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Stalking aardvarks at Samara in the Karoo

Is there one thing you’ve always wanted to see in the wild? A sort of white elephant? Then you’ll understand my desire to see an aardvark in it’s natural surrounds, and how incredibly happy I was to see not one, but two, during my stay at Samara Private Game Reserve recently!

Alessio and I recently went on another epic roadtrip, but this time through the thick of the Karoo and the Eastern Cape and along to the Garden Route. I’ll be posting more about that trip in the coming days (I have so many posts coming up with awesome food and travel suggestions for readers btw), but for now, I really just wanted to get this beautiful post up.

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Welcome to Samara…

Samara is pretty far from Jozi, eight hours in fact, and while this may seem a bit extreme for one day of travel, it was well worth it when we arrived. Pulling into Samara and heading down its dirt roads, the history of this private reserve is evident in a few ways. The reserve is made up of 11 farms, each was bought over time and 20 years. A lot of rehabilitation of the land later, and the reserve is thriving with indigenous animals that have returned of their own accord, as well as some species that have been introduced back here.

It’s really an incredible story that has fought against many odds. The farms acquired had, and still show signs of, being overgrazed by livestock. Over time, the family that started this reserve, The Tompkins, has knocked down old farm building, fought against a tide of alien cacti that tend to take over, managed sometimes-tricky relationships with surrounding farm, and aided in bringing endangered species back from the brink, including cheetah.

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On our first game drive. Credit: Alessio La Ruffa.

First impressions of Samara

Driving into Samara, the first thing that drew my eye was how different the landscape was to any other reserve I’ve ever been to. It’s incredibly dramatic and something that would punctuate my thoughts over the next three days whenever we went out on a game drive. Dark moody skies, black, grey and brown landscapes and red sand tarnished with iron were everywhere.

We stayed in one of the Karoo Suites at Karoo Lodge. These secluded suites are extremely romantic and were absolutely fantastic for in between activities when we just wanted to lie around and read. We arrived pretty late on the first night, and the staff had already down the room turndown, complete with bubble bath!

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Looking into the Karoo Suite at Samara. Credit: Alessio La Ruffa.

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Details. Credit: Alessio La Ruffa.

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The massive bathroom.

The lodge was quite empty when we visited, and besides feeling like we had it all to ourselves, it meant that the staff got creative with our meals each night. A four-course dinner was served each evening in a different location, but always with a fireplace nearby. The food is very Karoo proud, focusing on local ingredients and flavours. It’s good, comfort eating, and the homemade bread with each meal was absolutely fantastic!

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Our last eve’s dinner spot. Credit: Alessio La Ruffa.

 About those aardvarks

While the reserve is not a Big Five game reserve, there was so much to see that it didn’t even occur to me that we had missed out on anything. Our dedicated and super eager game ranger, Jan, was so excited to show us around and explain his passion for the Karoo (he’s originally from the area), that it was infectious!

Alessio had his heart set on cheetah and mine was longing for an aardvark sighting. In the end, we both got what we wanted, but here’s a list of highlights:

We saw two different aardvarks during our visit. They’re as wonderful as they were in my mind.

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Meet Pepper, one of the unknown number if resident cheetah at Samara. Credit: Alessio La Ruffa.

Bokkies, giraffe and curious Mountain Zebras.

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A flock of about 70 Blue Cranes. Yes, 70!

It’s worth going for the Milky Way

If you need any more motivation to visit Samara, then let me present the Milky Way. It was absolutely unbelievable how clear it was to see the stars and even the colours of the surrounding out at Samara. Because there aren’t very dangerous animals about, we avoided the buffalos, we managed to get some great shots just outside out suite one night of the stars. Me standing on animals patrol with a torch, and Alessio fiddling with camera settings in the dark!

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Amazing right? Credit: Alessio La Ruffa.

 When should you go?

Samara is well-placed if you’re heading across South Africa between Joburg and Cape Town, or even Port Elizabeth. For me, stopping here made the journey so much better because it’s a respite from the very long roads in the Karoo when you’re on your way to somewhere.

The lodge is also unique in that it attracts a lot of South African visitors and isn’t just focused on trying to get the attention of international travellers. It’s also such a beautiful story that I would recommend you visit yourself to take it all in.

You can find out more about Samara on their website here. Our stay at Samara was by their invitation, but as always, opinion is my own.

Travel & food blogger helping adventurous South Africans find their next escape.

Comments (4)

  • Alessio – those photographs!! Such gorgeous, gorgeous pics… Makes even a wildlife-phobic like myself want to go to Samara! Thank you Kate for another highly readable piece. Our favourite blog by far! Adriaan, Twee Riviere

    • Hey Adriaan! Thanks for the kind words and thanks again for your hospitality while we were in the Eastern Cape recently!

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  • What a fantastic story. Thanks for sharing!


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