Star bed at Samara Private Game Reserve in the Karoo
Feel Good Travel, Travel and Tourism

Star struck at Samara Private Game Reserve

Star bed at Samara Private Game Reserve in the Karoo
My home for the night, a star bed in the middle of the bush at Samara.

As the lights of the game vehicle faded and the sound of the engine went from a rumble to a faint buzz to nothing, we extinguished the lanterns and immediately regretted it.

In the Karoo at 10 o clock at night it is not just dark, it is very blackly dark. When you are 30 km away from the nearest town, and a ten minute drive from the Lodge and you have just turned off 8 oil burning lanterns it is very, very, very dark.
Unable to see, our ears compensated, and we heard or imagined distant roars, closer rustlings and the distinct sound of an animal very nearby.
So, Ryan lit one lantern, we cautiously looked around and saw no animals, breathed out in relief and began to appreciate the wonder of a star bed.



So, what exactly is a star bed?
When you book a star bed at Samara, the guides and rangers start setting up early in the day while you are enjoying a game drive.
In a dry river bed far from the Lodge they construct a 2 meter high platform that is about 16 to 20 square meters in size and accessed via a ladder. They then proceed to create a luxurious open air room in the middle of nowhere.
A king size bed with a canopy swathed in the softest white tulle, bed side tables, a beautiful wooden table with a porcelain bowl and jug for washing and an eco-friendly lavatory enclosed in bamboo.
Thin branches are lashed together to make railing of sorts, and oil lanterns on stands are placed around the perimeter and smaller ones on each step of the ladder.
A large cooler box is filled with wine, fruit, nuts, juice, biscuits, a few flasks of hot water and all the makings for hot chocolate, tea or coffee.


First glimpse of our star bed
Star bed at Samara Private Game Reserve in the Karoo
My home for the night, a star bed in the middle of the bush at Samara.

Our star bed experience.

After dinner at the Manor House we chilled and chatted to Julius our amazing guide about our sightings of the day, had a last coffee and when the other guests headed for bed, we got into the game vehicle with Julius and drove off into the night. After about 10 minutes we saw our star bed, the lanterns flickering while the canopy over the bed fluttered and glowed in the darkness. Julius parked the vehicle right next to the ladder and grabbing our bags we scrambled up. We were given a two way radio and a torch and told not to venture off the platform. Ever.

Being in a river bed, and noticing dark clouds on the horizon, my inner drama queen activated, and I asked Julius what his thoughts were on the chance of rain.

 And flash floods.

And large animals climbing the steps.

 And hurricanes.

And, and, and …

With a chuckle Julius assured me that the platform was high and strong enough to withstand a flashflood, animals don’t like flames so they would not climb the ladder, and it might rain, if it does, call me on the radio.

And off he went.

While Ryan got stuck into the cooler box and calmly poured us wine and made hot chocolate, I assembled a platter of snacks and banished my inner drama queen to make space for the adventurous me.

 It worked.

We sat quietly and looked and listened. Sipped and snacked.

In the blackness the mountains took shape, a gentle breeze murmured in the trees, the clouds moved on and the stars beamed down their ethereal light.

“The stars know everything,

So we try to read their minds.

As distant as they are,

We choose to whisper in their presence.”

CHARLES SIMIC

And whisper we did, for anything louder would have been offensive.

We spent ages just staring up, identifying stars and marveling at their brightness in the absence of light pollution. Tuned in to the sounds and sights of the Karoo night, we hoped to see the famed but elusive Aardvark, but it was not to be.

Then still whispering, we shared the stories we had heard of African folklore and how the Milky Way was created when a girl flung a handful of ashes and burning root into the sky, creating a glowing path her elders could use to find their way back home.

Just as inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere saw bears and horses in the sky, Africans saw giraffe, lions and zebra. We tried to identify them, and we think we might have found the giraffe.

People who lived at one with nature used the stars, sun and moon to keep track of time and the seasons, guided by them when to plant, hunt, or perform their ancient rituals to renew the ties between people and nature.

It was humbling to realize that what we were seeing was gazed upon and used for navigation and daily life thousands of years ago by the San people.

Finally, we decided we needed some rest and literally fell asleep with stars in our eyes.

“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. “

 Vincent Van Gogh

First light ended those sweet dreams as we had a 5 am pick up with Julius to take us to get some early morning shots. As we loaded our bags Julius pointed out fresh rhino tracks at the base of the platform, we had slept right through that nocturnal visit!

Amazing sights while NOT on a game drive.

The previous evening, Julius had been telling us interesting stories and facts about the animals on Samara and was telling us about the warthog. There are hundreds of these comical creatures on the reserve and they often frequent the waterhole in front of the Manor House. We had seen many of them running around and Julius had pointed out one of their burrows and explained how clever they are.

The burrow is deep and long and the exit on one side is sloped like a ramp. This is to protect the warthog, as predators sits at the exit hole in the early morning in the hope of an easily caught breakfast.

The clever warthog creates the slope so they can take a run up and exit the hole at high speed. Julius explained that this is why when walking in the bush you never stand on the sloping side of a warthog burrow as a speeding warthog exiting the burrow has been known to break both legs of an adult.

As we headed back to the lodge, still sleepy eyed I spotted a burrow, and to my delight not one but three warthogs rocketed out and vanished into the undergrowth. That was something I never thought I would actually see.

My other “never thought I would see this” moment happened just before we arrived at the entrance to Samara. A flash of movement caught my eye and as a large bird of prey took off with what we think was a Cobra in it’s talons. As the bird flew off, we could see the snake writhing in a desperate attempt to free itself. Wow!

Driving around Samara

The wild stars of the show.

Early one morning we set off in search of the cheetah, Chilli, and her cubs. Chilli is the daughter of the world famous Sibella, whose story is a lovely one, written below as told on the Samara website.

Chilli

Born in South Africa’s North West province, Sibella’s life nearly ended at the hands of hunters. At two years of age she was set upon with hunting dogs who tore away all the flesh on her hind legs, a rope was forced roughly into her mouth, and she was savagely beaten and locked in a cage. Lying at death’s door, fear and mistrust haunting her eyes, she was fortunate enough to be rescued by the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust. She owes her life to the five-hour surgery and dedicated rehabilitation that ensued.

In December 2003, Sibella was introduced onto Samara along with two male cheetah, also rescued from conflict with farmers. The three cheetah were placed in adjoining temporary enclosures to enable them to get used to each other and their new environment.

Sibella was the first to be released into the wild – and the first cheetah back in the Karoo in 130 years.

From the moment of her release, all those involved in her rehabilitation waited anxiously to see whether she would be able to fend for herself, given her injuries and her trauma suffered at the hands of man. But we needn’t have worried. Sibella outlived most cheetah in the wild, dying of natural causes in 2015 at the ripe age of 14, proving herself to be a capable hunter despite the occasional twinge from her previous injuries.

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished Lao Tzu, philosopher

Like Sibella, Chilli is collared for her own protection. There are only 7100 cheetah left worldwide, they are listed as highly endangered. They became locally extinct in the Karoo in the 1870’s. There is no human interference, the collars enable the guides to monitor her location and collect data regarding prey selection. This information is shared and assists greatly in determining the cheetah carrying capacity at other reserves.

It also means that these magnificent cats can be tracked and observed in their natural environment.

Samara cheetah cub
Cheetah cub practising the fierce look.

We spent about an hour driving around until we came to a spot where Chilli had been spotted the previous evening. With Julius in the lead we climbed a hill and started walking quietly through the brush in the early morning sun. Julius raised his arm to get us to stop and pointed to a cluster of trees. There was Chilli and her 5 cubs, just a few months old. Julius told us to stay quiet and not make any sudden moves. We stopped about 10 meters away from her, any closer and we would have disturbed her, and we settled down to marvel at this magnificent cat and her adorable cubs that were like balls of fluff. They climbed all over her, rolled around, yawned a lot and eventually fell asleep lying on top of one another.

Their markings are quite different to that of an adult cheetah. Nature is incredible, the young cheetah carries the markings of a honey badger, rendering them unsuitable for their prey.

Chilli and cubs at Samara

A picnic in the sky.

The Kondoa Mountain is part of the Sneeuberg Range and at 1300 meters it is a good 300 meters higher than Table Mountain. We bounced along rough tracks that inched up this mountain, passing zebra, warthog, antelope and giraffe. After about an hour of driving we summited the Kondoa onto what is known as the Samara Mara, an incredible grasslands plain way up high. As to be expected at Samara, the other guides had been hard at work and a wonderful table was set complete with views out over the valley. We ate, we sipped champagne and we marveled at the scene before us. A short drive on top to Eagles Rock revealed shy antelope, gnu doing their crazy frenzied runs, and zebra moving along in huge stripy dazzles.

Eagles Rock offered shimmering views to the edge of the earth, and some of us sat back while others ran along the edge or sat with legs dangling, completely mesmerized.

Eagles rock views from Samara Private Game Reserve
Ryan on the rock

All to soon, time was up, and we had to head back down before dark. Just before we reached home, we stopped for sundowners and were treated to a huge family of giraffe who decided to snack on the trees just a few meters away from us before heading off to wherever they go to sleep. The magic moments never stop at Samara.

The Roaming Giraffe?

My lovely sunny room at the Manor House


Back at the Manor House for a feast called supper before turning in for a perfect sleep in my gorgeous room.

Tree of the trip.

Every time I go to a reserve, I discover a tree that fascinates me. This visit was no different and the tree of this trip is the Shepherd’s Tree, also known as the Tree of Life. It is part of the Brassicaceae family and the reason it’s called a shepherd’s tree is because it occurs in hot, arid regions and offers welcome shade for shepherds to rest in.

It is a source of food for many herbivores in savanna areas and giraffe, gemsbok and kudu love the nutritious leaves. 

The roots can be used for making porridge, as a substitute for coffee, to make a beer and to treat haemorrhoids. The flower buds serve as a substitute for capers in pickles and the fruits are added to traditional dishes. And somehow, I cannot find a photo of the Shepherd Tree, I know I took one, but there you go. Shame.

When we visited Samara, they had just introduced elephant. We spend 3 days looking for them but never found them, such is the nature of the bush. A few months after our stay, lion were brought to Samara making it a Big 5 reserve well worth a visit.

Manor house and pool, Samara Private Game reserve
The pool at the Manor House at Samara

You can read more about the accommodation, experiences and other attractions close to Samara in my post called A Standing Ovation for Samara

Thank you to Samara and Renee for hosting me on this incredible trip. Opinions, as always, are my own.

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