By Theo Coetzer

Samara Private Game Reserve, about 40 minutes’ drive from Graaff-Reinet in the Camdeboo region, is quickly growing as a very popular destination, to take in the fresh air of the arid Karoo and to still the need to be one with nature, so we decided to visit them.

All of us living here in Cape Town get withdrawal symptoms in winter, because we cannot still our urge to visit the bushveld and accompanied game reserves that the northern regions offer – so what to do? Some will say that it’s not a problem, because just a two hour drive away is Touws River and visit that game reserve there, but that place is unfortunately a bit ‘artificial’ to say the least. Next option is to travel to Port Elizabeth and visit the numerous game parks and lodges in that area, but “been there done that” so what now?

A holiday slam bang in the middle of June and on a Thursday, so after some quick calculations to take the Friday off and viola,  a long weekend, so we scouted the internet for suitable break-aways and decided that the Karoo seems to be the answer. This time, more specific the Camdeboo region and so we booked a three-night stay at Samara. Two options to get there and that is to fly to Port Elizabeth, hire a car and drive nearly three hours, or we could drive all the way from Cape Town, a seven hour drive at least and that’s exactly the option we opted for. A quick call to Cindi Harding to see what’s on offer to test and she offered us a new VW Caddy TDi for our road trip, which by the way is ideal for such a trip, even though we were only two persons travelling.

We left Cape Town at the very early hours on the Thursday (16th) morning and when the sun decided to show its presence we were just a few kilometres away from Beaufort West. A quick stop for hot coffee and then we turned off the busy N1 on our way to Aberdeen and this stretch of road was just about deserted. We stopped for some “padkos” along the way and then onto Aberdeen for a quick photo-shoot of the Caddy.

After filling up in Graaff Reinet we were ready for the final stretch to our destination and when turning off onto the gravel road we just gave the lodge a courtesy call to say that we will check in a bit earlier as anticipated and their reply was that they would have lunch ready when we arrive. Once through the second gate I could feel that the city stress was escaping my body and I got that calm sensational feeling of relaxation.

A warm welcome and a quick check-in later and within minutes we were enjoying a nice chicken wrap and salads accompanied by the first of many glasses of wine for the weekend. We discussed the rest of the afternoon and they brought us a menu for dinner options and also the customary sundowner drink options for the game drive.

By the time our game ranger came to pick us up for the game drive I was in a different, relaxing world already. The game drive was informative and being the only couple on the cruiser we could have a casual one-on-one chat with our guide.

Back at the lodge they awaited us with warm towels to clean and heat the hands and face, after which we went straight into the bar / lounge area for pre-dinner drinks and a meet and greet with fellow visitors, all in front of a roaring fire in the huge fire-place. After dinner it was straight into bed for me, after a very long day that started at 02h00 that morning.

After a nice restful sleep it was an early rise and after a mug of coffee and rusks we were on our way again on the morning drive. Another couple joined us on this drive and just as we wanted to stop for morning coffee and snacks our guide used his tracking device and said that he could pick up the rhinos in the area. After driving around, checking the signal often we pinpointed that the rhinos were in a certain block, so we left the vehicle and track them on foot. Not long and there they were - what an amazing sight and we got to about 10 metres from them. As a once in a lifetime experience we were very chuffed and ready for that coffee and snack stop. A leisurely drive back to the lodge to have a scrumptious breakfast and that was when that famous call came, Aardvark, one of the most elusive creatures in the wild was spotted by the resident aardvark spotter not too far from the lodge and she was outside walking around. After cutting breakfast short we were met by the spotter and after a walk of about 50 metres, there she was. I could not believe my eyes and she looked like a tame pet, walking around, sniffing, digging and going about her chores as if we were not even there. At one stage she came to about three metres from us, not fazed at all, so we spent at least 45 minutes in her company to see what she was up to. Now that was a huge tick on my list of what to still see and my weekend was already made … with two days still to come.

The rest of the mid-morning / early afternoon was spending lazing around the lodge and we extended lunch till just before the afternoon game drive. Seeing that we ticked off rhino and the illusory aardvark on our list the next was to get close to the cheetahs. We searched around, but it wasn’t meant to be. At least drinks and dinner was satisfactory after the drive, but even the Springbok rugby on telly was a let-down.

Second last morning at Samara was normal and as the lodge was full to capacity they planned for all of us to have a bush-lunch on top of the mountains and also to incorporate the afternoon game drive, so by around 12h00 we were all ready to leave on our expedition. Sadly cheetah was not ticked off on our list yet.

The trip up the mountain took over an hour and it was quite hair-raising to go up such a steep mountain with a cruiser packed to capacity. Low range 1st and 2nd gear was the going up the steep bits and the passengers became very quiet the further we went. Once on top of the mountain we passed a house of the previous farmer of this specific block and I am sure that he only went to town once a month because of that road. It is just amazing to see the vast plains on top of these mountains and I am sure that most of the eland, zebra and wildebeest roaming this area do not even go down the mountain. Talking wildebeest (the clown of nature) they will always be on alert when you are around and once one of them make a move then they all ran amok like mad creatures.

Lunch was out of the books again, washed down with good wine and views forever over the distant Karoo at the bottom of the mountains. After lunch it really got serious and the main mission was now to get the cheetah and the tracking devices worked overtime. Alas the signal was now so strong that all were positive about a sighting of cheetah. We were not disappointed this time and after about a 100 metre walk there she was relaxing under the tree merely five meters away from us. Cameras clicking and 10 people around her did not discomfit her at all and we could fill our hunger to watch her for as long as we wanted.

The trip down the mountain was slow again but uneventful. We had an hour or two to kill before dinner so everyone was on their own mission again. Another delish dinner and chatting with the ever so friendly staff of the lodge was in order and it was quite late when we retired to bed, thinking of the long road back to Cape Town the next day.

We opt out of the morning game drive and had a leisurely breakfast, after which we said our goodbyes and when they pulled up our car to pack, we were greeted with a shiny clean car, courtesy of the staff and apparently the norm at Samara.

As I was getting the flu we stopped in Graaff Reinet at the pharmacy before hitting the road home, this time via the N9 passing through towns like Aberdeen, Willowmore, De Rust, Oudtshoorn and then onto the R62 back to Cape Town.

Samara Private Game Reserve seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but what a gem. With their friendly staff, exclusivity, yet very casual accommodation and game aplenty it is worth the venture to visit them, not just as an overnight stop as some do, but to stay at least two to three nights or longer. This is when you really recharge the batteries and take it from me, worth every minute of it. 

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