Imagine tracking cheetahs and being able to sneak quietly closer on foot with your guide. Imagine being able to follow an aardvark in broad daylight, walking behind it as it forages for food. Being able to follow cheetah and aardvark on foot are just two of the thrills you can experience when you stay at Samara near Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape Karoo.
Sightings like this are magic anywhere. But here at Samara Private Game Reserve, where you can approach on foot with your guide, the exhilaration climbs a few notches.
I have no idea how long we stayed with them because time stood still. Perhaps it was 10 minutes, perhaps 30, it doesn’t matter. Being there at all was a buzz, watching wild animals in a wild environment eat, stretch and play as if we weren’t even there.
Hearts still thumping from our cheetah adventure, we stopped for Amarula coffee at a viewpoint while Jan pointed out that the vegetation around here is mostly sweet thorn acacia, with a sprinkling of taaibos, anchor bush and shepherd trees. There are also 30 plant species that are found nowhere else on earth.
All around the reserve eland browse and graze, and an occasional steenbok tiptoes through the veld. We also saw red hartebeest, kudu, waterbuck, zebra, giraffe, kudu and a quick flash of some meerkats going about their morning business. There’s even talk of reintroducing elephant in future, but the ecological effect of that needs careful consideration. [Update: the elephants arrived at the beginning of November 2017.]
Later that afternoon, we ventured out in the intermittent drizzle to the top of Bouwershoek via a steep, rough track. We saw buffaloes, blesbok, lots of eland and a few Cape mountain zebras at the top. Black wildebeest galloped across the red grass against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
The temperature early next morning was icy, but through my wind-induced tears I saw a procession of plains zebra, red hartebeest, gemsbok, kudu. Then we stopped to watch a special animal with a calf through the binos – such beautiful creatures under such threat. (Note that I’m not using the definitive searchable word – this is what Samara asked me to do to try to keep them safe.)
We found the cheetah mom and cubs on a rocky hillside. Again we approached carefully on foot, this time to watch them resting in the late afternoon sunlight.
I was still rabbiting on about aardvark. Here at Samara, this nocturnal creature is often seen during the day in winter and I was bent on seeing one. I’d only ever seen them at night under a spotlight before. Jan warned that they hadn’t been seen for two days because of the cold snap and rain, when neither termites nor aardvarks had been active.
But I wasn’t giving up.
The aardvark may be small and strange, but seeing it was one of the highlights of many wildlife experiences.
- Don’t miss a game drive for a chance to track cheetah and approach them on foot.
- If you visit in winter, it’s your best chance to get a really good sighting of an aardvark. Bite your tongue and endure the cold – it’s worth it. Watch out for winter price specials too.
- Visit in summer and you can see the Karoo night skies from Samara’s romantic star bed set up near the Milk River.
- If you’re a keen mountain biker, you’ll love the routes here, both easy (for beginners and dabblers) and technical.
- Ask your guide to take you on a drive to a kloof where you can hike down to a cave to see some San rock art.
- If you’re a fossil nut, your guide can tell you about those at Samara from about 250 million years ago.
Note: I was a guest of Samara Karoo Lodge, but I was given free rein to write what I chose. I paid for all drinks and conservation fees.
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