By Anji Connell
Tswalu Kalahari Reserve reconnects you with nature, reminding you that life is about living —that money spent on experiences rather than ‘things’ give you memories that you can enjoy forever through “memory dividends.”
“Tswalu Kalahari sets the bar for our new travel landscape in which we seek more conscious travel.”
Under the stewardship of the Oppenheimer family with conservation at its core, Tswalu offers a guilt-free stay with a more immersive, meaningful, and sustainable approach to safari travel, and privileged access to one of the last remaining wilderness areas in South Africa, with virtually zero environmental disruption.
From the moment you disembark from the Tswalu private jet, you are immersed in a vast, dramatic, and beautiful landscape of undulating red dunes, mountains, bushveld, and expansive grassy plains merging with the dense tree savanna. It is astaggeringly beautiful place that instantly reconnects you with nature, and a feeling of being home. It feels remote, “special”, and incredibly soothing. You are instantly calmed. It makes your heart sing and brings a constant grin to your face. It feeds your soul.
Living Life unscripted is the norm here. Your days are your own, to pick and choose what you want to do and when you want to do it, to be as active or as chilled as you wish. Enjoying immersive game drives to indulgent post-drive pursuits—chilling by the pool or heading to the spa for heavenly treatments, [insider tip, do not miss Tshego’s reflexology]. I live in the land of reflexology, and Tshego’s is up there with the best of the Hong Kong reflexologists, with years of experience under their belts, or should I say fingers! And then there is your divine legae, the Tswana word for home—your “home” for your stay, designed by Adrian Davidson of Savile Row Tailored Environments. It welcomes you, enveloping you into an atmosphere of peace and calm, to rest, relax, and recharge. The legae blends perfectly into the surrounding landscape, the interior invites with its serene colours that reflect the surrounding nature. The voluminous bed is a “room within a room” and a perfect place to rest between Tswalu experiences and, to sink into at the end of another fantastic and memorable day. Your private shaded outdoor deck, or tsala, is one of the best spots to observe wildlife as they pass by on their journey to and from the natural water hole near the camp lodge.
Tswalu is all about experiences, and of course, the game drives are the main reason we are here. Each legae has a 4×4 guide and tracker—but the best bit is— there are no time restraints at Tswalu—it’s all about tracking the game and spending time with them. There is no rush to tick them off a long list. Once found, you stay with them, like a part of the pack as they sleep after hunting or get ready to hunt, often with their prey in sight—and if they go, you follow. When the animals vanish into the bush in many reserves, the vehicles don’t stand a chance of following. But here, the open plains allow us to hurtle alongside the animals, part of the thrilling chase. At Tswalu, game drives finish when you’ve seen your fill or a kill. And it all starts the next day again—it’s totally and utterly addictive. The diversity of wildlife here is astounding, and one of the most immersive ways to experience the reserve is a guided walking safari. Or taking to the air in a helicopter spotting wildlife while taking in the majesty of the Kalahari.
Other otherworldly experiences to indulge in include horse riding—just imagine travelling through this incredible landscape on horseback, wind in your hair, in the cool of the early morning as the sunrise casts its pink glow across the sky. The light here is unreal! You can sip sundowners served from the fully equipped Bush Bar, an adapted safari vehicle on top of a dune, as the setting sun lights the sky with its fiery glow, followed by a delicious diner under the stars— blissful!
And—have you ever fantasised about sleeping under the stars—well, you can! At the Naledi, [meaning ‘star’] and the new Malori, [meaning ‘dreamer’] deck. The evening starts sipping sundowners, with panoramic views over the plain below, followed by dinner as you watch another soul-feeding sunset and a night under the starlit sky, with only the calls of nocturnal animals all around you.
The only “appointment” we had was dinner at Klein JAN. And rightly so. Much like Tswalu, this is an adventure not to be missed. It is a breathtaking, carefully created and curated theatrical performance — and a non-stop extravaganza of sensory pleasures.
South African chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen was the first South African chef to receive a Michelin star for his restaurant JAN, in Nice in 2016. Klein JAN is his longawaited restaurant on his home turf, focusing on championing modern Kalahari cuisine.
The Klein JAN extraordinary culinary journey begins at Boscia House, an unpretentious 100-year-old frontier-style farmhouse named after the deep-rooted Boscia albitrunca, commonly known as the shepherd’s tree and one of the most important forage trees in the Kalahari. Boscia House is utterly charming. It speaks of days gone by, of simple farming folk toiling the land. Adjacent is an ancient looking corrugated building that incredibly is a new addition to house the bathroom more authentically. An old windpowered water pump and a washing line with bedsheets billowing in the early evening delights the eye and completes the scene.
Storytelling is a fundamental element of Klein JAN, as you will discover. This magical setting evokes a feeling of absolute contentment and joy, tinged with a glimmer of excitement — along with a knowing sense; that something rather special has begun — we had no idea!
After a digestive of indigenous lemon fever tree, cocktails and a taste sensation of an appetiser, on the stoep we are invited inside Boscia House where Jan and his brigade welcome us. We are guided through Boscia House to the back, where we see the glowing outline of a doorway in an old water dam. The door opens, and Jan beckons us inside where a powerful smell, the petrichor, the smell you get when it rains on parched earth, assails us. And a fabulous, totally unexpected spiralling staircase with water falling in the centre reaches down, down to the bowls of the earth — Wow. Wow.Wow!
As we journey spellbound and speechless along a seemingly endless vaulted corridor, Jan invites us to sample our second taste sensation of the evening—we are in Jan’s root cellar, lined with the most gorgeous vegetables and meats. It’s pretty extraordinary.
Travelling, further along, we reach the cheese room and the heart of the restaurant where Jan’s grandmother, his Ouma Maria’s koolstoof [coal stove], the same one he learned to cook on as a child, rests in homage to his Ouma Maria. From here, we pass by a wellstocked wine cellar as a sliding door glides open to allow us entry revealing a vast contemporary space—it’s staggering. Your eyes are drawn magnetically to the view through the fully open, wall to wall glass doors to the vast landscape and the Kogleberg mountains beyond. Wow, Wow, Wow! It literally takes your breath away. It is so unexpected.
Slowly you begin to take in the room. A large linear kitchen island takes centre stage, around which the chefs quite literally dance their orchestrated movements preparing the individual dishes for our delectation. All the while, the most perfectly matched soundtrack heightens the experience.
The real show is about to begin! The stage is set, and a feast awaits, with the option of a wine pairing of “local wines.” And just like that, a dramatic electric storm lights up the sky with sheets of lightning— you’d swear the team had organised it to further heighten further the theatre!
The rest I will leave for you to discover. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. And if you’re as lucky as we were, you may end the night sharing Witblits with Jan in Boscia House! Klein JAN is an absolute treat in every sense. It is an architectural masterpiece in a wildly dramatic setting that delivers an unforgettable culinary journey of narrative-driven escapism. The restaurant’s architecture takes its design cues from native creatures that seek refuge by burrowing underground—most of Klein JAN remains unseen. Guests travel through the space, sampling different courses in different areas in a moving feast. Klein JAN is the ultimate destination restaurant.
And if you doubt that architecture and space can influence your emotion and mood, you won’t anymore! Tswalu Kalahari allows you to fully immerse in the raw wildness and outrageous beauty of the Kalahari while introducing you to its many inhabitants. Klein Jan takes you on a culinary journey that tells stories of the Kalahari, of Jan Hendrik, that at the same time delight all the senses.
Tswalu Kalahari’s magic stems from the extraordinary collaborative spirit between humans, nature, and culture. It truly is food for the soul.
Find out more about Tswalu, click here.
All images and story written by Anji Connell @anjiconnell_acidplus