The Philosopher George Santayana said “The Earth has its music for those who will listen”.
If a river is the tinkling of a piano, or a forest the soft breath of a flute, then Samara is a symphony of sound, a thousand voices echoing across the plains, soaring in perfect harmony, rising up the crags and floating in whispers around the peaks.
Welcome to Samara Private Game Reserve , where the Karoo will seduce you as you uncover the secrets of nature in 27,000 hectares of scenic wilderness within one of the world’s 36 Global Biodiversity Hotspots.
Game drives lead to refreshing swims followed by first class dining, star gazing, lazing and a steady stream of surprises from the staff. As with any bush experience, the intangibles add to the overall experience, and what struck me at Samara was the intoxicating combination of the light, space and air.
I spent four fantastic days at Samara, these were some of the highlights of my stay.
Tracking the Cheetah
Julius raised his hand signalling for us to stop and we froze mid step. Twenty meters away a thorn bush swayed. The sound of brittle leaves cracking came to us on the whisper of a breeze. Sleepy amber eyes connected briefly with our squinted gazes and then the mama cheetah turned and led her cubs away from our prying eyes. We watched as they selected another cluster of shrubs to shield them from passing eyes and eventually our guide signalled for us to follow him and we walked cautiously to a vantage point upwind. They rolled and played before reverting to what all cats do best, an afternoon nap.
The story of the cheetahs at Samara is a lovely one, you can read all about it here.
Wide eyed on Eagles Rock
The drive to Eagle’s Rock was a bumpy climb up the narrow track that hugged the mountain like a dusty red contour line. The walk up a slight incline littered with rocks and bushes was unremarkable, the path sloped downwards cutting between 2 boulders before making a sharp turn to the right.
A flat slab of hot, red rock jutted out of the mountain side and the earth fell away, revealing plains ringed by hazy mountains and a vast sky that surely reached all the way to the heavens.
I sat quietly moving my gaze from left to right and back again, unable to take it all in. The rock warmed me, the earths music was a gentle symphony beating time to the rhythm of my heart. Each breath of the fragrant, warm air suffused me with joy and I have never felt such contentment in all my life.
The rock is about 12 meters wide and 3 meters deep so for those wary of heights the views can be seen from the back of the rock. If even that thought scares you, grab the hand of someone you trust, and face your fear, it is worth it.
Samara by night.
The Manor House had settled down for the night, dark and silent apart from the odd rumble of a water pipe and the creak of the roof contracting as it cooled in the night air. One last cup of tea, sitting outside on the step, a blanket around my shoulders, I felt my self still as I tuned in to the magic of the Karoo.
The silence I perceived was broken as I began to hear to the music of the night. A chorus of frogs sharp and clear, a call of baboons echoing through the valley, a short sharp burst of monkey chatter close to the waterhole, a lonely howl from the hyena in the distance. A brush of branches, a flutter of leaves, the faintest hum of a breeze.
A full moon plays tricks with the light and renders the sky a silky grey. In contrast the stars appeared as faded lights and the mountains, trees and earth are pitch black in silhouettes.
Totally relaxed, I made my way to bed serenaded to dreamland by the sounds of nature.
A picnic on top of the world.
Driving around Samara the landscape changes constantly. Wide open stretches of Karoo scrub became leafy thickets on the escarpment. Imposing mountains cast long shadows and a need to see the world from their ancient peaks.
Having experienced the unrivalled beauty of the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya a few years ago, I was totally unprepared for the sight before me as we reached the plateau at Samara.
As high as we were, impressive mountains framed the view of rolling grasslands and the most incredible light. A warm wind swirled the air and the grasses danced.
Zebra posed in striped monochrome, black wildebeest ran wild and free, eland moved in a delicate formation and eagles soared on the thermals.
This was it.
The grand finale, the concerto played on the instruments of nature. The rhythmic sound of Africa soaring with a graceful elegance that made me want to jump up and shout more, encore, encore.
This view is worthy of a standing ovation every single time you see it.
What a location for a surprise picnic, on the very edge of this wonderland a beautiful table laden with canapes, fruit, platters and pastries, paired with the only drink suitable for such a setting, bubbly.
The following evening we made our way up there again for sunset.
We gazed in awe at heaven and we listened to the music of the earth.
In the news: The elephants are back.
When Sarah and Mark Tompkins established the reserve in 1997, their aim was to restore the wildlife species like cheetah, rhino, Cape lion, springbok and elephant that had been eradicated by early farmers and settlers.
In late 2017 a small family of six elephant was introduced to Samara. Once they are settled, they will be joined by a mature bull and in time, another small family group may be added.
How to get to Samara.
Samara is in the province of the Eastern Cape in South Africa.
Visitors can fly in to Port Elizabeth International Airport, from there it is 270km via the R75 to Samara.
The Manor House is ideal for an escape with the extended family or a group of friends. It is booked on an exclusive use basis and includes your own personal Chef and game ranger.
Four enormous rooms all have access the verandah. The bathrooms are bigger than many hotel rooms and ignoring the claw – footed bath is not an option. Mama Veronica will inform you on your return from a game drive that your bath is ready, and relaxing in the scented water is just what you never knew you needed to remove the Karoo dust, and emerge refreshed and ready to do justice to the feast that is dinner.
This house lends itself to lazing, day dreaming, chatting or gazing at the view. Two large lounges, one around a fire place, two smaller intimate spaces for cozy chats indoors and just as many spots on the covered verandah overlooking the pool, means you do not have to be falling over one another. The infinity pool looks on to the waterhole where Vervet monkeys, baboons and warthog are regular visitors and their antics are highly entertaining.
We even witnessed a romantic moment enjoyed by a pair of tortoises.
The décor is a modern refreshing break from traditional Karoo / Africa / Safari predictability. Interesting artwork dominates some areas, but close inspection reveals many little interesting touches, both functional and decorative.
Dinner is served either in the dining room or on the verandah and drinks around a fire at the Boma are part of the experience.
A few kilometeres away from the Manor House you will find the rest of the accommodation at Samara.
The Karoo Lodge, consists of nine double rooms with en suite bathrooms, and communal lounges, veranda, swimming pool and dining room.
The Karoo Suites are three separate cottages close to the lodge, with wrap around verandas, a fireplace, en suite bathroom with a huge bath as well as a shower, or if you like, an outdoor shower for the ultimate nature experience.
The Sibella Suites are two interleading cottages overlooking a waterhole, a short distance from the main lodge.
For more information on the accommodation options click here.
Whether you are flying in to Port Elizabeth, or driving to Samara, add a few extra days to your trip to experience more of the area.
A 50km drive from Port Elizabeth will get you to Addo Elephant National Park via the Matyholweni Gate just off the N2.
A 100km drive south of Port Elizabeth towards Cape St Francis will lead you to the coastal slack packing Chokka Trail, and a similar distance inland to the mountains and rivers of the Baviaans Camino, a 75km hike or horseback adventure.
As Eve Palmer, author of “The Plains of Camdeboo:” the classic book of the Karoo so aptly put it.
“At first encounter the Karoo may seem arid, desolate and unforgiving, but to those who know it, it is a land of secret beauty and infinite variety.”
The lighter side of game drive conversations.
Our guide, Julius, and his tracker Benedict had stories for days and kept us highly entertained and educated during the 5 game drives we enjoyed at Samara.
“So, Julius, if you were on foot and a giraffe charged you, what would you do?” asked the ever-curious Annabel of @SheSaidSA
For the rest of the trip this question became a recurring theme and the answers usually involved a dramatic tale and interesting facts from Julius. Depending on the animal in question, the answers involved running, shouting, waving, crouching, freezing and climbing a tree. I think the best answer is “stay in the vehicle”.
“So, Julius, is it true that a lion has barbs on his penis? “
Yes, a Lion does have barbs on his penis, allegedly for the benefit of the female. A Lion will mate nonstop for 24 hours to make sure the female becomes pregnant. After giving birth, the female must tend to the cubs, but keep them away from the pride. She is still expected to perform her other functions for the pride. We all agreed that being a lioness was not desirable.
“So, Julius, how long do the baby giraffe stay with their mother?”
Giraffe are bad mums, they give birth and then tend to leave their young to get on with it. Their maternal instinct is not well developed at all.
We stopped to allow a tortoise to cross the road, and as he was in no rush we got out of the vehicle to get a closer look. This resulted in the comment I will remember with a laugh and forever associate with the great times we had at Samara.
“Tortoises, I just want to pick them up and moisturise their little faces”
Thank you, Annabel, your questions and comments added a whole new dimension of enjoyment to the safari experience.
Thanks to Samara, Julius, Benedict, Renee and my travelling companions for a memorable experience.
Disclosure: My visit to Samara was a hosted media trip, as always, all opinions are my own.