The tent

Vol. 1 : Escape (Autumn / Winter 2021)

Inspired by the incredible setting of a desert gone green, owner Ralph Bousfield has lovingly restored Jack’s Camp by enhancing the colours of the natural surrounds with decadent, jewel-box interiors.

Words Amelia Brown   Photography Elsa Young  Art Direction and Styling Charl Edwards

It’s late afternoon in Jack’s Camps’ mythical Persian-inspired tea tent. The air is thick and still. There’s a lull in the conversation, which moments ago involved animated chatter about the topic of the season: the rain. Or, more specifically the amount, which has entirely transformed the current view through the tent flaps from a dry, crackedndesert pan to a lake.

Our guide, Super Sande, a gentle oak tree of a man, with a dazzling smile and an intimate knowledge of the area from having worked for the family-run Uncharted Africa Safaris for well over two-thirds of his 60-something life, comments that the pan should be renamed. ‘Anything that’s repeated in Setswana means “very”, so Makgadikgadi essentially means “dry-dry”. We should call it “Gemetsigemetsi – wet-wet”,’ he laughs, sweeping one giant hand in a wide arc across the water.

ABOVE The pathway that leads to Jack’s is framed by two fan palms. The camp’s new layout was carefully mapped out between the palms and vegetation that define the island on which Jack Bousfield first set up camp in the 60s. Following his death in 1992, Jack’s son, Ralph, formally established the eponymous camp. Only wheelbarrows were used in the recent rebuild so as not to damage any plants. The perimeter is now electrified to keep out palm tree-obsessed elephants.

We sip more tea. Ruminate. Recline like sheikhs on the profusion of carpeted pillows. Reach for dainties arranged on low, intricately carved tables that rest on a patchwork of antique oriental rugs. Here, nature is always part of the dialogue and a breeze picks up from nowhere, filling the silence with a gentle whisper from the flourishing waist-high grasses.

 The tent flaps billow and I’m aware that the staff – many who, like Super, have witnessed countless seasons on the Jack’s Camp ‘island’ and speak the language of the wind – have stood up.

 Within minutes, the view is blocked by sheets of rain and you have to shout to be heard. The tent flaps are swiftly closed in a well-practiced choreography and we are instantly cocooned, womblike, listening to the rain. It is in this low light that the impact of the tent’s iconic apricot lining is felt.

 And I say felt, because that is the experience at Jack’s: every discovery and detail the eye registers resonates on a deeper, mystical, intangible level.


The sense of discovery inspired by the setting is enhanced through the visual feast of the decadent, layered jewel-box interior. ‘I love a beautiful thing, but I really love a story,’ quips Ralph, whose family has been collecting for generations. 

Beyond a striking and now iconic design element, the lining glows like an ember when the lights are low and the lamps are lit. No longer one flat colour, it contains multitudes: tangerine turning to rust and dark amber; ruby to sepia to violet in the folds and shadows, emphasising the drama and height of the vaulted canopy.

The tents may be new and much grander in size, but there are Jack’s Camp signatures that leave you with no question as to where you are.

‘People associate the camp with this lining, whether they’ve been here before or have seen it in a photograph,’ says owner Ralph Bousfield. ‘I wanted people to walk in and think, ‘well, it hasn’t really changed, but oh, wow, look at that!” It’s that association. That familiarity. That comfort. With more that changes in the world, the more we seek anchors,’ he says.

Just as the crenulations are quintessentially Jack’s, the camp’s nowiconic old-world safari glamour remains reassuringly intact – plush velvets in rich pigments, meticulously restored campaign-style pieces, antique rugs, and collections of books, skulls and curiosities transport you to another time, an instant illusion that amplifies the feeling of escape and exploration, discovery and adventure.

In the supersized L-shaped guest tents, an entrance hall now creates a sense of arrival. Standing here to pull off dusty boots, the lining once again defines the experience, swept-back theatrically to frame the view to the next room or the pan beyond. The outside is experienced through the context of the layered interior: the deck, plunge pool (a new addition to each tent) and landscape are seen through the bygone living room. Designed to comfortably accommodate two Goldilocks-worthy four-poster queen beds, the bedroom determined the new proportions, with the bathroom and living room mirroring it on either side.

ABOVE Things are pretty wild in the drinks tent. Like many of the custom pieces of furniture at Jack’s, the swing beds – which make the perfect spot for a sundowner in the drinks tent – were made in the Uncharted Africa workshop in Francistown. The upholstery and canopies were all hand-sewn there, too. 

Take a look at the new Jack’s Camp, its time-warp interiors and grander proportions appearing even more theatrical against a seemingly inconceivable backdrop of the desert gone green…

It would be easy to arrive to this fairy-tale splendour and really believe it’s been conjoured up. The flurry of coordinated activity in the tea tent gives me a glimpse into what it takes to make this magic in a remote (the camp is one of just three in a one million-acre reserve) and unforgiving setting. The rebuild has been years in the making. Every pole and position meticulously mapped between the palms. The tents’ more generous proportions analysed and calibrated by architects. The arrangements inside carefully curated with pieces collected over years and in some cases generations.

I’m always reminded on game drives of the charm of collective nouns: a memory of elephants; a dazzle of zebra; a confusion of wildebeest; a mob of meerkats. The abundance of life in a habitat like this, as well as the sense of childlike wonder and curiosity it promotes, is reinforced by the camp’s collections and explorer’s curios. Flocks of delicately carved wooden birds alight on an antique dresser in your tent. Prehistoric tools rest in a vitrine in the dining room. A cascade of tortoise shells perch atop a bookcase, arranged from largest to smallest like a nest of Russian dolls.

ABOVE The nine guest tents are now 270m2 – almost double in size – with the middle bedroom cell comfortably accommodating two four-poster beds or a grand extra-length king. The beds are dressed in linen made by the Uncharted Africa team – including the quilts, which are hand-sewn from fabric sourced in India – and feature an innovative overhead cooling system in the canopy. For the chilly months, the addition of a wood-burning Morso stove allows you to close the drapes between the sitting room and the en-suite and be cocooned in the luxurious bedroom with a crackling fire.

Cut off from the distractions and urgency of urban life in this wild wonderland, you’re encouraged to return to a time when the sun dictated the rhythm of the days. Ralph speaks a lot about time, about how one gets to slow it down on safari and move at a pace set by nature in a place that is primordially timeless. It feels like Jack’s has grown in that elemental, evolutionary way – subtle changes in characteristics over generations that move it forward.

‘I had an extraordinary moment sitting at the table in the mess tent,’ shares Ralph. ‘I looked up, and it suddenly felt like we hadn’t rebuilt. Yes, it’s bigger, there’s more space and there are more things, but the display cases are all the same and we’ve reused everything. It was one of those weird moments when my memories merged with the present, and it was comforting because I knew we’d achieved what we set out to.’