San Francisco and Johannesburg-based firm Luxury Frontiers has completed the design of Mdluli Safari Lodge, a 50-tent safari camp set within the southern borders of Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Born from a 50-50 partnership with the local Mdluli community, the lodge aims to limit its ecological impact through collaborations with environmental specialists from Kruger National Park. The topography of the site leans toward an offshoot of the Nsikazi River, with its design involving complex positioning to ensure that each of accommodation looks out across the park yet offers complete privacy.

Luxury Frontiers positioned the main area of camp – comprising reception, dining and swimming areas – around a majestic Marula tree, with structures set against a backdrop of a Silver Cluster leaf valley. The layout pays homage to the traditional lekgotla – a village meeting place in several Southern African tribal languages – with a life-size bronze of the late Chief MZ Mdluli by sculptress Zelda Straud standing prominently in the shade of the tree with outstretched arms to welcome guests.

Meanwhile, the lounge and bar areas overlook an adjacent riverbed frequented by herds of elephant and buffalo. The restaurant consists of two dining areas – one large, the other intimate – separated by a screen detail created from recycled offcuts of gum tree poles from the site. The main complex also houses an infinity pool and lounging deck area where guests can relax after game drives and bush walks.

The 50 safari-style tents are tucked away amid trees on low-impact substructures raised above the natural ground, providing elevated views of the bushveld as well as private spaces for close encounters with nature.

Mdluli Safari Lodge in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Inside, the tents are outfitted with modern amenities including stylish couches tossed with throw pillows, a work desk with cushioned chair, and assorted tables and shelf units. Each is modified with a stud wall structure, splitting interiors into two areas: a bedroom and bathroom with indoor and outdoor showers. The interior palette of grey, green and natural timber is inspired by tones and textures of the surrounding landscape and showcased in subtle detailing, from chunky woven carpet to a cork desk lamp representing the bark of Marula trees.

Mdluli Safari Lodge also acts as a sustainable tourism initiative, providing direct financial and indirect social and economic benefits from operations to the local Mdluli community. For instance, a Community Discovery Centre designed pro-bono by Luxury Frontiers allows guests to journey through the three core pillars behind the creation of the site, including the partnership with the community, wildlife conservation and preservation, and ecological design. It will house an interactive museum, information centre and environmental study centre, and also offer opportunity for locals to showcase arts and crafts.

“Communication with the community was key to our work on Mdluli Safari Lodge as well as our involvement in the ethos to ensure that every detail of design and construction met a high environmental standard,” says Graeme Labe, Principal and Managing Director of Luxury Frontiers.

Inkhosi MI Mdluli, Senior Traditional Leader, Mdluli Royal Family and Traditional Council, adds: “I am really excited about this project which started 20 years ago by our late father Inkhosi MZ Mdluli, whose vision was to see the Royal Family and the entire Mdluli community benefitting through education and community development. I took over where he left off, and I am committed to providing the leadership and guidance to ensure that his vision becomes a reality.”