complement the shuttered cement with feature walls of hand-packed mica, panels of rusted Corten steel, stone and wood, helping it sit comfortably amid the scenery.

To create separation and to help preserve the large trees on the site, Stefan fractured the buildings to better fit into the landscape. From the small gym, three main structures fan out, each containing a generous wine cellar, a library, and an open-plan lounge, dining and bar area that overlooks a pool and boma. Named Mapogo, Karula and Mvula after famous wild cats that have been a significant part of the history of this area, each structure has four bedrooms evenly split either side of these main areas, all placed far enough apart to be private but close enough to have family and friends. To enhance the experience of being in the wild, the voluminous roofs are cantilevered so that the massive glass doors can glide fully open, giving the guests a seamless interaction with the bush that surrounds them.

cheetah plains
Seen from across the dam, Mapogo House is one of three beautifully appointed accommodation options at Cheetah Plains, offering a private bush retreat and an immersive connection with nature.

The long lines in the lounge are softened by the sweeping bend of a substantial fireplace, with ample use of organic materials evident in the furniture and fittings. Apart from the stunning array of South African art on the walls and sculptures that are carefully placed in and out of the buildings, some of the decor pieces could be individual artworks themselves. Many were handcrafted by local artisans in collaboration with interior designers ARRCC and Okha.

Pierre Cronje made each impressive dark dining table from a single slice of heavy leadwood, keeping the natural shape of the tree, inserting brass inlays in the cracks and placing it on curved golden plinths. Over this hangs a playful chandelier of a cascading rise of glass, hand-blown bronzed bubbles by Martin Doller, making you feel as if you’ve dived into champagne. The beautiful drinks bars were carved from solid travertine blocks by skilled hands.

“Ecoluxe” is the key marketing buzzword here, and the entire high-end village is solar-powered – this includes the game-drive vehicles, which glide along in almost complete silence. The grey-water treatment plant recycles this precious resource for the gardens.

Stefan sensibly decided not to blend in with more “traditional” safari lodges, but rather to stand out with a bush home. It’s maybe not unique in itself, but where it is situated makes it so, like a cut diamond on a plain pebble beach.

Regardless of its slick splendour, and with the help of the welcoming warmth from the staff, it feels like a wealthy relative’s house – which, for a short time, can become your home from home.

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Looking for more architectural or travel inspiration? Take a look at the Khwai Leadwood Lodge in Botswana.