When Cheetah Plains owner Japie van Niekerk went in search of a retreat for himself and his son, his quest led him to what is now regarded as one of the top Eco and luxury lodges in South Africa.
It all started with a phone call. The moment a landowner reached out to Japie one Saturday evening to say he was considering selling two of his tracks of land, the die was cast. Property in the bush is a rarity, so without hesitation, Japie flew up the following day to assess the position. A private and accomplished pilot, he maneuvered his aircraft over the plains, and his bird’s eye view of surging seasonal rivers and old Tamboti trees dotted along the escarpment further inspired his decision to acquire this rare combination of isolation and dense natural wilderness. Situated in the remote, relatively unknown, and the greatly unexplored north-eastern corner of Sabi Sand Private Nature Reserve, Japie didn’t have to sleep on it; he decided there and then that this property was destined to be his.
That same day, he cemented the deal, becoming the proud owner of a sought-after piece of wilderness. Initially, Japie would only invite close friends and family, but as time progressed, he realized the incredible location was too good not to share. Opening up Cheetah Plains to guests as a commercial lodge while maintaining the invigorating sense of being in the remoteness of the bush is something that Japie wanted to maintain and is felt when one is privileged to stay here.
He was committed to creating a new style of safari offering that has never been done before; for guests to be completely immersed albeit with a total sense of privacy. The traditional bush architecture was reconsidered as a structural departure from communal spaces, in essence complementing nature without interference. This steered the construction of three full self-contained, exclusive-use villas, which include every single conceivable comfort imaginable, from the softest cotton bedding, electronic blinds, and mosquito net to a state-of-the-art toilet.
Inspired by the challenge of fashioning a lodge in Sabi Sand, architect Stefan Antoni met with Japie to flesh out what would work in this pristine piece of wilderness. This resulted in ARRCC being appointed as custodians of the full project – architecture, interior architecture, and interior décor, at the end of the day delivering a truly ready-to-operate solution. Specializing in residential, hospitality, and leisure projects, ARRCC works closely with its clients, distilling and transforming briefs that exceed original expectations.
Creating life-enhancing spaces that represent both client and location through a sophisticated methodology in design, they have established a style dedicated to detail and substance. Setting a new benchmark for the industry, they are leaders in designing elegant structures and interiors that are modern, luxurious, and seductive while remaining understated and timeless.
Cheetah Plains is ultra-contemporary Afro-minimalism, where straight planes meet extensive landscapes and angular-edged topography. Suspended beams stretch weightlessly through the length of buildings. Blurring the lines between simple pure elements and organic form, the architectural vision was to unite with the wild from within; that there should be no limit, no disconnection. The focus is on elegant and beautiful spaces with a seamless flow of textures between interiors and exteriors. The outcome is distinctively African and sublimely innovative, merging essential solitude with the force of nature unbroken.
Three villas are inspired by the illustrious cats of the reserve and seemingly float over a landscape unscathed by man. Shielded by age-old trees, each villa has its own character, incorporating subtle differences in location and concept. Karula, Mapogo, and Mvula each house a substantial private dining area, several indoor and outdoor areas, an outdoor boma, a swimming pool, and a large chilled wine room. All have four satellite suites that feel like a private studio sheltered in the bush.
Staying at Karula, one is struck by the harmonious interplay between nature and luxury. Named after an inimitable leopard, the rosette beauty lives on in the finishes that are noticeably more feminine, featuring lighter, creamier tones. A perfect equilibrium between strength and poise, the lavishness and added softness pay homage to Karula’s splendor.
A passionate art collector and curator, Japie has ensured that each villa houses the most striking art, showcasing Africa’s artistic talent whilst sharing these visionary creations in the Cheetah Plains collection with guests from all over the world. They include the likes of Conor McCreedy, Angus Taylor, Arend Eloff, Bambolwami Sibiya, Gail Catlin, Galia Gluckman, Gert Potgieter, Greatjoy Ndlovu, Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef, Lionel Smit, Loyiso Mkize, Malcolm Solomon, Andy Coppes Martin, Olantunji Sanusi, Solomon Omogboye, William Kentridge, Cecil Skotnes and Vladimir Tretchikoff.
Part of the space includes a temperature-controlled wine gallery with purely South African wines, perfect for each meal course, an entertainment lounge with plush seating, and a dining room with a beautiful Pierre Cronje table forming a focal point. The chandelier above the table is really striking and handcrafted by Martin Doller. Upon entering the plains villa, one is struck by the magnitude of the space, complemented by the big gallery design and the flow of space from inside to outside.
In all aspects of his life, Japie doesn’t shy away from hard work and dedication. Forever pushing limits, striving to exceed excellence, and accepting nothing less than extraordinary. This is why Cheetah Plains surpasses superiority in every sense of the word.