Five-Star Adventure: Samara Private Game Reserve

Samara Private Game Reserve

We all dream of the perfect trip to Africa: jeep safaris across the expansive plains with close encounters with the Big 5,  thatched-roof lodges overlooking watering holes, majestic lions wrestling with their cubs in the glow of sunset.  And while these romantic notions stir the soul, there are certain precautions one must take when traveling in South Africa, in particular regard to  those annoying malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Personal safety becomes a priority and while anti-malarial drugs are available, their efficacy and nasty side effects (nightmares, vomiting and possible tooth enamel discoloration) make them less than comforting! While some of South Africa’s best game parks are unfortunately not in the malaria-free zone (like Kruger National Park and others in the Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal regions) the Eastern Cape area offers malaria-free, family owned and operated private game reserves. One of the finest is Samara.

This valuable heritage, one of the largest private reserves in the country, is a magical place in the Great Karoo where visitors can really get close to the land and spirit of Africa. Imagine over 70,000 acres of verdant plains, magnificent plateaus and dramatic mountains, replete with endangered species (from the cheetah to the giraffe)—and all of it transformed into the private reserve with an exotic edge. Owners Mark and Sarah Tompkins started Samara with a dream. A decade later, this exquisite, remote game reserve, which spans five different eco-systems (riverine forest, valley bushveld, savannah grasslands, fynbos and acacia woodlands), is an enduring testament to their vision.

A unique feature is the ability to walk freely and safely amongst the game.  Unlike many game reserves, you can get close enough to smell the majestic giraffes and the mountain zebras. Nestled in the remote Great Karoo, this veld, a wide open rural space, provides a safe sanctuary for a healthy wildlife population of threatened species including Kudu, eland, black wildebeest, mountain zebra, once-endangered white rhino and elusive, aardvark.

South Africa Samara Lodge

Guests can enjoy all this and more while staying at Samara’s luxurious Karoo Lodge, a stately colonial manor house, which on African mornings, rises out of the mists as ginger-hued light illuminates the horizon. This original Karoo farmhouse was redesigned by South African designer John Zwiegelaar.   Suites are furnished in a  modernized colonial style with animal skin rugs, impeccable antiques and 19th-century lithographs by African artists. All suites offer private outdoor showers with stunning views from private porches. Our favorite vistas are from the honeymoon suite, which is the most isolated and has unbroken panoramic views.  Tucked behind the main lodge and nestled beneath acacia trees are three private suites built to resemble typical Karoo cottages.  Here, visitors can watch roaming game from the comfort of their own their beds.

For those who want more luxe privacy,  the new Camdeboo Manor offers four sleekly chic suites, with an infinity pool that descends into a natural sinkhole that attracts animals in the early morning.  The manor skillfully blends traditional African and modern minimalism design; a 21st-century version of the pioneering interior.  Built beside ancient trees, the villas have indoor bathrooms and outdoor showers, louvered doors that provide cooling breezes, and ineffable views of the mountains. This is an African bush resort with a decidedly cosmopolitan sensibility. Manor house guests also enjoy their own personal chef, butlers and ranger.

Whether guests are out on the plains or back at one of the lodges, Samara’s exquisite Karoo Kitchen delivers an enticing menu, using only local fresh ingredients so as to recreate traditional Karoo culinary flavors complimented by light healthy touches with bush accents. Each meal is served at a different location, like the boma (a traditional African circular shelter) under the stars, the vast verandah or an impeccable picnic on the plateau overlooking the Plains of Camdeboo from which on a clear day you can see all the way to Port Elizabeth. Dishes include traditional Karoo Lamb Patties Moroccan Style with Harissa Springbok Loin, and sweet Chocolate Sushi, to name just a few. Vegetarian guests can choose from a selection of delectable dining experiences as well.  And all meals are served with quality South African wines selected from a private cellar.

Samara Lodge view

With colonial comfort and first-class service, Samara is a retreat quite unlike any other in South Africa. (There are never more than 18 guests at the Samara.) The breathtaking Samara isn’t just a game reserve it’s an exhilarating experience. It is here that the Karoo nurtures the soul, leaving you relaxed, renewed and rejuvenated.

The countryside is particularly beautiful in September and October after the spring rains, when much of the vegetation is in flower. The optimum times of the day for game viewing are early morning (grab a few espressos from the lodge so you don’t nod off during the long drives), late afternoon or early evening. At dawn and dusk you are  more likely to spot a wild cheetah or elephant (which will  be introduced later this year), rhino and zebra. Samara also has guided bush walks where you can walk among the giraffes, which seem oblivious to your presence as they chomp away. Besides abundant wildlife and untouched African landscapes, there are mesmerizing ancient rock paintings and fossils, some dating back more than 250 million years!

More info on Samara
Reservations | Jenny McFadyen
Lodge | 
P O Box 649, Graaff-Reinet 6280 South Africa.

Reservations: +27(0)49 891 0558 | Lodge: +27 (0)49 891 0880 | Fax: +27(0)49 892 3751

How to get there:  Fly South African Airways or Virgin Atlantic

By Robert Ellsworth

Latest posts by Robert Ellsworth

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