As far as you can see,” says my safari guide Nic, as I squint into the bright Kalahari sunrise. “That’s all Tswalu. All the way to that horizon.”And that answer — “Yup, that’s all still Tswalu!” — becomes a recurring refrain during my days exploring the vastness of Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, the largest privately-owned reserve in South Africa, conserving and restoring 114 000ha of the Kalahari.
Until recently, this remarkable landscape was enjoyed by just a handful of guests, staying at The Motse lodge or Tarkuni Homestead. But the recent opening of Loapi Tented Camp marks a bold move for this far-flung Northern Cape reserve, almost doubling the available beds on offer. And yet, in this landscape — so quietly vast it’ll make your ears ring — you certainly won’t feel crowded. With all those hectares to explore, most days we don’t encounter a single other vehicle.
On our first game drive — ticking off lion and hyena sightings — we are the only guests exploring the 20 000ha eastern section of the reserve. Now compare that to the gravel-road traffic jams of your typical Lowveld safari experience.
And that focus on privacy and personal discovery is a defining feature of the new offering at Loapi. Each of the six villas — four one-bedroom and a pair of two-bedroom family units — has been imagined as a stand-alone micro-camp, complete with its own outdoor deck and plunge pool, elegant lounge, family-style kitchen, and bespoke dining area. Though Loapi — “the space below the clouds”, in the local Setswana — may be dubbed a tented camp, it’s far from a rustic under-canvas experience.
The modular design by GAPP Architects brings a thoroughly modern aesthetic to the concept, with raised pavilions of steel, wood, and glass dovetailing with canvas roofs to create a contemporary safari destination that touches the Earth lightly while offering a deeply opulent villa experience. “The overarching design philosophy was that the new camp needed to be as low impact as possible, to reflect Tswalu’s ongoing commitment to sustainability and the owners’ vision of [regenerating] the environment,” explains Sally Tsiliyiannis, of GAPP Architects.
The natural environment informs the décor here too. In the canvas-clad walls, linen touches, and carved wooden doors you’ll find an abundance of organic textures, while geometric lines and copper detailing speak to the mineral richness of the surrounding hills.
The six “homes”, as the Loapi villas are known, are set on the flanks of the Korannaberg, gazing southwards across the reserve. It’s a wild corner, this, and in just one day we find lion tracks at our villa’s gate and spy a black rhino hiding in a thicket not far beyond the deck. Each home comes standard with a dedicated butler/host, private chef, guide, tracker, and vehicle. That may sound extravagant, but what it really means is flexibility.
For starters, you choose when to go out on game drives, and for how long. Want to spend all morning with the colonies of habituated meerkats? Set up in the shade of a shepherd’s tree to spot migrant birds? Or perhaps plan an all-day drive in search of cheetah? The choice is yours.
With a chef on hand the same goes for meals, which can be tailored to your holiday whims. Whether you prefer a three-course dinner with wines paired from the excellent in-house selection or a laid-back pizza afternoon on the deck to keep the kids happy, there are few requests that can’t be accommodated.
My only advice? Leave one night free to indulge in dinner at Klein JAN, the hyper-local restaurant from celebrated chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, located on the reserve.
That outing aside, Loapi is a destination for quiet reconnection. For spending quiet time with beloveds, and for letting the trappings of the everyday melt into the emptiness of the Kalahari. And when you gaze at those far-distant mountains,
I can help you with the question that will surely arise. To that dusty horizon? Yup. It’s all Tswalu; and yours to explore.
• From the September edition of Wanted, 2023.