Every safari lodge in South Africa is unique in its own way. Some pride themselves on their luxurious accommodations, providing out-of-the-ordinary experiences, or giving back to the local community; others boast amazing facilities for children and the ability to cater to families. But there are some that simply outshine in their efforts to conserve, where guests can feel their unfiltered love and dedication for the natural world around them. Samara Karoo Reserve is one of those. With a beautiful story of passion, determination, and an unyielding desire to create the seemingly impossible, this sweet lodge has made quite a name for itself among its peers. It is a reserve with a vision and a purpose unlike any other, and one of the only places in the world where your clients can walk with wild cheetahs.
A Magical History
Just a 3-hour drive from Port Elizabeth airport, Samara Karoo Reserve sits unassumingly in the jaw-droppingly beautiful Great Karoo region of South Africa. The Great Karoo is a vast semi-arid desert in South Africa’s heartland, similar to Australia’s well-known Outback region, and a little bigger than the size of Germany.
Centuries ago, the Karoo thrived as a diverse ecosystem, home to springbok migrations. However, hundreds of years of farming sadly changed its topography, and over time most of the animals vanished, and the grasslands turned to dirt with heavy erosion. That is until 1997, when Mark and Sarah Tompkins purchased 11 farms, a total of 67,000 acres and began their conservation journey. This project was no small feat, and the Tompkins worked diligently to improve the land for 10 years before introducing any animals and eventually creating the lodge. As of today, they have successfully rewilded a landscape that many had dismissed as worthless. Samara is now home to over 60 mammal species, including the Big 5 and cheetah.
Walking with Cheetahs
Before Samara Karoo, the last wild cheetah seen in the Great Karoo area was in the 1870s, but in 2003, Samara released Sibella, “The Miracle Cheetah,” onto their reserve. From tortured to treasured, the story of this beautiful cat’s survival was a worldwide sensation, and it was even made into a National Geographic documentary. Sibella was attacked by a hunter and his dogs to the brink of death, before she was rescued. Against all odds, she rehabilitated to the point where she could be released into the wild again. At the same time, Samara was looking to introduce cheetah on the reserve, and it was a perfect match. Sibella went on to thrive and rear 19 cubs that continue to populate the Great Karoo and other parts of South Africa today. As a result, guests at Samara Karoo Reserve can experience one of the most bucket list-worthy cheetah encounters anywhere in the world. Because of the bond that Samara trackers forged with Sibella, her children and grandchildren, guests are able to accompany a tracker on foot to observe these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. And if they’re lucky, your clients may even get to walk with a cheetah mother and cubs.
Samara Karoo Reserve Offers More Than Just a Safari Experience
The history of Samara’s rewilding and its journey to responsible tourism is fascinating, and the lodge itself is no less endearing. Because of its remote location and breathtaking surroundings, Samara Karoo Reserve presents a sense of space, peace and the ability to reconnect with nature. Being off the beaten track, it’s a great stop for those road tripping through the area, but it’s special enough to be a destination in its own right.
This exclusive game lodge boasts a vintage-style decor of antiques and family heirlooms. All of the accommodations are complete with wood-burning fireplaces and classic touches, like claw foot bathtubs. The Karoo Lodge is made up of nine suites of varying sizes and can cater to single travelers, couples or families and small groups. The Manor is an exclusive-use villa for up to eight guests.
Meals are served in the main house, on the verandah when the weather is warm enough to enjoy, and in the dining room by the fireplace on cool evenings. The dinner menu changes regularly, although the appeasing kitchen staff can gladly accommodate any request. One of our favorite treats was trying spekboom cake during high tea. Spekboom is an edible plant that is well known for its medicinal properties as well as its ability to restore the surrounding soil. It has been a key player in repairing the erosion on the reserve. Like everything at Samara, even the cake is sweeter with a higher purpose.
Samara is a place to unwind and reconnect with nature, and the lodge offers many different ways to do just that. Your clients can explore certain parts of the reserve by mountain bike, take a guided nature walk, enjoy a wilderness picnic or do some amazing stargazing. They can even plan ahead for a magical sleep-out, where the staff sets up a bed under the stars for a night, subject to weather of course.
Younger guests are also spoiled at Samara Karoo Reserve. Upon arrival, they are welcomed with a backpack filled with snacks and art supplies. During downtime in between game drives, kids can visit the Samara Cubs, a program for all ages that educates the next generation of eco-warriors and keeps children occupied with enjoyable activities. Our kids had the best time making T-shirts with a cheetah logo and baking cookies in the main kitchen. They also looked forward to the evening, when the housekeeping staff would leave each of them a bedtime story on their pillow.
Samara Karoo’s journey to responsible tourism and conservation—both of the animals and the land—is arguably one of the most impressive in all of South Africa, and every paying guest contributes to this amazing cause. By staying at this magical reserve, your clients will feel that they are part of something bigger, that they’re giving back for future generations. And that, paired with the exceptional opportunity to encounter cheetahs on foot and all of the incredible features of this exclusive lodge has to offer, is only a small part of why a stop at Samara Karoo Reserve is a must on any South African itinerary.
For more information, visit samara.co.za.
For Mayra Bazavilvazo’s family adventure at Hunter Hotels properties in South Africa, click here.
This story originally appeared in worldstompers.com, a family travel website created to inspire families with kids to expand their idea of adventures. You can follow the adventures of the Bazavilvazo family @worldstompers on Instagram and The Worldstompers on Facebook.