WORDS Biddi Rorke IMAGES Dook
A romantic, off-the-grid platform house offers the ultimate bush adventure – a luxurious yet exposed night in the wilderness.
It’s a new way to experience the drama and majesty of the bushveld: enclosed by enormous marula trees in the Timbavati private concession in the Kruger National Park, a night in the &Beyond Ngala Tree House is designed to tickle the senses. As architect Jack Alexander for Fox Browne Creative explains, “We wanted the structure to have a light footprint, with as little impact on the natural landscape and local wildlife as possible.”
The result is a unique hideaway consisting of five vertically linked platforms, wrapped in an Escher-like series of staircases and landings that connect to a prefabricated 12-metre-tall steel core frame. Hardwood timber shiplap cladding inside and out counters the modern feel of the glass and steel, and lends the tree house a natural, more handcrafted feel. “We also clad the structure in a series of timber latte which, like the mopani poles of the ‘boma’ fence around the whole structure, were responsibly harvested from the surrounding area,” says Jack.
The pattern for the latte is not dissimilar from that of branches that have fallen naturally to the forest floor over time. They form a series of web-like layers over the entire structure, which have the additional important function of working as a balustrade for the five staircases that wind their way around the tree house.
This low-impact, high-drama wilderness retreat features a choice of two sleeping areas: an enclosed bedroom with a king-sized bed, mosquito net and bathroom on the third level, or an elevated sleep-out platform set beneath a retractable awning on the roof.
Stepping up from the shade of the trees, guests climb 52 steps up through the leafy canopy to reach the rooftop – and breathtaking views of the Ngala Private Game Reserve. “Reminiscent of the effect of climbing a tree as a child, the density of these ‘branches’ decreases as you ascend level by level – so as you climb the stairs, the views become more open, and the experience of being in touch (almost literally) with your natural surroundings intensifies, until it reaches a crescendo at the very top,” says Jack. “The tree house puts guests quite literally within touching distance of the spectacular diversity of wildlife that moves through the surrounding wilderness, including white lion, wild dog, elephant and buffalo herds, leopard and white rhino.”
“At less than 25 square metres, each level offers a different aspect of the sleep-out experience,” adds Fox Browne Creative co-owner Chris Browne, who directed the interiors. “The ground floor comprises a personal bar and kitchenette, and there’s a ‘loo with a view’ at mezzanine level. One level up sees an indoor/outdoor shower and vanity, while the third floor houses a fully glazed bedroom (with a pull-out bed for kids).”
The uppermost rooftop viewing deck is the hero of the experience, and includes an embroidered daybed that easily converts into a bed for sleeping under the stars in maximum safety and comfort. If rain and thunder threaten, guests can retreat to the weatherproof lower level and a king-sized bed enclosed with a permanent mosquito net.
The interiors are intentionally pared down so as not to complicate the simplicity and serenity of this natural location. And, as is to be expected, the entire structure is self-sustained with off-grid technologies, including its own solar power supply, greywater collection system and “bio-rock” sanitation system. Best of all, once you’ve climbed all the way up, you’ll find snacks, drinks and a celebratory bottle of Champagne waiting for you in the custom dumbwaiter that is hoisted up to the rooftop.
For more information, visit andbeyond.com.