Share this post:

It goes without saying that a lodge with Tengile’s status should offer a bush experience with all the finest bells and whistles. And so it does. andBeyond’s Sabi Sands camp is uber-chic yet laid back. There are enormous 200m² suites with private sunken verandahs, glorious bathing facilities, private pools, river views, unbeatable proximity to wildlife, privileged privacy and elegant spaces delivered via inspired décor. Quite rightly, guests are cosseted in supreme luxury in the midst of this wild setting. This is a given. So what makes it stand out from others in its league? I spoke to the architect to find out.

Firstly, there’s this very special setting in the Sabi Sands private concession. Also, it was purpose-built. This was no awkward revamp grappling with inherited problems. Designed by architects Nicholas Plewman and Ursula Randall, at a glance the structure’s low profile and contemporary construction speak to an interpretation of bush architecture that moves the conversation forward in a non-clichéd way. That said, when I call the architect to talk about the design and venture that the building strikes me as almost urban-looking, Plewman ahems and gently corrects me.

“Not urban. Rather, it revisits traditional local architectural forms. In particular, the wide, covered stoep as a way to bridge the built environment and the bush. To maximise the views we arranged the layouts bi-axially, unlike the usual mono-axial arrangement of lodges. The choice of materials is in fact very vernacular. Blue Gum tree poles, stone and in this case, rusted metal, and railway sleepers, inspired by the old Shelati railway.” 

The construction had to take into account a right-angle bend in the river. The solution was the bi-axial design he refers to, resulting in views to both the north and east. On the basis that the camp was to be visually and materially empathetic with the surrounding bush.

“We decided to inhabit the space between the ground plane and the tree canopies, thereby having a minimal impact on the existing environment. The flat and very slender profile of the roofs allows deep eaves without excessive volume.”

Plewman’s approach to his work is sensitive to the environment and always draws on a site’s history and sense of place. He was behind the design of andBeyond Sandibe Lodge in the Okavango, which shares Tengile’s commitment to optimal environmental practices, as well as the design of a number of other andBeyond properties. A steel frame structure minimised the need for intrusive foundations and excavations. The design called on the colourful early-Kruger era through the use of repurposed materials from the old Shelati railway line. The roofs are particularly pleasing to the architect.

“They were waterproofed using a PVC membrane coated in sand that was drawn from around the site. They blend into the environment more flawlessly than any design, with the exception of turf roofs.” 


The concrete floors embedded with the remains of the old railway line are the piece de resistance. The final polishing revealed a beautiful variety of colours in the aggregate. Designer Michele Throssell worked dark greens, shades of rust and black into the rich interiors. She lifted other creative cues from the dappled shade and textures of the surrounding indigenous bush. She also took into account the historic romance of Harry Kirkman, the pioneer hunter-turned-conservationist whose name is woven into the story of the Sabi Sands.

High ceilings and shafts of natural light save the interiors from feeling heavy despite the use of unrefined dark steel, sandblasted timber, stone and burnished cane. Design texture inspired by tree bark and animal hide is reflected in the use of velvet and frayed-edge upholstery. Huge lighting features stretch out overhead emulating the large trees found in the area. Stone and steel, marble, wood and leather come together to lend warmth and add layers of interest. Michele called on Cape Town artist Emma Nourse to create beautiful organic oil on canvas works incorporating wool and needlework details for each bedroom. Organic elements meet contemporary and modern-colonial ones in a seeming contradiction. The result is a celebration of South African design that delivers stupendous wow factor and at the same time has the self-assurance to step back and be no more than a frame for the true masterpiece, which is the wildlife bush experience.  

Share this post: