By Olivia Balsinger
The sky opened up—a brilliant palate of orange and yellow hues, contrasting the spooky silhouettes of the Red Bushwillow trees. We were enjoying our “sundowners” after the most epic of game drives in our Cheetah Plains Electric Land Cruiser, trading stories about our favourite safari moment thus far. Mine, hands down, was when we watched a stealthy leopard named Hosana crouch in the savannah, eyeing the prey—an unknowing impala—just metres away. A bush thunderstorm was rolling in, creating spectacular ambiance, as Hosana neared the prize. We stood in awe, feeling the wrath of nature at her best.
This moment, along with other scenes of jaw-dropping action, occurred on the Sabi Sands Reserve with Cheetah Plains lodge. Nestled between the world-famous Kruger National Park and the established Mala Mala Game, Cheetah Plains is a total refurbished first-class lodge, the first of its kind in South Africa. The first iteration of Sabi Sand Reserve was formed in 1934, making it the oldest private game reserve in South Africa, as well as the first to practice and promote sustainable wildlife tourism in Southern Africa. Cheetah Plains, with a soft opening in early December, is a world-class wildlife splendour and a lodge that is architecturally unique and impressive.
The lodge boasts three exclusive-use designer bush houses, each with two lounges, dining areas, outdoor bomas (picnic areas), wine cellars, and heating swimming pools. The lodges take their name from two legendary leopards of the Sabi Sand region, as well as a dominant lion coalition: “Mvula,” “Karula,” and “Mapogo,” respectively. I stayed in “Karula” with my travelling cohort—though we enjoyed privately cooked meals prepared by a renowned chef and drank wine from our own wine cellar (and plenty of Gin and Tonics, of course!) together in the bush house, it was equally pleasant to be able to retreat to my own suite when I desired privacy.
You see, the concept behind Cheetah Plains, Sabi Sands is that each bush house is connected to four private suites, featuring luxurious king beds, private viewing decks, dressing rooms, double rain showers and baths that open up to magnificent views of the surrounding African bush. My suite happened to sit on a mini watering hole, and so I enjoyed the company of bathing warthogs and frisky kudu when indulging in a bubble bath or enjoying an in-room spa treatment.
Each suite is in harmony between the interior and the exterior; it seeks to blend the natural environment resulting in a gorgeous example of ‘African minimalism.’ Naked timber and Mohair wool rugs furnish the rooms against a subdued natural palette, with hints of luxurious bronze and gold, and carefully curated art collected from local South American artists. I was in my own heaven, feeling dually secluded and pampered. During my stay, we had access to our own private game viewing vehicles as well as designated and knowledgeable local field guide, Sidds, and tracker, Sam. The vehicles at Cheetah Plaines are battery operated, hardly making a sound as the engine ignites—and more environmentally beneficial.
Proximity to wildlife is magical at Cheetah Plains, as there are no fences separating the bush and suites (except for a small wire preventing intruding elephants) which really allows guests to feel they are a part of nature. In addition, on game drives, we spotted leopard, lion, buffalo, elephant, zebra, giraffe and, of course—true to namesake—the cheetah.