Sneak Peek: The Inspiration behind Jao’s Rebuild – Opening 2019

Our Collective

Wilderness Blogger


Wilderness Safaris is delighted to announce the rebuild and complete reinvention of Jao Camp, due to open 16 June 2019, as well as the introduction of the camp's luxurious and brand new Jao Villas.

The completely rebuilt and revamped Jao Camp will retain the same high stilted main area built into the tree canopy, with more private areas in amongst the trees. The camp will comprise two villas and five twins with private plunge pools, lounge and dining areas, kitchen facilities plus en-suite bathrooms, including indoor and outdoor showers. The new Jao Villas, accommodating four people each in the two identical guest rooms, which share a main area, will feature a private vehicle, guide, chef and butler.

“Having to replace our old substructures provided us with the opportunity to enhance the special features that we always loved about Jao, to make improvements and incorporate extra touches. We are making the most of our camp environment, with buildings set to blend into the tree canopy whilst offering stunning views and honouring our commitment to be as eco-sensitive as possible”, says co-owner of the Jao Reserve, Cathy Kays.

Artist impression of the Jao fire deck 

A key feature is the museum and gallery. An important aspect of the camp rebuild is the emphasis on learning and sharing knowledge. As Lead Architects, Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, note: “Imagine a building that houses all our thoughts pertaining to visiting the Okavango Delta. This is how the concept of the Gallery and Museum was born. This creates a centre where visiting scientists and researchers can present their research, and where items can be displayed for educational purposes. There are also always a large number of found objects that are interesting from a guest perspective, as they give a greater understanding of the area – such as local plants and animal bones – as well as geographical maps and artworks of the region.

“We are building a double-volume structure that has the Gallery on the upper level – where these items can be displayed to greater effect, rather than just rendered as décor items – and the Shop on the lower level. Among the Gallery items will be a series of prints from the National Herbarium in Pretoria, of botanical pressings made by Cathy Kays’ great-grandfather – EE Galpin – who was one of the pre-eminent botanists of his time, and has been called the 'Prince of Collectors’. He left 16 000 sheets to the Herbarium, and a number of plant species have been named after him. We are selecting plants of the region that he identified. Other items on display will be a series of animal skeletons, mounted and displayed like a museum, for educational purpose. The current plan is for a giraffe skeleton. Obviously these are skeletons of animals that have died from natural attrition, so they take some time to source”.

Artist impression of the Jao Museum and Gallery

Rech and Carstens, who designed the original Jao in 1999, shared their approach to the rebuild: “We have taken a fresh and contemporary approach to the sense of adventure Jao always had – creating a feeling of not knowing what to expect around the next corner, adding an element of surprise and delight in this ever-evolving sculptural and architectural language. The architecture is a collection of different spaces that take the visitor on a spatial adventure through the Delta.The ever-changing architectural structures take their cue from forms found in nature, but in a fresh, innovative way. Conventional materiality is replaced with a more eco-sensitive palette, as the bouquet of spaces and sculptures evolves. The way one is couched, protected from the environment, is blended into a series of highly sculptural, emotive spaces that amplify the blur between the concept of shelter and art/sculpture, and architecture.

Artist impression of the main area

The visitor’s poetic mental space is taken to a higher level. The choreography of 24 hours in the Delta has been crystallised into structures that artistically house and heighten each event and ritual experienced when visiting Jao. Thus, a family of concepts has been evolved by the architects specifically for the Jao concept”.

The main area will feature both indoor and outdoor lounges, dining areas, a satellite kitchen and several private dining areas, along with a fire deck. The spa at Jao will be tucked in amongst the palms for privacy, and is surrounded by water to provide a calming and tranquil atmosphere. The gym will be built on the edge of the island, presenting stunning views over the lush waterways, while the main pool, with its unique canopy pavilion providing shade, will project out into the floodplain with 270-degree views of the Delta.

Artist impression of the spa

A colour palette of creams, greens, soft purple and splashes of yellow will be used, incorporating a unique botanical theme with special emphasis placed on the water lily. A range of beautiful new furnishings will be crafted to reflect the theme.

A mix of wood and light coloured Eva-tech decking will contrast with the red balau wooden walkways and lighter floors in the internal areas. The walkways reflect the old camp and provide a striking difference to the room interiors, which will be more refined in appearance.

Artist impression of the guest rooms

Comfort is provided through cooling and heating systems, complementing the camp design. Using Climate Wizard, an Australian cooling system, the suites and villas will be cooled with an indirect evaporative cooler that delivers a large amount of cold air with no added moisture, for a fraction of the energy used by conventional air conditioning systems. Self-igniting Calore stoves will provide heating during the colder months.

From waterways and lagoons to dry Kalahari grasslands, Jao’s location on a remote island in one of the most picturesque concessions in the Delta provides both land and water Okavango experiences, with day and night game drives all year round.

“We are delighted with the progress of the rebuild to date, and look forward to welcoming our guests back to our new and enhanced Jao Camp in 2019”, Cathy concludes.

"We have taken a fresh and contemporary approach to the sense of adventure Jao always had – creating a feeling of not knowing what to expect around the next corner, adding an element of surprise and delight in this ever-evolving sculptural and architectural language. "

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When we say we’re there every step of the way, we mean it, literally. From planning the perfect circuit, to private inter-camp transfers on Wilderness Air, and easing you through Customs. We’re with you on the ground, at your side, 24-7, from start to finish. Ready to take the road less travelled? Contact our Travel Designers to plan an unforgettable journey.