“Have we forgotten that wilderness is not a place, but a pattern of the soul where every tree, every bird and beast is a soul maker?” – Ian McCallum
As I turned onto the dirt track that leads to the Karoo Lodge I caught sight of a tower of giraffe feeding in the last of the evening light, their curious expressions visible above the tall acacia trees. In the distance, vervet monkey played in puddles left by the recent rain. The setting was complete and I could barely believe that l was back at beautiful Samara Private Game Reserve.
Flying into Port Elizabeth and making the drive to Samara near Graff-Reinet, I was warmly welcomed and shown to my room in the Karoo Lodge, a perfectly appointed old farmstead with wrap-around verandah, that is surrounded by thousands of hectares of land rich in protected wildlife.
During my three-night stay, I was taken on game drives by my guide Benedict, who with the assistance of his tracker Rowan pointed out waterbuck, red hartebeest, zebra and baboon, amongst others. We trekked cheetah on foot, were fortunate enough to see the rhino and elephant, and on the one evening drove to the very highest plateau to take in the views towards the Plains of Camdeboo.
There were lessons in conservation, insight into the long term vision of Samara and toasts to the pink skies with chilled G&T’s. Nights were enjoyed snug next to the roaring fire in the Karoo Lodge lounge, evening meals taken in the dining room and brunch savoured in the warm Winter sun. Throughout the service was impeccable, authentically warm and in true Karoo style.
The Story of Samara Private Game Reserve
The story of Samara is one of determination, perseverance and commitment. It follows owners Mark and Sarah Tompkins’ dream to painstakingly return 11 former livestock farms to wilderness over a period of 20 years.
Located on 28,000 hectares of wilderness in the Great Karoo, Samara Private Game Reserve is the leader in its area and a catalyst for change in the area. The abundant land here preserves a complex and diverse ecosystem with four vegetation biomes providing habitat for over 60 mammal species, including lion, elephant, cheetah, black and white rhino, buffalo, Cape mountain zebra, giraffe, eland, gemsbok and aardvark to name but a few.
One of many things that Samara Private Game Reserve is renowned for is their successful wild cheetah breeding project that started with a female cheetah Sibella, who had been rescued from a pack of farm dogs and patiently nursed back to health before being released back into the wild here. She went on to be the mother of generations of cheetah to come who have gone on to live across Southern Africa.
On the one day, I trekked on foot into her daughter Chilli and her five 7-month-old very fluffy cubs, who affectionately played and pounced around her, before settling down in the morning sun.
The Arrival of the Lions
Earlier this year Samara Private Game Reserve successfully released a founder pride of lions – restoring a species that last roamed the Great Karoo over 180 years ago. Their release forms part of a pioneering project to return the Karoo to the state of true biodiversity it once enjoyed, marking a major milestone not only for Samara but also for South African wildlife conservation.
The reintroduction is critical for several reasons. Firstly, there is an urgent need for conservation initiatives targeting lions, the species has dwindled by 43% in the past 20 years. A sobering fact is that there are only an estimated 3 000 wild lions left in South Africa.
The new lion population means that the ecosystem has an apex predator, and positions Samara one step closer to achieving its ultimate goal of establishing a series of ecological corridors and public-private partnerships that will see the region become South Africa’s third-largest protected area.
An area that was once home to the largest migration on earth: the springbok migration.
Manage your expectations when booking your stay at Samara Private Game Reserve. If all you’re interested in is ticking animals off a must-see safari list, this may not be the place for you. Samara is more for those seeking a soulful retreat to the bush, where all life matters and the effort that goes into preserving the area and wilderness, is appreciated.
Samara is about the big skies, the views across the Camdeboo plains, the impressive landscape and diverse vegetation. Warm Karoo hospitality, fine food and luxury and the excellent guides that bring the reserve to life.
A visit there supports the Samara’s conservation vision and I already look forward to my return.
The Essential Details
Location: Situated approximately 270km from Port Elizabeth and 53km from the nearest town of Graaff Reinet, Samara offers easy access to visitors. I’d recommend flying into Port Elizabeth and driving the 2,5 scenic hours from there. Road and air transfers can be arranged on request.
Accommodation: Accommodating a maximum of 26 guests in two, five-star luxury lodges: the Karoo Lodge – a renovated farmstead overlooking an amphitheatre of mountains and The Manor – a luxury villa with private pool, chef, butler and ranger that can be booked exclusively or by private individuals.
Activities: Samara activities include game drives, guided walks, a luxury star bed experience, wilderness picnics, birding, mountain hikes, indoor and outdoor dining, mountain biking and conservation activities. Children of all ages are welcome and there’s a dedicated children’s programme.
In addition: This is a malaria-free area. A minimum of three nights is recommended.
My ‘Samara Private Game Reserve, rewilding the plains of Camdeboo’ article is in the new SA and Beyond printed magazine and online, or above for your ease of reading.