“Come to Samara Ryan, the wildlife experience is something else.” “The Manor House will blow you away” they continued. These and many more messages kept coming through until I thought it may just be written in the stars that I should make my way to the Great Karoo and take in all that I was being told about Samara Private Game Reserve. Little did I know, but a message in the stars was exactly what I would find.
Majestically laid out over 70 000 acres of the Great Karoo, just 2,5 hours from Port Elizabeth, lies the Serengeti of the South known to locals as the Samara Mara. Samara Private Game Reserve, a project overflowing with the passion of owners Sarah and Mark Tompkins, seeks to restore indigenous wildlife, vegetation and biodiversity to this collection of now 11 former goat and sheep farms, thereby recreating a fully functional Great Karoo ecosystem. The Tompkins have been purchasing farms in the area since 1997 as they support the SANParks initiative to link the Camdeboo and Mountain Zebra national parks, with an estimated 1,3 million acres under conservation, which will make the initiative South Africa’s third-largest protected area.
A big task and a big, beautiful piece of South Africa in which it is being undertaken. During 2004 cheetah’s were re-introduced to Samara after an absence of 130 years from the area. There was talk during our trip that we may spot Chilli, daughter of the famed Sibella, a female cheetah rescued from captivity, with her newly born cubs. But this may require a walk through the bush which was something that I had yet to try. I really wasn’t too sure about that.
But, first things first. It was a Friday afternoon, the hour of sunset was fast approaching and I was in the most spectacular bushveld setting I had yet experienced. The occasion called for a spot of game viewing and G&T’s, which our guide for the weekend, Julius, effortlessly produced. Driving along a dusty road, as the late afternoon chill settled in, Julius found us a spectacular spot complete with a journey of giraffe in the background as we chatted and toasted the splendour of Samara to the beat of the setting African sun.
Our lodgings for the first evening were to be at the luxurious The Manor House, with four exclusive double suites and a 21m infinity pool reflecting the stunning Karoo landscape we found ourselves in. Julius joined us for supper and continued recounting his many stories of Samara, bringing home for me the fact that Samara truly was a passion project on so many levels. Everyone has a story at Samara, from the cheetah’s to Julius and even Bennie, the once Bloemfontein-based DJ now turned tracker, thanks to the Tracker Academy at Samara. This one year course into the dying science of tracking, the first of its kind in Southern Africa, was founded and is hosted at Samara.
The next morning the trackers put their well-honed skills to the test and were able to locate Chilli and her cubs. So, a short drive into the bush followed by a stint on foot took us to a spot where we located the new family as they spent their Saturday morning under a tree. The experience was truly once in a lifetime for me, as we stood less than 7 meters from Chilli. She was completely relaxed with us at this distance and we spent a good half hour taking in a most remarkable experience. See more of our tracking expedition and sighting of Chilli in my video below, including some interesting facts Julius shared about cheetah cubs.
Having worked up an appetite from our walk in the bush and encounter with Chilli, we were whisked off to the famed Samara Mara section of Samara Private Game Reserve. Taking in a most majestic view, we passed away the afternoon overlooking the ancient planes of the Karoo, contemplating a time past and a time still to come, as the fruits of the Tompkins conservation efforts continue to bear fruit.
Another highlight of the Samara trip was spending an evening on the star bed, under the Karoo night sky on a custom-made four-poster bed, draped in a mosquito net and under a thick mohair blanket. The air is something else in this part of the world and the experience of being away from all forms of modernity and its light pollution was a recharge for the soul.
The experience of tracking Chilli through the bush and the night on the star bed are difficult to reduce to words. See my video below as I both seek to explore these activities and uncover the essence of the true Samara.
My message in the stars that Saturday night served to reinforce the imperative to travel and explore our beautiful South Africa. We are blessed with so many interesting, unique and awe-inspiring locations right here at home, but they need to be found and then savoured at leisure.
Samara is a true gem in our collective South African crown, a space in the Karoo that I am proud to call a part of my heritage too as I share my South Africa with the world. She will talk deeply to you, Samara will, as she shares her many stories and hopes for the future.