Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, A Psalm of Life, subtly describes the gentle passage of time and the indelible mark that admirable people leave on history. This ‘sands of time’ adage came to mind on a recent soul-uplifting stay at the historic, but newly-refurbished &Beyond Kirkman’s Kamp, situated—rather fittingly—overlooking the Sand River in South Africa’s prestigious Sabi Sand Game Reserve.
The lodge was named after renowned cattle farmer turned conservationist, Harry Kirkman, who first lived on the property in the early 1920s and went on to become one of the original founders of the now world-famous Sabi Sand Game Reserve.
Although Kirkman’s footprints in the sandy banks of the Sand River have long been covered by the (Sabi) sands of time, his legacy shines bright at the timelessly elegant Kirkman’s Kamp.
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
Calling in the experts
Known for the indelible and unmistakable mark they leave on (almost) all the camps and lodges in our portfolio, the uber-talented and award-winning duo, Debra Fox and Chris Browne of Fox Browne Creative, were once again invited to leave their unforgettable mark on the Kirkman’s Kamp sands of time.
The Fox Brownes refurbished the lodge 15 years ago, so it was only fitting that they returned to complete this year’s grand three-month upgrade. “Our design brief was to give the old farmstead buildings a facelift, but not to alter the spirit and character of the lodge’s much-loved old-world charm,” Chris explains. “We kept the existing colour palette throughout but added some contemporary accessories.”
Having visited Kirkman’s Kamp many times and witnessed its past makeovers and refreshes, this one is the pièce de résistance. Remaining true to their design brief, the Fox Brownes have yet again waved their infallible wands to subtly, yet tastefully, breathe new life into this already beautiful and iconic lodge.
The traditional ‘recipe of good luck’ that brides swear by on their wedding day seemed like an apt way of describing the elements, both old and new, borrowed and blue, of the newly transformed and stylishly redesigned Kirkman’s Kamp.
Kirkman’s Kamp is imbued with a rich and fascinating history dating back to the early 1920s when cattle ranching and hunting were prolific. The original homestead, which now forms the main guest area, was then part of a papaya plantation that overlooked the Sand River.
The late Harry Kirkman (whose portrait graces the fireplace), one of the renowned pioneers of conservation, was a farm manager when the property was a commercial cattle ranch. Back then, before Harry’s work in conservation, he was instructed to protect the cattle at all costs and warned that all predators and big cats were essentially vermin, which earned him quite a reputation as a fearless hunter.
Thankfully, in Harry’s later years of working as an esteemed section ranger, and later warden, in the area, he turned his focus from cattle ranching and hunting, to the ongoing protection of wildlife and the establishment of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa’s first private game reserve.
Not only is Kirkman’s Kamp one of the oldest commercial lodges in the Sabi Sand, it is also the closest property to the confluence of the Sand and Sabi Rivers and one of only two properties in the entire reserve that have access to both famed rivers.
The old-world charm and authentic history of Kirkman’s Kamp have been retained over the decades giving it that relaxed, but classically elegant ‘home away from home’ feel. The lodge itself was officially opened in 1983 by the late Sir Laurens van der Post, highly respected South African-born author, friend and mentor to Prince Charles and godfather to Prince William (among many other accolades).
To this day, the original plantation homestead (now the heart and soul of Kirkman’s Kamp), Harry’s house (now the General Manager’s house), the original tennis court (originally opened by the legendary tennis great, Billie Jean King) and even the old cattle dip (now situated between the lodge and the staff village) have been maintained. For history buffs, the surrounding reserve is also home to remnants of the historic Selati railway line.
“The lodge itself is like taking a step back in time to a 1920s homestead with its classic ambience and sweeping views,” Chris says. “Our goal was to commemorate its history, celebrate its setting, and maintain its original character. Now, Kirkman’s Kamp is revitalised, lighter and fresher, but it has maintained its timeless, old-world charm … same same, but different.”
As the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ The original homestead, which forms the heart of Kirkman’s Kamp, has been well-loved for generations for its style, simplicity and comfort. The Fox Brownes’ goal was simply to add a touch of glamour and modern-day luxury.
Debra adds, “We restyled the sitting room with some contemporary furniture additions, but we made sure it still feels like Harry Kirkman’s home, ensuring that guests always feel like they are staying at a home away from home.”
The 12 cottages have been tastefully refreshed and generous personal bars and new outdoor seating have been added allowing for the perfect afternoon sundowner on the veranda.
“We gave the guest suites a facelift,” Debra explains. “New wallpaper murals depicting a bushveld savanna scene, as well as convenient new wardrobes and well-stocked personal bars, were incorporated, blending the new modern touches with the existing character. The private verandas create a warm and inviting atmosphere overlooking the Sand River.”
“The guest suite bathrooms were our biggest statement piece,” Chris adds. “The old-fashioned bathtubs were removed and replaced with spacious showers and double vanities. The bathroom finishes are 1920s in their design and thinking, using embossed tiles, ribbed glass and marble vanities. The w.c.’s have also been given their own private, wallpaper-lined cubicles.”
The dining room has been restyled to create a warm and inviting, yet functional and spacious, area for guests to gather. With high ceilings and the addition of two comfortable dining booths, the increased seating capacity allows guests to dine comfortably and linger longer at mealtimes.
“While we kept the guest areas much the same,” Chris elaborates. “The dining room has had the biggest intervention with the addition of a new contemporary coffee bar, with touches of marble and the original character coming through with the beautiful and intricate brackets. There is still a collection of mismatched original chairs with newly repainted tables and marble tops.”
The true heart-within-the-heart of the lodge is the ever-cosy, ever-jovial Paul’s Pub. The perfect ‘watering hole’ for guests to gather at after each evening game drive, the pub remains an inviting space where libations are shared, stories are regaled, and friendly rivalry heats up on the daily wildlife sightings scoreboard.
Debra adds, “The bar has been restyled, but has retained its original charm with the most significant change being that it has now been officially named Paul’s Pub, after the lodge owner’s father. When tasked with giving this room a refresh, we focused on the restyling of the existing collectables, freshening up the pine timber by painting a few pieces, lightening the fabrics, and introducing marble. We kept the original bar, but brightened it up with mirrors and lighting, complementing it with a clean marble counter that also ties in with the new marble-clad fireplace.”
Gathering around the blazing fire each evening, with a post-safari tipple in hand, one can almost picture Harry himself, perched right next to the bar with a strong whiskey sharing stories of his wild adventures.
‘Has one of your rangers been mauled?’
‘No,’ said Uncle Harry, ‘I was.’
At 8:26, Brendan Streak reads a short excerpt from Hannes Kloppers’ Game Ranger, detailing the time Harry Kirkman was attacked by a lion.
History buffs, keep an eye out. Scattered around Kirkman’s Kamp are unique artefacts and treasured mementos borrowed from Harry’s time on the property. From his personal collection of rifles to original photographs depicting the homestead’s sometimes sophisticated, sometimes turbulent past, it’s like walking through a small museum. Pieced together, this authentic collection of old relics and antiques help tell the fascinating story of Harry Kirkman and his namesake, Kirkman’s Kamp.
The interspersed hints of blue were first introduced to Kirkman’s Kamp when the lodge joined the &Beyond portfolio in 2006. A peaceful, calm and relaxing colour, blue is also said to symbolise not only the sky and water, but also wisdom, trust and loyalty.
In addition to the blue-toned staff uniforms, which were locally designed exclusively for &Beyond, subtle splashes of blue here and there add a touch of colour and elegance to the space. In the guest cottages, the bed headboards and chaise lounges have been lovingly repurposed from a previous refurb with a plush, duck egg blue-green velvet. “We hate it when things go to waste, so we re-used them.” Chris admits. “The velvet adds a bit of luxury and it also gets better with age.”
“The previous verandas were cement screed and in desperate need of a facelift,” Debra explains. “We chose an old-fashioned, hardy blue and white pattern that would have longevity, but at the same time bring a slightly more feminine and textured feel to the previously masculine camp.”
The Sabi Sand is famed for its two major rivers and, of course, its multitude of predators and the interactions between them. The reserve is home to world-famous prides of lion, an incredible density of leopard, as well as the highly endangered African wild dog.
Game viewing is superlative, and thanks to many years of sensitive viewing practices, these predators (particularly the otherwise elusive leopard) are habituated to the safari vehicles allowing for unparalleled and up-close predator viewing.
Despite being in one of the world’s most sought-after wilderness areas, the benefit of Kirkman’s Kamp forming part of a 10,500-hectare (26,000-acre) private concession means that guests can enjoy a far more exclusive and intimate experience in a wildlife-dense part of the reserve with very few vehicles and blissfully unhurried sightings.
Creatures, big and small, do frequent the lush, sweeping lawns surrounding Kirkman’s Kamp. From the nyala, impala and warthog that are constantly ‘mowing’ the lawn, to the cheeky vervet monkeys (keep an eye out for the one-armed, one-legged one that continues to defy the monkey odds) and countless birds, there’s never a dull moment in camp (and on the riverbed below).
Two male lions were headed straight towards Kirkman’s Kamp.
At 28:26, Brendan Streak reminisces about a hairy moment when this powerful pair walked straight through camp.
SEE WHAT LIES BEYOND
Seeing is believing. Come and experience the old and new, borrowed and blue, and worldly and wild of Kirkman’s Kamp.