WORDS Lynette Botha PRODUCTION Annamarie Meintjes PHOTOS Dook
At Wilderness Bisate, nature’s magnificence meets architectural brilliance deep in the lush rainforest of Rwanda.
Locking eyes with a mountain gorilla in its natural habitat is an incomparable experience. In damp, humid surroundings, amid the greenery, time seems to stand still. Everything goes silent, apart from the soft rustle through the trees, the sharp inhale and exhale of breath, and the sound of your heart beating in your chest. And then, all too soon, you realise that it’s over, as your guide signals that it’s time to go…
“That fleeting connection with these great primates was the inspiration for Bisate,” says architect Nick Plewman. His inimitable imagining of a luxury lodge deep in the Rwandan rainforest has won him plenty of praise – with good reason. Designed with an innate reverence for the environment, Wilderness Bisate seamlessly blends into the surrounding landscape, paying homage to traditional Rwandan architectural techniques while infusing contemporary elements. Six spacious bird’s nest-like villas, each seemingly perched upon the trees, mimic the mighty volcanic peaks that stand majestically in the distance while also echoing Rwanda’s thatched dome-shaped King’s Palace.
“Our ultimate design template was based on unlocking the thoughts behind those deep brows of the gorilla,” says Nick. “Simply put, we hoped to open a window on the world seen from a gorilla’s point of view.” And what a view it is. The vibrant tapestry of the surrounding Volcanoes National Park unfolds before your eyes from every vantage point. Bisate, meaning “pieces”in Kinyarwanda, and referring to a volcano’s natural erosion, is an apt name for a lodge constructed using locally sourced volcanic rock and thatch, which dually creates an authentic connection to Rwandan heritage and ensures minimal impact on the environment.
Interiors were also thoughtfully and consciously considered. “Here again we took inspiration from King’s Palace, as can be seen in the double woven ceilings in the villas and the public areas,” says interior designer Caline Williams-Wynn. “Rwanda is an extremely environmentally aware country, so the use of ecofriendly materials and recycled elements was paramount, as was incorporating local textiles and furniture as far as possible.” While the interiors are predominantly earthy and natural, pops of colour throughout liven up each space and add an element of interest, the striking recycled glass chandelier in the communal guest area being one such piece. Cattle and goat hides are also widely featured throughout the lodge,along with plenty of weaving,basketry,and imigongo – a unique Rwandan art form where a mixture of cow dung and differently coloured soil is used to paint usually black-and-white geometric shapes.
Conserving the natural landscape is top priority too. Bisate actively contributes to the conservation efforts of the Volcanoes National Park and the protection of its precious inhabitants. In partnership with local communities, the lodge supports initiatives that promote wildlife conservation, sustainable agriculture and education. Guests have the opportunity to participate in these endeavours, forging an even deeper connection with the land and its people during their once-in-a-lifetime escape. “When we stare into the eyes of a great primate, our connection to the animal world seems so tangible, yet so ungraspable,” says Nick. “Ultimately, with Bisate, we wanted to bridge that connection.” Mission accomplished.