Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Samara Private Game Reserve : May/June 2010

My last visit was to the venue that I was really looking forward to, the Samara Private Game Reserve, which is about 35 kilometres from Graaf Reinet. Heart-stoppingly beautiful, is how award-winning Samara Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, has been described. I was really keen – I had visions of aardvark, herds of springbok, eland, mountain zebra and more. Nestled on the breathtaking Plains of the Camdeboo, Samara Private Game Reserve is proud of its unique heritage. The unique historical tales of Samara date back as far as the late 1700s, beginning with the world famous and extraordinary ornithologist, heroically named Francois le Vaillant. After having arrived in Cape Town in 1781, le Vaillant had only the clothes on his back after the British destroyed the ship on which he was traveling. With the generous assistance of Colonel Gordon, he set forth on the long journey inland. Upon reaching the vast open Plains of Camdeboo, le Vaillant set up a fortified camp on the Plat River, which runs through Samara Private Game Reserve.

The lodge is stunning and we stayed at the Karoo Manor, in one of their three Karoo Suites. The three Karoo Suites are individual Karoo style cottages in the garden and each has a luxury en-suite bathroom, is air-conditioned and has a fireplace. Echoing the pulse of the Karoo, the interiors seek to fuse the elegance of luxury colonial era with the untamed beauty of the African bush. Cradled in the softest linen, one gets lost in the sleepy rhythms of the land and the tranquil sounds of the Karoo. The Karoo Manor has complete wrap-around verandahs, many spacious rooms and roaring log fires. Boy, did we need those fires!

The night before we had stayed in Graaf Reinet, and a heavy downpour, thanks to a extreme cold front moving through the country, had occurred during the night. The morning sky showed patches of blue and I had high hopes for good weather. We reached Samara before lunch and there were more blue patches in evidence. That afternoon we went on a game drive and it was very cold, but with less and less clouds in the sky – my hopes were soaring. We saw some kudu, gemsbok, Burchells zebra, duiker, monkey and baboons, as well as some white rhino. All I wanted was aardvark! Our ranger tried his best, but we were just unfortunate, no aardvarks were seen on that drive. What I did see was many, many aardvark burrows, testament to the numbers of aardvark that must surely be here. Where were they?

During the night I heard the unmistakable roar of rain on our roof and we awoke to a very, very cold morning with very fine rain and mist. Remember, this is the Karoo – they are not supposed to have rain in winter and only a little in summer. Maybe no-one had told the weatherman? I went on the morning drive, up a stunning mountain track and onto the escarpment overlooking the Plains of Camdeboo. This track reminded me somewhat of the Sani Pass in some ways. Now we get to the top of the mountain and what happens? The skies open and the bitterly cold rain comes thundering down. Cameras are protected as best they could, animals, and there were animals, black wildebeest and mountain zebra, are lost in the mist. The Plains of Camdeboo are not to be seen and I have to take our guides word that they were in fact below us. We’re now fortified with hot chocolate and Amarula and we head down the mountain, freezing and wet. What happens next cannot be blamed on the weatherman. Two buffalo are on the track in front of us. I desperately want to get back to the lodge to dry off, dry my camera and enjoy a roaring log fire, but am hampered by the presence of these two buffalo bulls. They cannot go off to the left of the road, it is too steep and they will fall to their deaths down the mountain-side, they cannot go right off the road, it is to steep and these are not klipspringer! So now we follow them down the mountain, them plodding ahead and us freezing behind. Every time the ranger thinks he can sneak past without bumping them or nudging them to their deaths, one or the other turns around and gives us “the stare”, so we back off. Eventually we reach the bottom and the buffalo are able to get off the road and we are able to reach the warmth of the lodge.

Sadly, the rain did not let up, and if anything, it got colder and colder, so I missed both that afternoon and next mornings’ drive. During breakfast on the day of our departure, our ranger bravely set out to find cheetah for us, and located one in thick bush (yes thick bush in the Karoo!) which he offered to take us to. I politely declined his kind offer, as this would have meant going out in the rain, leaving the vehicle and walking up to the cheetah in the cold and wet, being hindered by wet vegetation, to see this animal. I still had to get to Bloemfontein in one piece with my health and good nature intact!

Maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to visit here again – I would love to do this in good warm weather as this really is a stunning lodge which has magnificent suites and a very lovely Karoo Lodge.

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