The moment you walk into the reception at Lukimbi Safari Lodge in the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga, you’ll notice the imagination of artists whose work appears in even the most unexpected of places. With quirky humour and simplicity of form, Tineke Meijer’s plasterwork, for example, welcomes you to the hub and gathering point of the lodge, the lounge, as her animal figures climb up the chimney of a fireplace that roars warmly in winter, casting shadows on pregnant crocodiles, and craning ungainly giraffes. The geometric figures on the other aspects of the chimney are reminiscent of traditional basketry or weaving, the rough knobs further up conjuring a vision of a knobthorn tree or bumpy elephant skin.
Yet this is not the only place where the comical plasterwork abounds. That is part of the artistic treasure hunt that allows Lukimbi guests the surprise and delight of discovery. A sweeping staircase combining African-inspired tiles and concrete and metal-inlaid floors; a frieze illustrating zebras, guinea fowl and an observant Lukimbi, half-lion, half-owl; etched walls; and the reception desk celebrating alert meerkats, a successful fishing foray, an ever-elusive pangolin and a watchful owl. The non-denominational chapel for weddings also has its own unique piece – a Coptic cross in Africanised geometrics.
All those details
At this superb five-star lodge, no attempt has been spared in the details. Each suite is unique, each door swinging open with a key attached to a lovingly hand-carved keyring, the crafted brass doorknobs depicting the lodge’s totem, brightly shining a welcome to a magical space. Inset below huge glass windows, the baths in each suite are works of art in themselves, the view into the bush always changing and surprising. The bath spouts show other endearing minutiae, as little creatures like frogs or otters sit, watching the water flow below them.
Sfiso Ka-Mkame’s work
Another popular artist represented at Lukimbi Safari Lodge is Sfiso Ka-Mkame, a mostly self-taught creative of Zulu and Xhosa parentage and hailing from Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. He has worked with vibrant textured pastels and is arguably most famous for his “love letters” series, created during the height of apartheid in the eighties, when protest themes and commentary on social ills were rife. These pieces are not political; rather, they represent a varied humanity through four abstract faces, with cubist associations and energetic hues.
Embroidery hailing from the Kaross collective in Letsitele, Limpopo Province is also on display at Lukimbi. These pieces are witty, colourful and imaginative hand-embroidered works of what Kaross calls “functional art”. Some of the artists at Kaross, such as Hilda Rikhotso, for instance, have been there for more than twenty years. The collective’s founder, Irma van Rooyen, a fine artist herself, was inspired in 1988 by the stories of the Tsonga people and set up the project as a way to empower women in her community to develop, grow and earn an income while still maintaining the responsibilities for their homes and families. The success of the venture can truly be seen in the quality of the work, and also in the eternal themes and views of life: the sky, nature, community and spirituality and of course the ethos of ubuntu epitomised by the artists themselves.
Sondaga Sepataka’s handcrafted paper
As people leave Lukimbi, they are asked to sign the giant guestbook created by Sondaga Reuben Sepataka, who hails from Modjadji, home of the Rain Queen, in the Limpopo Province. Sondaga’s spectacular hand-crafted paper has been made since 1992 and he has used his talents through the years to make inspired combinations of authentic natural products, while also recycling materials into a second life. There is something physically and emotionally weighty in these guestbooks, not only in their sheer size but also in the history that is collected between their pages. A history that Lukimbi too has honoured in its reflection of the spirit of wonder that can only be seen in the African bush and the country’s eclectic artistic traditions.
Lukimbi in the Kruger National Park is the sister lodge to Idube Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand, South Africa. Home to the Big Five, this is the place to take a game drive in an open vehicle for a magnificent safari experience. Visiting Lukimbi 20 years after completing her beautiful plasterwork Tineke Meijer was thrilled to see how well her creativity continues to inspire guests from all over the world.
Written by South African author, Paula Marais, a frequent visitor to both Lukimbi Safari Lodge and Idube Game Reserve.