Jack's Camp is set in Makgadikgadi Salt Pans - the remnants of what was once a prehistoric inland sea, an enormous super-lake that used to cover most of Southern Africa, a vast and ancient landscape the size of Switzerland is like nowhere on earth. It’s a landscape of space and remoteness, and spectacular, otherworldly vistas, unique desert wildlife, and old-world glamour of Jack’s Camp all coming together to create an experience that is unlike any other on the continent.
Jack's is delightfully authentic in its 1940’s campaign style. In fact you’d swear you’d stumbled onto a movie set. Or into ‘Tales from a Safari Camp’, or rather, ‘Safaris can be Dangerous Business’, Elspeth Joscelin Huxley‘s book written in 1938 set in Africa in the 1930’s. The Plot: When Lady Baradale insists on bringing her priceless jewellery on the expedition, she, and her gems become the prey. Enter the Canadian detective inspector Vachell who goes undercover to solve the mystery of the stolen jewels and sort out the prospective travellers to solve the crime.
I can just see it! and I’m sure Jack Bousfield would love it!
Jack Bousfield, was a fourth-generation hunter-explorer, a scourge of the crocodile, a naturalist, raconteur, a professional white hunter, safari pioneer and all-around legend set out on a trapping expedition in the desolate Makgadikgadi Pans of Botswana in the '60s. Falling in love with the area, he set up a camp with the unshakeable expectation that others would feel the same and began offering word-of-mouth safari excursions. Bousfield himself described the area as the “savage beauty of a forgotten Africa”. His camp was a simple, no-frills affair in the heart of the desert that became an iconic camp, as did Jack himself. He survived six plane crashes but tragically died in his seventh accident in 1992 when flying with his son Ralph over Botswana’s Okavango Delta when the plane came down. Ralph and his partner Catherine established Uncharted Africa Safari Company in homage to his father's vision, and Jack's Camp opened in 1993, in a nostalgic 1940’s style. Without electricity, water came steaming in gleaming copper jugs, and showers were taken under the stars. Their portfolio expanded to include the equally quirky and eccentric San Camp and Camp Kalahari, guaranteeing every guest 'Real Adventure in Unreal Style'.
Ralph took the opportunity through the pandemic to rebuild the camp with a low-carbon footprint. The brand-new Jack’s Camp pays homage to the property’s enduring and much-loved 1940’s campaign style in a supersized version of the old Jack's with the same old-world charm, albeit with some modern updates including Tesla's innovative solar power and a unique bed cooling system. The five-layered canvas tents initially developed for Nato are fire-proof and heat-resistant.
THE MESS TENTS
A series of tented rooms flowing into each other are lined decadently in a coral Indian stamp print fabric, the openings lined with luxuriant curtaining with green trim and tassel tie backs frame the magnificent views beyond. The living room and African-themed library have gorgeously deep sink-in comfy sofas, sumptuous fabrics, textured cushions, and unusual lamps with unusual mismatched lampshades. Glass fronted curiosity cabinets line the walls brimful with the family's collected findings and curiosities, including Stone Age tools, bones, maps, artefacts, fossils, taxidermy animals, and jewellery, all found in the pans. The collection is now designated in one of Botswana's official museums. The Bar Tent recalls a den with an antique pool table and a fascinating array of taxidermy, curiosities, and unusual art. Canopied swinging daybeds overlook the pan. Meanwhile, the Persian Tea Tent is another gorgeously appointed tented room that is circular in shape and lined with Oriental rugs and massive floor cushions to sink into while indulging in delectable afternoon teas of cucumber sandwiches and cakes.
The camp has an extraordinary ambience. It holds that magic quality of lived-in-ness, history, and life well lived. The colours throughout, although rich, meld with the environment. The decoration adds to the eclectic melee, along with the family's collections - works by Peter Beard, original posters from Deyrolle and Bousfield family photos, and antique furniture passed down through the generations of the Bousfield family. The American photographer Peter Beard, was a close friend and mentor for 25 years, who knew Ralph's uncle and father. Paraffin lanterns glow romantically in the evenings, which look incredibly beautiful when you return from game drives.
THE GUEST TENTS
The guest tents are a ginormous 2,800 square feet with impressive four-poster canopy beds as one of the many wow factors in the rooms. A desk area occupies a corner of the bedroom. The divinely inviting sitting rooms come with a daybed, a bar cabinet, and come with miniature natural history museums with more of the extraordinary curiosities curated by Ralph. The tents are all landscape-orientated to allow panoramic views of the salt pans. The superbly spacious bathrooms have an old-style water closet and freestanding basin cabinets, a bamboo lined shower cubicle, and a chaise longue. From here you can exit to the deck and follow a verdant pathway to an outdoor shower. All the tents are lined in the same Indian stamp print fabric as the main tent and have tent openings embellished with sumptuous curtaining and tassels, while Oriental rugs line the wooden floor throughout.
THINGS TO DO (IF YOU CAN STEAL YOURSELF AWAY FROM THE TENTS)
Other than eating delicious food, sleeping in the comfiest bed ever - snuggled in layers of duvets, counterpanes, and not one but two "bush babies" [hot water bottles], and chilling - just being at Jack's is relaxing. The hardest decision you need to make is where to do it. Pick a spot in the glorious mess tent, browse the variety of titles in the African-themed library with a drink from the bar tent in hand, or chill on the floor cushions in the round Persian tea pavilion, or there's the pool tent, or hang out on your private deck? With the occasional cooling dip in your sparkling plunge pool or the mess tents’ swinging day beds, perhaps? Or indulge in a massage in your tent or on the deck. It's so tempting to simply kick back and relax as you watch the passing parade of wildlife on their daily pilgrimage for water from your private veranda. The day begins with your early wake-up call of 'knock knock", and your choice of tea or coffee served on silver trays and silver teapots with velvet tea cosies. If not served on the pan, breakfasts, lunch and dinners are enjoyed in the mess tent and informal afternoon teas in the Persian Tea Tent.
THINGS TO DO AROUND THE CAMP
A highlight for me was taking a nature walk with the Zu/'hoasi Bushmen learning about their fascinating culture that is fast becoming extinct, and how they live off the land. Game drives in custom-built 4x4s spotting the unique desert wildlife inhabiting the pans, such as the elusive brown hyena, the black-maned Kalahari lion, and brown honey badgers, and the rare and shy nocturnal species found on night drives, the bat-eared foxes, brown hyena, aardwolf and aardvark. Lions and cheetahs are regular sightings, and elephants have become a more regular sighting. The superstars, however, are the characterful and gregarious meerkats. They are captivating. It's a joy spending time with the camp meerkats and experiencing their world as they go about their all-day feeding frenzy while looking out for predators. Listening out for alarm calls and scenting out tasty snacks, especially scorpions. Reason, having spent the last two years with them, will encourage you to lay low on the ground to allow the meerkats to use you as a man mountain to get to higher ground to check out for danger from predators. Roaring through the vast and endless plains of the Makgadikgadi Pans on a Quad bike during the dry season is exhilarating. There are 1,600 square kilometres (200 square miles) of untouched land to discover, as is horseback riding across the arid desert plans. You can also take a helicopter flip.
The staff at Jack's are as fantastic as the place itself. Nothing is too much trouble here. Staff are happy and proud to be here, and while attentive, they know when to leave you to your own devices.
Jacks is an all-year camp. The rains that transform the landscape attract herds of zebra and wildebeest – and the ever-looming predators. Flamingos and migratory birds also arrive in their thousands, and the desert comes alive. At this time, you will witness Africa's second largest zebra migration route.
There is no WIFI at Jack's—this is a true escape.
Jack's laid-back vibes are totally restorative. The mesmerising landscape is humbling. This is a modern day playground with soul where you are immersed in nature. Jack's not only showcases local culture—it's helping sustain it while enhancing and conserving the land, and the wildlife.
*Jack’s Camp can be booked with Natural Selection.