Graaff Reinet, the fourth oldest town of South Africa, is quite frankly the pearl of Eastern Cape. The historic Dutch architecture and the picturesque Valley of Desolation make up only the tip of the iceberg. The land near Graaff Reinet saw a tremendous conservation effort to bring back the almost extinct wildlife. Thanks to the private Samara Game Reserve, it didn’t take long for springboks and cheetahs to adapt to the unique Great Karoo terrain. In the middle of the vast semi-arid land, Samara Game Reserve offers an award-winning luxurious safari holiday. The best part is, because of the limited number of lodges, you will have the park to yourself without interruption by crowds.
The majority of South African provinces witnessed at least one battle in the past. Eastern Cape was a scene of conflict between the farmers and the Xhoisan clans. This affected the rich wildlife negatively as many animals migrated to the north.
The area outside Graaff Reinet consisted of 11 farms. The founders of the park purchased the Monkey Valley Farm and proclaimed the area as a national park in 1997.
The game reserve expanded up to 1.3 million acres over 20 years, but the efforts went far beyond that. First, they relocated the cattle and sheep that were eating the grass to surrounding farms. Then, they removed fences between the former farms. To diversify the vegetation, the founders of Samara imported trees from as far as Australia and Mexico, so you shouldn’t be surprised to see Eucalyptus and Pepper trees in this semi-arid environment.
The final step was to reintroduce wildlife gradually, which wasn’t easy due to the nature of the Great Karoo. The semi-arid thirstland was a place of occasional drought, so the man-made water holes saved the day.
Despite the scarcity of water, the Great Karoo is home to several biomes, especially thicket and grassland in the lowland.
The wildlife in the Great Karoo was unimaginably diverse, but many species like quagga and the Cape Lion became extinct because of farming, wars, poaching, and many other destructive circumstances.
Since 1997, the reserve has done an excellent job of reviving the slumbering potential. Samara’s founders were the first to introduce elephants, black rhino, and black-maned lion after over a century.
There are 8 main biomes in the reserve that encompass a different type of wildlife each. The grassland is home to large herds of antelopes such as gemsbok, black wildebeest, blesbok, eland, zebra, and nocturnal animals like aardwolf, and porcupine. Because of the abundance of antelopes, grassland is the favorite area for lions and cheetahs. The thicket biome in the rocky outskirts is a popular spot for black rhino and kudu. Elephant, giraffe, and Cape Buffalo are the most frequent visitors of the savannah region. Nama-Karoo boasts wildlife similar to grassland with and addition of bat-eared foxes, and jackal. The reserve’s forest is an excellent place for birdlife, as well as the elusive leopard that likes to climb trees.
The diversity of biomes makes Samara a feasible location for 225 bird species. Bird-lovers will be thrilled to see endemic birds of the Great Karoo, such as Ludwig’s Bustard, and blue crane.
Samara Private Game Reserve caters to all types of travelers from families with kids to romantic couples and solo travelers. Regardless of the category that you are in, you are guaranteed to have a customized safari experience.
The highlight of Samara is the adventurous walking tour. For instance, flying camp safaris involve bush walks to track big five, rewarding meals like English breakfast, and bush braai in the evening. On a side note, the reserve is the first and only to implement a certification program to train wildlife trackers. The graduates of the program work not only here but also at several other game reserves.
Cheetah tracking is a Samara specialty because every cheetah in the reserve has a story to tell, including the oldest cheetah Sibella, who was brought back from the brink of death. The cheetahs have radio collars for easy tracking, so it is guaranteed to see many of them.
If you are not a fan of walking, game drives are ready for you to hop in. The 2-3 hour long drives are customized depending on the animals you specifically want to see.
Families with kids are in for a treat. Although the regular walking and driving safaris have a minimum age limit, children can go on their special safari involving the funny five. During the tours, children get a closer look at the monkey, giraffe, wildebeest, and other less dangerous animals.
Finally, the reserve caters to couples via its couple retreat tours with ultra-luxurious cottages and romantic bush-dinners.
Climate & Best Time To Visit
Samara Game Reserve experiences the distinct semi-arid climate of the Great Karoo.
December-February marks the summertime with daytime temperatures over 35 degrees. Luckily, afternoon showers bring a sense of relief, and the weather cools down a bit.
June-August is the winter season with significant temperature drops and occasional snow even. The daytime temperatures are still mild and around 20 degrees.
The transition months are ideal for various reasons. First, these are the least crowded times of the year. Besides, the temperature range doesn’t reach the extremes, and the rainfall is just enough to supply water without interrupting the safari experience.
Samara Game Reserve might look like a remote location, but it’s surprisingly close to civilization.
The closest airport is located in Port Elizabeth. Although there are no international flights to Port Elizabeth’s airport, you can make a transfer at the other international ones in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban.
The game reserve is roughly 2.5-hour drive from Port Elizabeth. Car rental companies are available in Port Elizabeth downtown and the airport. The best part is that it doesn’t have to be a 4×4. Alternatively, you can book a private tour, in which case your tour guide will pick you up at the airport.
The final option is to take a private air charter from any airport. The small planes will land in the 1.5 km gravel airstrip.
Tips & Things You Need To Know
Samara Game Reserve is outside the malaria zone.
The minimum recommended time to cross most of the animals off your bucket list is 3 days.
The game reserve offers a special discount from June to August called Stay 4 Pay 3.
Considering the sudden temperature drop at night, it is advisable to bring warm clothes whenever you visit.
While day trips are possible, the management cannot guarantee it. You would have to enquire a week beforehand. Whether or not you’ll be allowed depends on the number of overnight guests at the reserve.
The park is also a perfect central location to visit so many attractions nearby, including the Garden Route, Camdeboo National Park, and quaint towns like Graaff-Reinet and Nieu-Bethesda. All you have to do is to enquire at the reception, and the staff will be more than happy to organize day-trips for you.
Samara Game Reserve provides a star-bed experience between October and April. This is like the longer version of bush dining, where you can do stargazing and sleep in a comfortable bed among the bushes.