Walking with Cheetahs in the Serengeti of the South

To start this article, it would be remiss not to mention that Samara Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape has a very special story and shared vision, that has required an equally special team of people (some of whom we had the privilege to meet during our time there) to really seem to come together as a family in order to achieve it.

I need to go back a bit or I am going to lose both you and myself..
The Great Karoo (with its now extinct Quagga) many years back, before being fenced off into farms for livestock was an area that witnessed one of the world’s largest migrations.

Samara is not your average game reserve.
To quote them, it is an “enterprise where every tourist dollar spent on ecotourism goes straight back into achieving” their objective of creating South Africa’s third largest protected area of 1.3 million acres in a Global Biodiversity Hotspot. With all of this knowledge ahead of time, it is always interesting to then visit and see if they are in fact the ‘real deal’.

The trip from Johannesburg involved a short, early morning flight into Port Elizabeth followed by a two and a half hour vehicle journey, and it wasn’t long before we were checked into our luxury Karoo Retreat Suite at the Lodge overlooking a peaceful watering hole from our private verandah.

After freshening up, we were off to explore our surroundings.
Karoo Lodge has a lot to offer in terms of both approach and facilities, catering for everything from the ultimate romantic getaway for two to a much-needed family break with the whole family.
With a small staff unit, this is no small feat, but the tightly knit team (some of whom have been there twenty-two years) handle it with absolute ease, managing to even entertain one or two very rowdy children so that their parents can enjoy a much needed respite during meal times.

Our luxury cottage, was conveniently located a short distance away from the lodge, making for pleasant early morning or evenings walks to and from the homestead.
We settled into the Lodge’s cosy bar area for a G&T before dinner and had a good chuckle when Chef’s assistant was sent apologetically through with a teacup to our barman, Clayton, for more red wine for our lamb on the menu later that evening.
Our meal destination on the first night was their Boma where our table for two awaited us under a clear night’s sky, with a nearby fire crackling quietly and full complement of staff to attend to our needs.
That extra cup of wine that Chef insisted on, must have done the trick as we all agreed that this was the best Karoo lamb that we had ever eaten. Juicy, tasty, beautifully presented lamb cooked to perfection. When paired with their recommended red wine of choice, it was a mouth-watering combination enjoyed by foreigners and locals alike that evening!
We arrived back at our cottage from dinner to find our fireplace cosily lit, a candlelit bubble bath run and complimentary sherry waiting for us to enjoy our nightcap under the stars with. All in all, it was a first day for the record books and we retired excited for what the rest of the trip would bring!

The highlights of this trip for us, were almost too many to mention and I struggled to narrow them down as a result so here goes our top three…
Our daily game drives, with our experienced ranger and tracker duo that started each morning with coffee and Amarula, and included an incredible encounter, tracking cheetah on foot. Their dedication and local knowledge (being locals from the area themselves) really stood out above the rest for us as something special. Don’t forget on your next trip, to ask about their ‘Funny’ and ‘Shy Five’, which were also a hit!

In true Samara style, when we requested a romantic getaway, we had no idea just how spectacularly the team would go out of their way to make that a reality, which brings me to our final two highlights from this trip…

Samara’s Star bed, which involved a breath-taking night spent on the Milk River, for us and me personally, to be able to experience the vastness of the Karoo landscape in such a raw way was unlike anything I have ever come across to date anywhere in the world.
It is so easy to get caught up in our daily lives and work commitments. The concept of a picnic dinner with champagne on ice and no electricity or phone signal makes for a heavenly, uninterrupted night under the Milky Way.
I must share, that a little later when noisy baboons were playing in the riverbed below us, I was also secretly a little relieved to at least have a two-way radio for emergencies, just in case.

Samara’s wilderness picnic experience, set up in true Karoo-style under a Shepherd tree.
After disembarking from the vehicle, when we saw our ranger and tracker unpacking several cooler boxes, we asked if there were more people joining us for lunch. Our ranger, Dieter chuckled and in his quiet way, shook his head guiding us off for a walk to enjoy the panoramic views of the Samara Mara and tell us more about the history of the land that is now Samara today. What we returned to was a unique, gourmet feast set up with our very own African-style mini-bar. We were then left completely alone to just simply soak up the atmosphere, unique landscapes and enjoy a few G&T’s in each other’s company.

Our last day at Samara arrived before we knew it, and it wasn’t long before we were sat enjoying our last breakfast for two before heading off home, hearts full of love for this unique place and special memories made here that we will cherish for a lifetime!
It may sound too good to be true to be able to holiday with a purpose, knowing that you are contributing to something far greater than just your need for a holiday, but when it comes to Samara, that is just it.