René de Klerk visited Samara Private Game Reserve and learnt how a dream to conserve nature turned once overgrazed land into a conservation destination in the arid Karoo…
Romantic scenes of springbok migrating in their thousands across the Karoo, lion roaring over the Camdeboo Plains, rhino peacefully grazing, and cheetah on the hunt in open grasslands is enough to inspire any nature lover. It is tales like these that inspired Mark and Sarah Tompkins’ dream over
20 years ago.
When the couple started planning, Samara was nothing but overgrazed livestock farms. However, after a decade of resting the land, rehabilitation, removing internal fences, eradicating invasive species, and finally reintroducing wildlife, a jewel was born in the Karoo.
While the few springbok we saw during our game drive excursions hardly reached the numbers of historic tales, there is definitely something magical about the reserve. Not only did the Tompkins family reintroduce various antelope species, they also added cheetah, elephant and lion. Cape vulture and leopard have returned of their own accord.
At just over 28 000 hectares, this semi-arid paradise is one of 36 Global Biodiversity Hotspots. Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany thicket vegetation covers the area and is known for its species diversity. Samara also represents four of South Africa’s eight vegetation biomes, including grasslands.
It was in these golden grasslands, affectionately known as the Samara Mara, where I felt the magic. The 360-degree view of the Camdeboo Plains from the mountain plateau made the slow and bumpy ride up the mountain worth the effort. We spotted large herds of black wildebeest grazing freely, plus Cape mountain zebra and majestic eland.
We were also fortunate to find cheetah late one afternoon, and again the next morning, scanning the area for a potential snack. After watching towers of giraffe with little ones nibble on the leaves of smaller shrubs, we stopped among the wild pomegranate (Rhigozum brevispinosum) on the plains for coffee and rusks, and marvelled at the beauty surrounding us. At that moment, none of us wanted to return to our lives in the city.
But the magic did not end after the excursions. Nights were spent in the five-star Karoo Suites at the Karoo Lodge. These standalone cottages, consisting of a bedroom, sitting area and bathroom, are a short distance away from the main house where the restaurant is located, and offer little hints of luxury.
Returning to a room where a warm bath waited and thoughtful notes had been placed on the bed together with sweet treats added an extra-special touch. Each unit has its own private patio too – the ideal spot for morning coffee while enjoying the breathtaking views.
Between meals and game drives, guests can walk the trails around the Karoo Lodge property, laze at the swimming pool or watch game at the waterhole near the restaurant.
• Starlight dining: Depending on the weather, dinner will be served indoors or in the boma under
• Shower outside: Plan your visit for spring and enjoy a shower under the stars. You can enjoy a warm bath or shower indoors during adverse weather conditions.
• Sundowners: Afternoon game drives end with a unique sundowner experience in an open spot surrounded by the wild.
• Samara Mara: The ‘Serengeti of the south’ delivers spectacular views of the mountains and numerous animal sightings in their
• Outdoor activities: Enquire about guided walks, game drives and
Written and photos by René de Klerk
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