Winter in the South African bush is something truly magnificent. Going on a game drive in the early morning cold, experiencing those few minutes before the sun comes up, waiting to feel its warmth on your icy skin. Stopping for a hot coffee while the birds and the bush are waking up. It’s such a special way to start the day. I always start to crave it around May, June so a weekend away in the semi-desert Karoo at Samara Private Game Reserve with my friend Tamsin was an invitation I couldn’t accept fast enough!
Staying at Samara Karoo Lodge
The beautifully restored farmhouse that welcomes you to Samara has a wrap-around porch, cosy bar serving ice cold gin and tonics upon arrival and all the colonial era-style decor your heart desires. Luxurious yet rustic enough to make you feel right at home, you can really feel you’ve stepped into the Karoo. Inside, blazing fires keep you warm in every room, while the porch promises afternoons soaking up the winter sunshine.
We stayed in one of three Karoo Suites, which each have their own fireplace, air-conditioning and luxury en-suite bathroom with my favourite getaway feature – a bath! Outside, you can sit on your patio for a post-game drive coffee or a little nightcap under the stars. And for the summer months – an outdoor shower, complete with those Karoo views!
Tracking cheetah on foot
The last wild cheetah in the Karoo was seen in the 1870s. Farmers in the area saw them as a threat to livestock, so sadly they were hunted across the Eastern Cape until they eventually became locally extinct. In 2004, Samara reintroduced the beautiful cheetah as apex predator in the Karoo. Having the opportunity to track them on foot, with trained guides who know exactly how to do so in a responsible way is something I’ll never forget. When wildlife feels unthreatened, you can experience them up-close in their natural habitat, knowing that you’re not interfering with them in any way.
Conservation and preservation
Samara also introduced a family herd of six elephants to the reserve – an area they would have naturally have occurred in – returning them to their historic range. The elephants will have time to settle in and make the area their own, before they’re joined by a mature bull. We didn’t have the opportunity to see them this time, which I actually appreciate. It always feels special to embark on a drive, not knowing if you will spot an animal or not. It’s important to remember that it’s not a zoo, but a wild environment. In August 2018, the reserve is going to be introducing lions to the area, where they also used to occur naturally. They’ll be the first free-roaming lions back on the Plains of Camdeboo in 180 years! When the lions arrive, Samara will become a Big Five reserve. Home to elephant, buffalo, black rhino, leopard and lion.
Sleeping under the stars
Because we were visiting in winter, we didn’t get the opportunity to sleep under the stars in one of Samara’s Milky Way star beds. The Karoo dips below freezing at night so I didn’t mind crawling into my warm bed with a roaring fire in our Karoo Lodge suite instead, but it’s definitely something I would love to go back to experience! The stars out there are so clear and it would be so romantic to spend a night cuddled up, with no cellphone reception, watching the stars for entertainment.