Cheetah Plains throws away the rule book for high-end safari escapes. Situated deep in the Big Five bushveld of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, this thoroughly contemporary collection of exclusive-use villas traded communal lodge spaces for unprecedented levels of privacy. Little wonder it bagged a spot on this year’s Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards
Still need convincing? Here are five more reasons that Cheetah Plains is worth digging (deep) into your travel savings to enjoy a few unforgettable nights in the bushveld.
1) The bush
Cheetah Plains is set within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, AKA ground zero for leopard sightings in the Lowveld. If you’re into big cats, this is the place to be. Cheetah Plains enjoys traversing rights over a vast swathe of the remote eastern reaches of the reserve and, along with memorable cat sightings, you’re all but guaranteed to spot the Big Five, often at close quarters. Look more closely and you’ll also find the bush alive with bird life, especially in these summer months. Each villa comes with a dedicated guide and tracker, and guests set their own schedule for safari drives and bush walks.
2) The vehicles
Cheetah Plains is pioneering a brave new path in the world of electric safari vehicles. Each villa includes a dedicated electric off-road vehicle, charged by solar power to ensure your safari comes with Greta-friendly sustainability street-cred. But it also means your safari drives are whisper-quiet, allowing the guides to chat with guests without shouting over the rattle of a diesel engine. Throw in softened suspension, electric seat-warmers for cold mornings and USB-chargers at every seat, and you’ll wonder why all safari vehicles aren’t this comfortable.
3) The wine
You’ll want to toast your good fortune for being here, of course. Happily, at each villa you’ll find a carefully curated wine cellar devoted entirely to celebrating SA fine wine. On the shelves there are big-hitters like Kanonkop alongside boutique gems (Aristargos, anybody?). If you find the selection bewildering, you have a natural guide in sommelier Reggie Pheqe, who is on hand to help you choose a bottle, or present a bespoke five-course tasting dinner during your stay.
4) The art
In each villa, worn out clichés of safari décor were traded for bold designs and eye-catching architecture, the result of a collaboration between acclaimed architect Stefan Antoni, and design studios ARCC and OKHA.
Cheetah Plains’ owner, Japie van Niekerk, is an avid art collector, and the property is filled with a remarkable collection of African artworks. Signature commissions take pride of place in each dining room, but works are scattered from the luxury suites to the gymnasium. You’ll find art by JH Pierneef, Angus Taylor and Connor McCreedy often take pride of place, but look a little closer and there wonderful works by sculptor Malcolm Solomon, and talented mixed-media artist Bambolwami Sibiya. In my suite, I happily whiled away a morning coffee lost in a canvas of the abstract realism of Zimbabwean-born artist Greatjoy Ndlovo,
There’s art in other guises here too. Remarkable dining tables by Pierre Cronje are fashioned from single, gargantuan tree trunks, while Martin Doller’s chandeliers of handblown bronzed bubbles evoke visions of champagne flutes.
5) The privacy
Cheetah Plains is all about exclusivity. Each of the three private villas are surrounded by four luxury suites, offering the perfect safari bolt-hole for multigenerational travellers, or friends, to reconnect in the bush.
The three villas — Mapogo, Karula and Mvula — are named for famous cats of the Sabi Sand and offer similar levels of luxury, from the expansive lounge and dining area, to wide sun-splashed terrace with sparkling lap pool. The private outdoor boma takes on a distinctly contemporary feel here, with a seamless flow between indoors and out. If you had to choose, and you will, Mapogo has the best views, gazing out over the waterhole.