Samara Private Game Reserve in the Great Karoo, Eastern Cape.

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I had the great pleasure of a trip to Samara Private Nature Reserve, staying at the super stylish and luxurious Manor House and taking long drives and walks with our Ranger Jan Rudd, in search of game on the plains for which the Camdeboo is famous.

There were delicious meals, charming staff, endless landscapes, relaxed conversations, impressive mountain ranges and excellent game watching to indulge in, while a touch of rain and serious chill in the air reminded us that we were very much alive. The reserve is beautiful with its discreetly positioned elegant lodges providing luxury accommodation on the 27000ha of protected land. It’s heartwarming to see in an area where wildlife roams freely again. This is a nature lover’s paradise, a place that brings to focus man’s relationship with the earth. And it certainly did that for me.

Samara’s Luxury Karoo Lodge

Surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of mountains, the Karoo Lodge offers exceptional service, allowing you to relax in the tranquillity of the Karoo. The three Lodge Suites are situated in the main homestead and are light and airy, all opening out onto the wide wrap-around veranda. Each has a luxury en-suite bathroom and is air-conditioned. One extra bed can be accommodated for families with a child.

The three Karoo Suites are individual Karoo-style cottages in the garden that offer a bit more privacy. Each has a luxury en-suite bathroom, is air-conditioned and has a fireplace. They even have outdoor showers, always a hit when out in the bush. The two Camdeboo Suites – 2 large suites integral to the main building overlooking the plains of Camdeboo, each with a bathroom, shower, bath and double basins. The two Sibella Suites each have an en-suite shower and share a wooden deck overlooking the waterhole with abundant birdlife. They are both air-conditioned.

It’s very flexible here and if you wish, you can leave the game for another day and indulge in the luxury of your suite and let their experienced therapist offer you a treatment.

The Manor at Samara

We stayed in the exclusive and incredibly beautiful Manor at Samara, which caters for families and groups who value privacy and indulgence. Built on the site of a Victorian farmer’s home and utilising some of the original walls, it is unique in its warm design, with shades of teal, cream and grey matching the natural surroundings. The style of the Manor is the inspiration of well-known South African designer, John Zwiegelaar and it is filled with art and African artefacts, each worthy of a second look. A stay at the Manor includes a personal ranger, chef and butler, as well as all the flexibly around meals and activities your heart desires.

Activities on offer

Game Drives – Head out with your ranger in the morning and evening in search of the animals, stopping to learn and observe each one you find. This experience truly epitomes the safari experience – especially with a Gin & Tonic thrown in at sundowners for good measure.

Walking Safaris – While out on a game drive you will be able to get off and track and approach animals on foot. This is a very special experience with no vehicle, noise or rush of wind coming between you and the bush.

Aardvark Safaris – The Aardvark is one of the most widespread mammals in Africa, but also one of the most elusive. I have been on safaris all over Southern and East Africa, and have never seen one. Yet Samara is renowned for its unusually high sightings of these shy and interesting-looking nocturnal animals. I kept my eyes wide open but wasn’t lucky this time.

Biome Walks – Samara is unique in that the property consists of four Biomes on one piece of land, namely the Nama-Karoo, Plateau Grassland, Savannah and Thicket. You can arrange a walk to experience this unusual bio-diversity and learn about the individual characteristics of each of these biomes.

Bird Watching – There are just over 220 species of birds recorded on Samara, so this is a bird watcher’s paradise.  In August you are most likely to view the Blue Crane and we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Black Eagles soaring overhead.

Romantic dining – Samara’s varied landscapes lends themselves perfectly to outdoor dining. Whether on your own private veranda or out in the bush, or intimate dining under the night sky. This is one of their specialities.

Private guided walk – Embark on a journey of discovery with one of Samara’s trained guides to learn about the wild. Track cheetah and rhino on foot, hike to wild olive groves while reconnecting with nature.

The Samara team is passionate about creating special memories. Get in touch with any special requests prior to arriving, be it a romantic celebration, Birthday or special interest. Additional activities are available on request. Learn about Samara’s conservation efforts. Plant a spekboom – or learn about this significant plant, at least. Visit the Khoisan Paintings – a bit of a drive away.

The Cheetahs of Samara

Samara has developed an outstanding reputation for the work they do with the highly endangered Cheetah. Their most famous cheetah is Sibella, born wild, her life nearly ended at the hands of hunters and after being cruelly tortured by them in captivity, she was lucky enough to be rescued and undergo life-saving surgery at the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust. In December 2003, Sibella, along with two males, was released into Samara, proving to be a great hunter and went on to successfully rear 18 cubs at Samara. With this, she epitomised the spirit of Samara and played a vital role in the rejuvenation of a once endangered species, personally contributing to 2% of the wild Cheetah population in South Africa. It has been estimated that the last wild Cheetah in the area was seen 125 years ago with Cheetah heavily hunted in the Great Karoo and Eastern Cape. Part of Sibella and Samara’s Cheetah conservation success is the fact that Samara is free of the predator competition found in Big Five reserves. Without this pressure from natural predators, the Samara Cheetah population have been able to thrive.

Tragically, Sibella died in September 2015 after suffering a deep wound to her abdomen in a clash with a duiker she was hunting. Thankfully her young live on.

Manage your expectations when booking a stay at Samara Private Game Reserve. If all you’re interested in is close encounters with the Big 5 as you tick off your must-see safari list, this may not be the place for you. Samara is more for those who have enjoyed a Big 5 safari and are ready to take lessons from the little guys – while appreciating the privilege of time out in nature.

Of course, game viewing is very good with zebra, giraffe, buffalo, baboons and big troops of vervet monkeys, as well as eland, springbok, waterbuck, reedbuck, wildebeest, black-backed jackal, the elusive Aardvark, Caracal, mongoose, and much more there to be appreciated – as well as the precious cheetah which can be tracked on foot. Actually the reserve boasts a wide variety of mammals, birds and reptiles.

Bear in mind though that Samara is also about the big skies, the views across the Camdeboo plains, the varied landscape and vegetation. Warm Karoo hospitality, luxury and food and the professional and excellent guides that bring the area to life. Also the love affair Sarah Tompkins and family have with the area, their brave conservation efforts and involvement with the community. While there, ask all the questions, listen to all the stories.

Foremost, this is a place to relax, breath deeply and reconnect with nature – and yourself, over walks, game drives and lingering Karoo flavoured moments.

The important facts in summary

The area is certified malaria-free. I recommend that you stay for 3 nights. We stayed for 2 and as truly lovely as it was, with travel on either side it was hard to leave just as we were settling into the silence. The lodge and rooms are so lovely, you’ll want that extra time to enjoy yours between activities.

This is a safari experience and you will be taking game drives on open vehicles in the early morning and late afternoons. In the winter a fleece, jacket, scarf, gloves – and then another jacket. It is freezing. Layers are the most successful, as the days do warm-up somewhat. In Summer, you will still need a windbreaker for the early morning and evening drives, and a sun hat and sunblock. Year-round, make sure that you have good walking (not hiking) shoes, as one of the activities on offer is a walking safari.

Children of all ages are welcome at Samara and childminding services can be arranged for children under 8 years. This is perfect for when the parents are on a game drive or otherwise occupied at the lodge. Activities for the children include Bushwalks, Spoor identification, African crafts, Orienteering and Navigating. Bear in mind that the Samara Aardvark Kids Programme runs at the Karoo Lodge in June, July and August during the school holidays and offers a variety of fun and educational activities for the children whilst the parents relax and unwind.

There is no cell reception from just before the main entrance gate, although there is reasonably good free wifi for WhatsApp and checking emails, at the Lodge and Manor House. Time at Samara is a gift you can award yourself.

How to get to Samara

Samara is situated just outside Graaff-Reinet and you can choose to drive there from Johannesburg or Cape Town, a distance of about 7+ hours. Or opt to fly to Port Elizabeth and drive the easy 2,5 hours from there in a rental car, which is what we did. Air and road transfers can be arranged by Samara on request and there is a private landing strip on the reserve should you prefer to book an air transfer.

Steeped in history, Samara Private Game Reserve offers visitors glimpse of what life on the great plains of the Karoo was once like. I read: Once upon a time, before the settlers came in the early 1800s, this land teemed with game – rhinos, buffalo, cheetah, elephant, lion and eland. The story goes that when the millions of springbok were migrating on the plains of Camdeboo, they kicked up such a cloud of dust that took days to dissipate.”

Volunteer at Samara Private Game Reserve

Samara offers a program that allows volunteers the opportunity to work on ongoing wildlife research and management projects as well as assist with community development and environmental education programmes. Projects include the Tracking academy, Cheetah predator-prey research and Reserve management. Community outreach is done too as conservation also means acknowledging the people that have lived in this area for generations. The volunteer programme has developed a good relationship with the Vuyani Safe Haven in the nearby town of Graaff-Reinet who they work with. In the last year, Samara has accommodated both local and international students studying the Jackals, the Meerkats as well as predator-prey work.

Long term vision for the area

‘The story starts with the idea of linking the Mountain Zebra National Park and the Camdeboo National Park. This connected Park would be one of the largest conservation areas in South Africa, representing not just a conservation opportunity, but also serving as a key eco-tourism opportunity. Since the original conceptualisation of the idea by SANParks in 1998, Samara has been seen as a key stepping stone in making this connection and served as a catalyst for this grand vision. This is based on the idea that this expanded conservation area would not be a conventional national park, with the land owned by the State, as the costs of land acquisition on this scale would likely be beyond the financial means of State conservation agencies.

Instead, the idea of a model shared-ownership national park, in which private landowners and the State form partnerships to achieve greater conservation success. Samara, with its 27 000 ha of land, is firmly committed to contributing towards and assisting in driving this linkage. This is expressed through Samara’s management of its land and biodiversity to the highest conservation standards, ensuring that Samara is worthy of inclusion in such an outstanding conservation initiative. In addition, Samara is in discussion with SANParks regarding what role the Samara reserve can play. On a broader scale, Mark and Sarah Tompkins are actively engaged in advocating the concept and seeking partnerships with like-minded individuals and institutions, locally and globally, who would like to assist in making this grand idea work.’

The Essential Details

For more information connect with Samara Private Game Reserve at and follow them on Twitter | Instagram | Facebook and YouTube for more of an idea of what’s on offer. Reservations are at

** I travelled on a media trip by invitation of Marisa Ravenscroft and Renee Schonborn of Little Black Book PR and was generously hosted by them and Samara throughout.


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