Samara Private Game Reserve is near Graaff-Reinet, on the edge of the Plains of Camdeboo. It’s a place where the Khoisan (or Bushmen) once lived, and it’s a landscape once heavily populated with plains game – lion elephant and cheetah – most of which were wiped out by early pioneers. The romance of this magnificent setting of savannah and forest, mountain valley and grassy plateaux pulled owners Mark and Sarah Tompkins into its orbit and what was originally 11 farms is now one single reserve of 28 000 hectares from which they’ve moved all the fences and restocked with the kind of wildlife once seen there in abundance. One of the largest private reserves in the country this valuable heritage is coming alive again – in fact it’s one of the few places in the Great Karoo at which paying visitors can really get close to the land, see its fossils and cave paintings or simply experience its silent vastness.
This is an ancient wilderness brought back from the brink of destruction. Samara’s lodges welcome guests: you can go on drives to examine the trees and the vegetation, or the animals. There are walks to ancient fossil grounds, and there are picnics on the plateau overlooking the Plains of Camdeboo from which on a clear day you can see all the way to Beaufort West, even Port Elizabeth.
The look of Samara’s lodges is the comfortable, 21st-century version of the pioneering interior, put together with the help of John Jacob Zwiegelaar of John Jacob Interiors.
There are three suites in the main lodge surrounding a massive, comfortable sitting room filled with books and layerings of artefacts found in the veld or rescued from local antique shops. Old Karoo furniture blends comfortably with big squashy sofas and animal skin rugs while out on the stoep – deep and wide in an effort to keep the interior rooms as cool as possible during the day – a relaxed country-house atmosphere ensures a lifestyle of total informality.
A little further away three private suites built to resemble typical Karoo cottages surrounded by acacia and aloes are located in the path of roaming game which visitors can watch from their own little stoep or even from their beds. Here too the look is comfortably layered, every detail considered and resonant with place, so that even you can spend all day in your room relaxing in a deep armchair reading that old South African classic, Eve Palmer’s Plains of Camdeboo, you will begin to see what it was that brought the Tompkins’ here in the first place.