We are, we unashamedly admit, fairly jealous of Sarah and Mark Tompkins. Sixteen years ago the couple fell in love with, and bought, an old, run down sheep farm in the Eastern Cape. Since then, they’ve bought a dozen or so of the neighbouring farms, all the while rehabilitating the land and slowly re-introducing the wildlife traditional to the area. What they have now is 70 000 acres of the most beautiful reserve imaginable … all dark green valleys and rugged mountains and high-plateau grasslands with views that go on and on forever and ever. This is, quite honestly, God’s country … and we’re so fortunate to be able to experience it.
Samara Private Game Reserve sits secluded and surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of mountains … and it’s here you’ll find Samara’s three incredibly gorgeous lodges. There’s the Karoo Lodge, with just 10 rooms, a wide wrap-around veranda, snug bar and comfortable nooks and crannies, as well as an intimate dining room where you’ll dine extraordinarily well on traditional Karoo fare.
There’s the jaw-droppingly beautiful Manor House, which, if the Tompkins family isn’t in residence, can be booked for private use for up to eight guests. Built on the site of an old house once owned by Lord Charles Somerset, we’re talking the ultimate luxury here, so it’s perfect for an extraordinarily special spoil.
Days spent at Samara are long and lazy and luxurious. Game drives start a little later than the norm, and often – after some bone-jarringly exciting 4×4-ing – end up at the top of the mountain, where you’re served breakfast under the gazebo, with the Camdeboo Plains spreading out forever way below. The high-plateau grasslands are rich with zebra and giraffe, antelope and buffalo. The Tompkins opened a cheetah sanctuary on the reserve and, on a good day, you can walk alongside one of these elegant predators. There are biome walks (the reserve is unique in that it has four biomes on one piece of land – Nama-Karoo, plateau grassland, savannah and thicket), and excellent birdwatching (more than 220 species of birds have been recorded – including the endangered blue crane). There are also aardvark safaris (one of the most elusive animals in Africa) – Samara has unusually high sightings, particularly in the winter months. For those who like to sit and relax and take advantage of the lodge (absolutely nothing wrong with that!), there are regular visits from the baboons which run across the rolling lawns, and it’s not unusual to return from an evening game drive and find a buffalo grazing near the rooms.
Just three quarters of an hour from Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape, it’s quite a destination – by air or road – but it’s heart-stoppingly beautiful (as it’s invariably described), so it’s well worth the effort.
Stuff you need to know
Rates include all meals, two game activities daily, selected local drinks on game activities. No children under eight on scheduled game drives. Babysitting service available. Children under three stay free, children under 14 sharing with adults pay 50 per cent. Rates (a person, sharing) for the Karoo Lodge are from R2420 increasing to R2750 in September 2016, for the Manor (minimum four persons) R3300 increasing to R5445 in September 2016. R60 a person conservation contribution (R115 for international guests). Details: 049-891-0880 or www.samara.co.za, reservations 031-262-0324