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Samara Private Game Reserve – An Unforgettable Safari for The Soul

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away”.

There are few moments in my life that I have been left speechless and in complete awe and wonder at the sights and sounds before my eyes. Such is the extraordinary aura that envelops you at Samara Private Game Reserve, that I was left speechless on multiple occasions. One can’t help but fall under its magic spell, with all senses repeatedly seduced.

Speak to anyone that has been to Samara and I am willing to bet that they will wax lyrical about this unique and spectacular private game reserve, leaving you to wonder why you haven’t yet been to the heart and soul of Africa in the Great Karoo.

As extreme good fortune would have it, I was invited to visit Samara including a plus one. My favourite travel companion, Ryan (aka Instahubby), snagged the invitation to join me. Excited doesn’t begin to describe how I felt to have the chance to finally experience a safari for the soul at Samara. I knew it would be exceptional on every level, but I had no real idea until we arrived.

Pioneering an award-winning conservation journey through land restoration, wildlife reintroduction and responsible tourism, Samara is found in the semi-desert region of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, 53km south-east of Graaff-Reinet, the country’s fourth oldest town in the magnificent Great Karoo.

While the 67,000-acre reserve may feel isolated and far away from civilisation, it is easily accessible by air and road. We flew into the nearest main airport of Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) and hired a car to travel the approximately 2.5-hour journey by road. Private transfers can also be arranged. Upon arrival at the first entrance gate, we called Reception to let them know we were on the reserve as cell phone reception is lost shortly after that.

Karoo Lodge is a further 19km drive on a well-maintained dirt road through the reserve. The self-drive part of our safari experience had begun, as we kept our eyes peeled for any signs of wildlife. After spotting a fair amount of antelope and birds of prey, we hit the jackpot (at least I thought so), when we came across a tower of giraffes that were lying down.

We had never seen this before and later, Marnus Ochse, Samara’s General Manager and a highly experienced Ranger, confirmed that this is how they sleep. They fold their legs under their body but mostly keep their necks held high. It was a marvellous sighting.


After an early start to the day, the Lodge was a very welcome sight indeed. The setting is serene and tranquil, despite its wild and rugged locale. Surrounded by a natural mountain amphitheatre, our home for two nights enveloped us in a warm and welcoming embrace.

Exceptional hospitality is what one expects from luxury 5-star establishments. The difference at Samara? Most of the staff have worked here for many years and while they are professional and efficient, they greet each guest with genuine warmth and generosity of spirit that immediately puts one at ease. I knew we were in very capable hands when Anneley mentioned that it is their priority to make sure we relax and enjoy ourselves as much as possible.

Quenching our thirst with a refreshing drink, we checked in while our car and luggage were taken care of. Ever the hungry foodie, I was thrilled to hear that lunch was still being served. The Springbok Carpaccio went down a treat, as did the Strawberry and Spekboom Sorbet. Shaded beneath the trees, with a glass of De Grendel rosé in hand, we were eager to immerse ourselves in all that Samara had to offer and chatted excitedly about the next two days. Samara strives to educate and entertain their guests with a wide range of experiences.

With a maximum of 26 guests accommodated between the elegant The Manor House and classic Karoo Lodge, you are guaranteed an exclusive and attentive stay. The intimate owner-run Karoo Lodge caters for a variety of travellers, from individuals, couples, families, and small groups and offers a choice of 3 room types. We were hosted in one of the spacious and beautifully furnished Homestead Luxury Suites, overlooking the expansive lawn and breathtaking mountain views.

The luxurious Suite features a romantic four-poster bed with the finest linen and plush pillows, air-conditioning, chaise lounge, writing desk, mini-bar fridge and en-suite bathroom with a large freestanding bath, shower and his and hers washbasins. A semi-private verandah with comfortable seating provides a quiet space to rest, read, and reflect while taking in the scenic views. Just keep an eye out for the cheeky monkeys!

And… relax.

The Lodge features a wide wraparound verandah that is typical of traditional Karoo farmhouses. It has been wonderfully transformed with stylish and elegant décor and exquisite attention to detail; modern-day comforts combine with an array of thoughtfully considered antiques, family heirlooms and vintage books.

Warm and inviting spaces can be found throughout the Homestead. Whether sipping on a cool cocktail while enjoying the views on the shaded verandah or sitting beside a cosy fire in the living room, you are sure to find a place to relax, breathe and just be.

The cosy bar and swimming pool are perfect for enjoying a drink with your partner, or perhaps newfound friends, while the boma area and beautifully laid tables on the lawn beneath the trees offer an intimate and romantic space to dine beneath the starry Karoo sky.

Take time to wander around the lush, indigenous fenced grounds, enjoy mindful strolls and revel in the stunning surroundings. The prolific birdlife will enthral ornithophiles. You may even spot a family of warthogs casually strolling by as the gate is kept open during the day but closed each night. Marvel at the majestic mountains that surround you and be sure to have your camera on hand to capture unforgettable moments.

Named after Sibella, their famous cheetah, the Sibella Trail meanders the grounds of the Lodge. You’ll find a bench at the end of the short trail, overlooking a koppie (a small hill) which Sibella used as a vantage point over the valley.


Nearly three centuries of farming took a heavy toll on the once-thriving landscape. Regenerating and rewilding the damaged ecosystems has been an intense labour of love, passion, and hard work for the team at Samara.

“Samara is a passionate conservation undertaking, started in 1997 by Mark and Sarah Tompkins. 67,000 acres of land have been restored over 24 years, and Samara is working with local stakeholders to create South Africa’s 3rd largest protected area of 1.3 million acres in a Global Biodiversity Hotspot.”

The vast landscape once teemed with large herds of eland, springbok, wildebeest, elephant, black rhino, and various predators such as the Cape lion, cheetah, and leopard. These animals were plentiful but were sadly shot on sight. Samara was originally comprised of 11 farms and thousands of destructive goats, sheep and cows were removed, along with internal fencing, allowing the damaged land to rest for a decade. Alien plants and trees were removed from the semi-arid environment and indigenous vegetation was planted.

Indigenous animals were slowly introduced back to the area for the first time, “including the first cheetah in 125 years, the first elephant in 150 years and the first lion in 180 years back in the area.”

“Samara has embarked on a sustainability journey with The Long Run, committing to a holistic balance of the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce – as a means to contribute meaningfully to the biodiversity and the people of our local region.” *

Regenerating 67,000 acres of malaria-free wilderness has been an extraordinary journey and is a continual process of conservation in action. Encompassing 5 of South Africa’s 9 vegetation biomes, award-winning Samara offers every guest a unique Big Five safari in the Great Karoo.

The game drives at Samara are simply unforgettable and unrivalled experiences. The habitats and landscapes are incredibly diverse and hold a treasure of free-roaming wildlife and indigenous vegetation. You don’t know what you will encounter on each drive, but they are always fun and thrilling, thanks to Samara’s highly experienced Rangers and Trackers.

Radio transmitters allow the rangers to advise each other where wildlife has been spotted, so you may find yourself driving in one direction but suddenly heading in a different direction. It’s exciting, to say the least, and extremely rewarding when you first encounter a solitary black rhino.

Be sure to look out for the Funny Five – giraffe, warthogs, wildebeest, monkeys, and warthogs. Sundowners and snacks are enjoyed while taking in the magic of an African sunset. And they are truly magical in such a special setting.

Surrounded by the stark, desolate beauty of Samara is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. The climate may be harsh and arid, yet it contains a wealth of thriving diversity and abundance. Time seems to stand still, giving you the opportunity to reset, recharge and reconnect with your senses.


Where better to reconnect with your senses than in the great outdoors! Ever wanted to sleep beneath a canopy of stars? The Star Bed on the Milk River must be one of the most unique and unforgettable experiences out there and sharing it with Ryan was amazing. What could be more romantic than spending a luxurious night with your loved one in complete seclusion under starry Karoo skies, while snuggling in a sumptuous four-poster bed with delicious food and wine?

I was hesitant at first as we would be out there alone with only the wild animals for company. My mind was put at ease as the star bed platform is fenced with solar-powered electric strands for safety and you have a two-way radio in case of emergency. That, and the fact that I couldn’t let this ultimate experience slip through our fingers. That would be the very definition of insanity!

An unrivalled experience.

Arriving at sunset, we changed into our plush robes and sat down to a delectable picnic feast while watching the stars begin to sparkle in the clear night sky. I probably had about three hours of sleep that night, not because of roaring lions or anything like that, but rather a snoring husband!

It was totally worth it as we watched the velvet night sky turn to day with pastel shades of pink and grey. The Star Bed was an absolute highlight of our stay and is highly recommended. An enchanting and breathtaking experience that is not to be missed.


We decided to start our morning game drive from the Star Bed. Coffee was desperately required but soon forgotten as we embarked on what was to be the ultimate highlight for us – tracking cheetah on foot.

If only every Monday could start like this. For Marnus, this is a “usual” day at the office. We drove for quite a distance while Marnus stayed in touch with fellow rangers to find the cheetahs location. We hopped out of the jeep and walked until we could no longer see it, following Marnus’ steady pace so as not to lose sight of Inara and her two cubs.

Several of Samara’s cheetahs have radio collars for research and monitoring purposes to keep conservation management informed, enabling them to be tracked more easily. This is particularly essential due to the vast landscape and the terrain they live in. Samara has been able to offer guests unrivalled cheetah viewing for many years, thanks to a few calm individuals.

Being so near to Africa’s most endangered Big Cat was surreal and had us spellbound, the experience forever imprinted in our memories. The encounter was humbling, captivating and utterly unforgettable; one of life’s WOW moments.

Samara’s cheetah conservation programme has been a massive success. Starting with just 3 individuals, including the iconic Sibella, history was made by reintroducing the first wild cheetah in the Karoo region in 130 years.

Ensconced in the lap of luxury at the Lodge, we tucked into a hearty and delicious breakfast, indulging in a hot shower before settling down to relax on our semi-private terrace. So much had happened since our arrival that it was lovely to slow down, catch our breath and take it all in.

We spent some time beside the shimmering swimming pool and enjoyed a leisurely lunch. After yet another fantastic game drive, we arrived at our suite to find that a bubble bath had been drawn for us. It was pure bliss to sink into the fragrant water. The boma dinner that evening was just perfect. We dined on delectable South African cuisine and sipped on superb wine, enjoying the warmth of the fire and the twinkling night sky above us. Yet another enchanting and memorable experience.

I don’t think that I can adequately express the significant impact that our time at Samara had on us. The space, stars, and silence, together with the stories, people, wildlife, conservation successes and impeccable hospitality in this timeless landscape coalesced to create a phenomenal and one-of-a-kind experience that we will never forget. Samara has captured my heart and soul in a way I never thought possible. I have a feeling it will do the same for you.

Klippers has been a Tracker at Samara for 22 years, while Dieter is a Ranger and relatively new to the Samara team.


A minimum of 3 nights is recommended to experience all that the reserve has to offer; 4 nights or more is even better. Samara has a wealth of helpful information and advice on their website to plan your stay.

DISCLOSURE: We were hosted for a 2-night stay at Samara Private Game Reserve for review purposes. Thank you Marnus and your wonderful team for ensuring a truly memorable stay and sharing the magic and splendour of Samara with us.

All views and images are my own unless stated otherwise. All Covid-19 safety and hygiene protocols were adhered to.

Yours in Responsible Travel,

Until the next adventure!

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