Hiding a substantial art collection away in the remote African bush might be counterintuitive but it makes perfect sense to Japie van Niekerk. After all, his Sabi Sand eco-lodge celebrates the best of South Africa, so why not hang a Pierneef in the lounge and a Kentridge in a guest bathroom?
Japie’s personal collection has taken years to put together but there’s no attempt to create a gallery setting at Cheetah Plains. Each piece finds its niche in the luxurious living spaces of the lodge, designed by Stefan Antoni along clean modern architectural lines immersed in its natural setting. Relaxing on a deep sofa after a game drive, you might dive into contemplation of a huge works by Gail Caitlin or Greatjoy Ndlovo. Or be moved to deeper appreciation of the wilderness by Malcolm Solomon’s Banking Eagle sculpture, which soars beside Mapogo's lap pool with a natural waterhole as its backdrop. Named after the Mapogo brotherhood, a coalition of lions that once ruled the area, it's the only villa set on this active waterhole where day beds invite hours of contemplation in between game viewing. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to go on a game drive after waking to the sound of its lively hippos and watching elephants teach their young how to slurp and play.
There is no main lodge at Cheetah Plains. Instead, the three Plains Houses, Mapogo and two others, Kapula and Mvula, are separate exclusive-use clusters. Each house is a home-from-home with four double suites (two of which are interleading for families) with a private deck and lap pool, they are looked after by their own dedicated staff. From custom-designed furniture by Okha and ARRCC to Pichulik rope key rings, the interiors are curated with attention to the most thoughtful details and a collection of art. Of course, if you fall irrevocably in love say with one of Loyiso Mkhise’s vibrant portraits brightening the cool neutrals of your suite lounge, all the artworks are available to buy, keeping the collection fresh – The Tretchikoff may have recently sold, but an equally fascinating piece takes its place.
You might not even notice the substantial solar farm that powers the lodge, but you’ll appreciate the whisper silence of the custom electric Land Cruisers with their Tesla batteries - an eco-innovation that transforms game drives – birdsong, cicadas, the distant roars of big cats, no sound is lost to engine noise. Oh, and blissful heated seats! Back at the lodge, the big cat viewing, as superb as you’d expect in the Sabi Sand, is reflected in commissioned bronze cheetahs by Arend Elof, and dynamic cheetah and lion paintings (particularly of the Mapogo brotherhood) in Conor McCreedy’s signature deep blues.
Total immersion in art, nature and eco-luxury with a sensual touch of glamour is the Cheetah Plains experience.
• The Cheetah Plains art collection is an ongoing and evolving project, with new works being commissioned or acquired all the time. Works by Marti Kossatz, Frieda Lock, Janko de Beer, Robyn Field, Jan Tshikhuthula-Makhulu, Angus Taylor, Sizwe Khoza, Bambolwami Sibaya, Gert Potgieter, Galia Gluckman, Lionel Smit, Malcolm Solomon, Mandy Coppes Martin, Solomon Omogboye, and of course, the Pierneef landscape, may also be viewed.