TRAVEL

Safari for the Soul

Samara offers more than just a luxe escape. Spanning 70 000 acres of wilderness in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, this award-winning private game reserve has conservation at the heart of its existence.

The balmy winter Karoo sun is behind us as we make our way on a stretch of gravel road towards one of Samara’ s exclusive offerings: Karoo Lodge. Driving down the dirt track, we see a steenbok hiding behind some thicket. Despite already being late for check-in, we take an additional few minutes to sit in silence as we hold the little antelope’s gaze. As if to say hello, two warthogs on the other side of the road make their appearance but dash for cover as soon as we start the engine.

Our destination is a beautifully renovated farmhouse; we are greeted by jovial staff in the spirit and warmth that so perfectly epitomises the Great Karoo. Lydia, our gregarious host, takes us on a mini tour around the lodge with its unpretentious old-world charm, reminiscent of a bygone era, before we are shown to our suite. Here, heat emanating from a cosy fire acts as an antidote against the harsh Karoo cold. “Unpack and settle in. Supper will be served at 7pm,” Lydia informs us.

We explore our exquisite surroundings – an elegant yet unpretentious en-suite room consisting of a luxurious double bed, lounge chairs and a table upon which sits all the information we need for our stay. Everything in the room is complementary: bottled water, tea, coffee and a decanter of sherry to provide some much-needed insulation for chilly winter nights.

Dinner is a delicious four-course affair: two entrées, a main course and scrumptious dessert. We also have our pick of some of South Africa’s finest wines. Dumisani, our game ranger, comes over to our table to inform us about the night’s game drive. Too beat to even breathe, we reluctantly decline. Tomorrow is another day.

Early the next day, we are woken by a commotion. We draw the curtains and there, right on our front stoep, are a few mischievous vervet monkeys. They run away as soon as they spot us – little primate voyeurs, watching us from the nearby trees. Coffee in hand, we decide to make ourselves comfortable on the veranda. We’ve barely sat down when we spot eland at the watering hole mere metres from us. In the stillness, we count ourselves incredibly blessed to be in the company of these formidable creatures.

Around 09:00, we head out for our first game drive. We spot a tower of giraffe grazing lazily en route, and I grin at their curious expressions. “Those are males right there,” Dumisani informs us. “You can tell by their cheezekops.”

We encounter more eland and some kudu, gemsbok and springbok before we set out on our very daring excursion: tracking cheetah by foot. “I’m not going,” I tell the group. Dumisani smiles. “It’s safer with the group than sitting alone in the vehicle,” he says.

I gather as much courage as possible, all the while committing to staying very close to him. Justa, Samara’s first female tracker, ushers us along. We find the cheetahs nonchalantly playing in the field: a mama and her five cubs. “Don’t be frightened when the cubs run up to you. They’re just coming to say hello,” Dumisani informs us. We stand in awe. “Who wants a picture of themselves with a cheetah in the background?” Dumisani asks. eagerly volunteer, all prior inhibitions forgotten.

We linger a little longer before we make our way back to the vehicle. Dumisani finds the perfect spot for us to have drinks and we take in the serene silence that can only be found in the bush before heading back to the lodge. After lunch, we have a few minutes to freshen up before we embark on our afternoon game drive where we see a few more buck and giraffe before venturing off to find the elephants.

Just a short way on, we spot a parked vehicle, the silence interrupted only by the clicking of cameras. There, to our right, are two majestic elephant bulls standing side by side, the younger one now playfully running away in the other direction. The older bull ventures off to find the young one, and off they disappear into the thicket. By now, the sun is setting and the sky is bursting into hues of pink and orange, the silhouettes of the hills visible in the distance. We head back to the lodge and for bed.

On our last day at Samara we embark on what feels like the groot trek up the mountains in hopes of encountering the reserve’ s resident lions. The weather is gloomy, but our spirits are high. Dumisani takes us all the way to the top, where we are gifted with the most breathtaking sight: a herd of black wildebeest running freely across the plain.

After driving around for a few minutes, we spot something on our way down from the mountain. Barely visible, there on a rock between the bushes, with eyes transfixed on our vehicle, is one of the most beautiful lionesses I have ever seen. We sit in dead silence, scared to even twitch. She looks straight at us before making her way to the little dirt road. We follow suit, keeping at a safe distance. Before we know it, she jumps off into the thicket, heeding the call of her partner.

We head back to the lodge, making a quick pit stop where we have our morning drinks. I breathe in the fresh Karoo air and wish that I didn’t have to leave so soon. Back at the lodge, Lydia awaits with fresh warm towels and I eagerly warm my hands and wipe the cold from my face. We head to breakfast before checking out.

Our experience at Samara was remarkable, matched only by the hospitality and friendliness of the staff. We bid the Great Karoo farewell and head back to the hustle and bustle of city life, forever changed by the experience of this exquisite place in all its untouched and unflitered glory.

*This article originally appeared in Top Women.