SAMARA: REWILDING THE KAROO
ALL IMAGES SUPPLIED BY THE SAMARA KAROO RESERVE
Samara Private Game Reserve near Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape’s Great Karoo region is honouring and celebrating this unique, remarkable and soulful landscape of infinite horizons by changing its name to the Samara Karoo Reserve.
Award-winning Samara Karoo Reserve is a conservation journey on 67,000 acres of born-again wilderness in the heart-stoppingly beautiful Great Karoo.
Located 270km from Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and 53km from Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape, Samara is easily accessible by road or by air yet retains a remote wilderness feel. Five vegetation biomes combine with strikingly varied topography to support over 60 mammal species, including the big five, cheetah, aardvark and vast herds of desert-adapted antelope – with the added bonus of 225 bird species.
CANVASSING THE KAROO
Since time immemorial the Karoo – a landscape of space, stars and silence – has held a special place in the hearts of many South Africans – its heart-lifting scenery evoking a humbling kind of magic.
A vast semi-desert that spans nearly 400,000 km² (an area larger than Germany) and stretches across four provinces, the Karoo splits into roughly two sections, the Great Karoo to the north-east and the smaller Little Karoo (Klein Karoo) in the south-west. Long recognised for its serene, peaceful beauty and characteristic farming culture, the Karoo’s conservation significance has only recently been appreciated.
In the expansive Groot Karoo, Samara Karoo Reserve sits positioned at the juncture of five of South Africa’s nine
vegetation biomes in a Global Biodiversity Hotspot. It is this astonishing diversity of topographies, vegetation and arid-adapted wildlife that makes Samara unique and unmistakably different from other Eastern Cape game reserves.
Mountain-top grasslands, akin to a mini-Serengeti marooned in the sky, combine with dense Spekboom-covered valleys, winding river systems and flat plains with distant purple peaks to create one of South Africa’s most diverse safari destinations.
Samara’s story is also distinctive – a passionate rewilding project that began in 1997. Samara’s founders Mark and Sarah Tompkins were inspired by tales of a long-lost Karoo – a wilderness in which millions of springbok once grazed, the now-extinct quagga roamed and prides of black-maned Cape lion reigned supreme. The loss of this biodiversity through hunting, livestock overgrazing and other human activities posed a formidable challenge – could the Karoo be restored to its wild state?
The Tompkinses recount how humbled they were by the magnificence of this landscape they sought to protect.
“The Karoo is a deeply soulful place, the symbolic heart of South Africa. Those who visit cannot fail to marvel at the feeling of space here, of extensive grassy plains punctuated by dramatic dolerite-capped mountains, of never-ending horizons, of a land that was once a big game area rivalling the most magnificent on Earth. So it was that twenty-five years ago we embarked on a project to do our bit to restore it to its former glory,” recalls Sarah.
An ambitious programme of land restoration and wildlife reintroduction has seen the return of more than a dozen mammal species, including the first lion, cheetah, black rhinoceros and elephant to step foot back on the land in over 130 years. Certain species, like the Cape vulture and leopard, have returned of their own accord – a testament to the reserve’s rewilding success. Today, still pursuing Samara’s mission with as much fervour as its founders, is second generation Isabelle Tompkins.
“The Great Karoo is an irreplaceable part of our national heritage. In honouring and celebrating this region, and by adding the word “Karoo” to our name, we hope to bring this special place to a broader audience and to inspire others to care for it,” she says.
Samara adopts a responsible tourism model to fund its conservation objectives, with a focus on slow and meaningful safari encounters that inspire a deep connection with the wild spaces of the Great Karoo. Two luxury lodges sleeping up to 26 guests welcome discerning nature-lovers for exceptional wilderness and wildlife experiences in one of the lowest guest-to-land ratios in Africa.
A SENCE OF PLACE
These 26 guests are accommodated in two intimate luxury lodges which each have a true sense of place.
Karoo Lodge, a lovingly-renovated farmstead overlooking an amphitheatre of mountains, sleeps 18 guests. The Manor, an elegantly-appointed villa in a Karoo contemporary style, sleeps eight. Activities on offer include game drives, bush walks, wilderness picnics, conservation activities, a star bed, fly camping, mountain biking and photographic safaris.
Children of all ages are welcomed with a dedicated children’s programme.
In essence, at the heart of every guest’s stay is a showcase of what makes the Karoo so special, from the quintessentially warm hospitality displayed by the Samara team to the Karoo menu of locally-sourced and regeneratively-farmed produce. Alongside the usual Big Five game drives and guided bush walks, guests can explore the Karoo’s rich history on a fossil tour, sleep out in a star bed under the celebrated Karoo night skies and track Samara’s most famous predator – the cheetah – on foot.
Samara Karoo Reserve
Reservations: 031 262 0324
Lodge: 049 940 0059