Leaving the crackling fire wasn’t easy. It was a bush dinner where our tables circled the large fire pit, providing both warmth and security. The dry riverbed setting sparkled in the dark night, partly from the lanterns that were scattered about, but also as guests excitedly exchanged stories from the day’s safaris. With exhaustion setting in, I decided to head back to my tent.
The night porter guided me silently through the camp but stopped abruptly. ‘There’s an elephant outside your tent’ he told me.
Of course, there is, this is the wild, after all.
We watched the gracious creature for ten minutes until he decides to slowly saunter off to another tent. I’m then safely escorted into my tent where I soon fall drift off. My sleep woken only by the roars of a distant lion.
Earlier this year, in a corner of the Kruger National Park known for its chic lodges, The Thornybush Collection launched their flagship new offering, Saseka Tented Camp, and I had the privilege of a visit.
There is safari tenting. Then there is Saseka.
Meaning “beautiful” in Tsonga, Saseka pays respectful homage to safari tenting of the past. Thornybush wanted the addition of both stylish and luxurious innovation to boldly redefine a luxe tented camp experience.
In order to bring this dream into reality there was only one team for the project. With over 25 years of experience designing award-winning lodges, Silvio Rech & Lesley Carstens Architecture and Design were the perfect fit. The intent was that the language of the architecture should have an both a seamless and uninterrupted conversation with the surrounds, and in Saseka’s case this has been flawlessly achieved.
Each of the tented suites offer guests an almost-unbelievable 200m2 of space, along with their own private pool, outdoor shower, and private deck overlooking the dry riverbed below. Every aspect of the space is curated, from the breathtaking tent ceilings that are decorated with the stencilled prints of local plants, to the bespoke and unique modern furniture that adorns the inside space.
You can’t help but notice the effortless flow from the surrounds into the thoughtfully constructed and decorated spaces. With Saseka a line has clearly been drawn between the traditional thatch or canvas safari experience and something completely new.
There are only ten tented suites with the camp accommodating a maximum of 20 guests at one point, so you’ll never feel crowded. Although there were only 12 guests on my stay, I often felt like I had the entire space to myself.
The lodge's communal area is a triple-volume space with open sides so no compromise is given to the views of the surroundings. The space is so large, that it felt like it could easily have accommodated over 100 people, so with the intimate number of guests it feels like every meal is a private dining affair.
There are also several lounge areas and a host of fascinating and relevant books to explore on the fauna, flora, and history of the area. On several occasions, I found myself wondering about the tent and lodge admiring each aspect, as if strolling through an art gallery taking in the various pieces.
The feast of colours and textures however, never detract from the bush itself, rather echo it in a stylish manner. Sunset-pinks, olive-greens and bush-beiges tones make up the natural colour palette. The subtly modern architecture is also complemented with antique pieces, giving the space a reassuringly homely feel.
As with most private lodges the daily rhythm begins with being woken up an hour before sunrise, and after a wake-up coffee you’re off on a game drive ready to be surprised by what the wilderness gifts you. Generous breakfasts and lunches serve as buffer spaces between the two game drives, with some time on either side to rest in the camp’s common space or the privacy of your tent. In the evening elegant bush dinners await – either on the candlelight terrace or in the dry river bed below.
The privilege of staying in a private reserve means that you usually have a large piece wilderness not open to the public. Thornybush Private Reserve is no exception, where you have over 14 000 hectares of bush to explore. The reserve is also known as a wildlife hotspot so you don’t have to travel far for encounters with game. Being a private reserve you’ll also miss the lines of vehicles that sometimes surround significant game sightings.
Up to six people are accommodated in the comfy Land Cruisers and then expertly looked after by both a tracker and a guide. The trackers are legendary dust readers who interpret the various signs in the sand. The hours spent on the vehicle provide spectacular outdoor classrooms - I landed up jotting down notes for fear of forgetting some of the fascinating bush insights I was gaining.
In this private reserve, a stay costs you more than a penny, but bear in mind that it’s an ecosystem that supports the local community through job creation whilst also providing the much-needed funding for anti-poaching efforts.
Everything is waiting for you
As the digital silence sets in and you begin to fully appreciate the valuable break from the helter-skelter of normal life, the voice of the wild is allowed to speak. And speak she does at Saseka Tented Camp, where so much is waiting for you.
As I sat at the lunch table for my final meal, glancing around I realised I wasn’t alone: two male elephant and a herd of nyala were nearby, equally enjoying their lunch. I remembered the words of actor Will Smith, and couldn’t help smiling in agreement: “It feels like God visits everywhere, but lives in Africa.”