Val de Vie

The Return

When the Tompkins family first set eyes on the land that was to become Samara Private Game Reserve, they were faced with a massive rejuvenation challenge. But it was nature itself that gave them their first rewards.

The who’s-who in publishing have visited Samara Private Game Reserve in the Great Karoo and write of its dramatic landscape, the star canopy on a clear night, the views, conservation and the rehabilitation of this 70 000-hectare reserve. But the real test of 20 years of grappling with the game-stripped and desolate tract of former agricultural land would be Mark and Sarah Tompkins’ patience in realising a long-term vision. In the end, nature’s wildlife ‘Oscars’ were awarded not by the guests but by the real stars of one of the greatest shows on Earth.
When the first endangered Cape vultures came – viewing the land as they rode the thermals, their vast wingspan extended to keep them aloft – they chose to remain. Here they could nest and breed in the surrounding cliffs and, with eyesight eight times keener than a human’s, spot carrion… for the predators had returned. For over a century, there were no cheetahs on the property. In 2014, the first leopard was captured on camera at a watering hole. The elephant and the desert-adapted black rhino, both absent for over 200 years, are back. On the great sweeping plains, reminiscent of Kenya’s Maasai Mara, black wildebeest, Cape mountain zebra, eland and gemsbok roam. The ecosystem balanced itself slowly and nature responded. It is tempting for any traveller to head for a single sector of southern Africa, perhaps Sabi Sands or KwaZulu-Natal for more traditional bush terrain but there is something primordial about the Eastern Cape’s Great Karoo. Standing on the edge of a krantz, the dolerite mountains stretch to grey and purple infinity and the sky is an enormous canvas. You simply breathe more deeply here. You will come here for the game viewing but as Karoo hospitality is quite famous, a note about Samara pampering.
  You cannot beat the lodge’s idea of a light lunch… which happens to take place on top of a mountain accessed by helicopter and with the plains of Camdeboo laid out beneath you. Or the tranquillity of the private Manor House with its lap pool and broad verandas and waking up in a vast four-poster bed to the sound of weavers chattering as they build their gourd-shaped nests. It is Karoo- Africa refined and sophisticated, offset by one of the most authentic game viewing experiences of your life. For more information, visit
With a Dash of Speed
FlyKaroo Air Services
While the rugged explorer in us might want to trek for hours from A to B in the Karoo, schedules might not take in the vast distances between some of the area’s most spectacular sites. FlyKaroo Air Services shuttled us by chopper to make the Valley of Desolation visit a possibility as well as the picnic on Samara Mara overlooking the valley. If you’re in the area, the
Graaff-Reinet golf course is a starting point for flights that go on a half-day trip to Nieu-Bethesda and the Owl House Museum, or an escape on the Nardousberg over 2 400 metres up with a glorious view of Tandjiesberg, Spandaukop and Cockscomb. All it takes is a 60-minute round-trip to take in the full impact of the Karoo landscape. FlyKaroo Air Services is based in Graaff-Reinet, but can get you to Port Elizabeth International Airport if you’re time-pressed.
For more, phone 064 751 6609 or email
Plett Air Safaris Captain
Tertius Myburgh heads up Plett Air Safaris, offering a time-saving and much needed flight shuttle service from their hub at Plettenberg Bay Airport to Shamwari Game Reserve and Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, and Graaff-
Reinet, Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve and Samara Private Game Reserve. ‘It was a matter of spotting a real gap in the market,’ says Myburgh. ‘I also believe that guests at these lodges get exceptional and personalised service.’ Plett Air Safaris has just added an 11-seater King Air B200 to the fleet to cater for the rising demand for easy hops to private reserves. On the days we flew, the much wanted rain broke in a series of storms that had dodged the area for months and Myburgh’s skilful flying between cloudbursts and crosswinds in a 10-seater Britten-Norman Islander landed our party safely.
There is something exciting and real about exploring Africa this way. In this instance, the weather meant we flew at a slightly lower altitude than usual, offering us a great sense of terrain and views of some of the most outstanding geological features of the Karoo.
For more, phone 078 911 9583 or email
SA Airlink Ryk Neethling flew SA Airlink from Cape Town directly to Skukuza Airport, a two-hour trip right to the heart of the area. Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve then ferries guests to one of the four lodges. SA Airlink is privately operated (as a franchisee to SAA)
and offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa. Travellers can take direct scheduled flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town to Skukuza Airport in the Kruger National Park, servicing what is widely known as the ‘Golden Triangle’ of tourism. Conveniently, through their alliance with SAA, travellers can connect with SAA, their partner airlines and other carriers throughout southern Africa
and the world.
For more information, phone SAA
central reservations on 011 978 1111 or visit