Graaff-Reinet, Garden Route & Eastern Cape, South Africa Book from Book from £308 per night

Awesome landscapes and great lodging in one of the largest privately owned game reserves in South Africa, 3 hrs north of Port Elizabeth
This is the Great Karoo. Its vast plains and magnificent mountains once hosted the largest migrations the world had ever seen. After years of excessive hunting and farming, Samara's owners are carefully turning back the clock to re-establish its flora and wildlife. Their management of the land and its biodiversity is truly inspiring. Today you can not only see cheetah, rhino, giraffe, the rare mountain zebra and a host of other wildlife, you can (if you want) walk right up to them in the bush.

What sets this place apart is that with just a handful of jeeps, you'll have 27,000 hectares all to yourselves: no chance of traffic jams around waterholes here. You'll also have your own knowledgeable ranger. Stay at the Karoo Lodge to enjoy colonial comforts in the homestead, or prime waterhole viewing from the Sibella Suites. Groups can take over the Manor House and stay in stylish luxury with in-house chef and butler.

On our evening game drive we drove up the side of a mountain, then marvelled at unfettered views stretching 280km. We felt on top of the world: elated yet very, very small. When we returned, our bath was poured, along with a glass of port to prepare us for a delicious dinner. Completely unforgettable.


  • Varied landscape and amazing setting. You can reach some of the most heartstopping views in the world
  • Top notch guides: ours knew everything, drove brilliantly and made us feel very safe
  • Malaria free, with great conservation and eco-credentials
  • Inspiring programmes and activities for older children; under 8s are not usually allowed on scheduled game drives, but can enjoy shorter "Bumble drives"


  • If you're looking for a "Big 5" safari, there are no lion or elephant here (yet), but we liked this fact. The species list here is very long, from the round-eared elephant shrew to the mightly eland
  • It's 3+ hours' drive from Port Elizabeth, and the last half hour is on dirt track, but you pass through spectacular country and we felt a real sense of adventure
  • It can get cold in their winter and very hot in summer (but it's a dry heat thankfully)
  • As with any cross country jeep drive, it can get bumpy; and if you're not comfortable with heights you might feel giddy up at Eagle Rock

Best time to go

This place is beautiful all year round, but October to April is their summer. It is hottest in February and can reach over 40 degrees celsius during the day; but it does get colder at night so you may need some warmer clothing for early mornings and nights.

May to September is their winter, and temperatures can range from 0 to 20 degrees celsius during the day - so both warm and light clothing is advised. Fleeces and hot water bottles are provided for game drives

Our top tips

  • If you get the chance to walk with the Ranger, it can make your trip.

  • Keep your doors closed to stop any cheeky monkeys getting in.

  • You really need at least 3 nights to get a flavour of the reserve (and to justify the long drive) - but we could easily have spent a week becoming absorbed in the remoteness and otherworldliness of Samara.
  • Great for...

    Great Outdoors
    • Safari Lodge
    • 9 rooms + 2 lodges for 4-10
    • All meals included
    • All ages welcome: shorter game drives for under 8s
    • Open all year
    • Outdoor Pool
    • Spa Treatments
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Tennis Court
    • Upright piano in Lodge
    Room: karoo lodge by night


    Stay at the Karoo Lodge for a homestead feel with typically old colonial decor: living rooms with fireplaces, animal prints and maps on walls, a wrap-around veranda gazing out to the Karoo. Choose between Lodge Suites in the main house, Karoo Suites set down a path in the garden, and Sibella Suites further away by a waterhole. Lodge Suites are spacious, comfortable and open out onto the veranda; you're close to the creature comforts of the homestead bar and living room. Karoo Suites feel closer to the bush; each time we walked along the path, we felt a tinge of excitement at what wildlife we might see. These are self contained houses with corrugated roofs and covered patios with outdoor seating. Bedrooms are large - expect earthy colours, polished concrete floors, netted windows, sofas, fireplace and plenty of wardrobe space. Limestone bathrooms have walk-in showers and roll top baths, double sinks as well as bathrobes and slippers; but if you want to wash alfresco, there's an outside shower too. 100m from the house, Sibella Suites are the most recent addition: slightly more basic, less spacious than other rooms (shower only) but with a waterhole right in front which no doubt attracts its share of wildlife. All rooms have air-conditioning, crisp white sheets and toiletries from Charlotte Rhys. Not all rooms have mosquito nets, but we didn't see any mossies and they can provide repellent and nets on request.

    For somewhere in the heart of the Great Karoo, the Manor House provides oodles of style and luxury. If you didn't look out of the window, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in any boutique city hotel. But here you get personal ranger, chef and butler. Rates are based on exclusive use (min 4 guests) but for a group this works out not much more per person than any other option which makes it good value. South African designer John Zwiegelaar has created an impressive home with high ceilings, swanky bar area and 2 living rooms and lounges. Its 4 double ensuite bedrooms provide a notch up in comfort, while the 21m infinity pool and watering hole are enough to attract animals and fashion shoots in equal measure.

    Features include:

    • Air conditioning
    • Coffee tea making
    • Cots Available
    • Extra beds
    • Fireplace
    • Hairdryer
    • Internet access
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Phone
    • Safe box
    • Terrace
    • WiFi


    There's a restaurant in the Karoo Lodge where you can either cosy up inside next to an open fire in winter or cool down in summer along the wrap around veranda. A full breakfast spread followed our morning game drive, including fresh fruits, yoghurt, muesli, pancakes, muffins, cheeses, peeled plums and passion fruit. And they'll take orders for cooked dishes: the English breakfast was bang on.

    Their menu was reassuringly balanced with delicious dishes. For lunch we chose some tasty pasta carbonara, but failed to leave space for afternoon tea and cakes. Sundowners will be brought out on your evening drive. At dinner we kicked off with tomato and red pepper soup and a decent salad (blue cheese, walnut and smoked salmon), then venison or chicken in sherry sauce with roasted veg. We loved their filling apple crumble with ice cream and custard.

    In The Manor meals are flexible as to where and when you take them as you have your own staff. They can arrange for sample menus and discuss specific requirements prior to arrival for each individual group. The picnics in the river and up on the mountains looked awe inspiring. Inside, we liked the funky bar area and throught the setting by the long infinity pool was a beautiful spot for alfresco dining.

    Features include:

    • All meals included
    • Bar
    • Children meals
    • Coffee tea making
    • Communal dining
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Organic produce
    • Restaurant
    • Room service
    • Vegetarian menu
    Eating: Breaksfast
    Activity: Cheetah


    • Game drives tend to leave early in the morning or in the late evening to catch most wildlife. They typically last 2-3 hrs but you may be able to ask for shorter trips. There are covered jeeps and well trained friendly rangers. Each time you depart, there's no telling what you might see, but of the larger mammals you should expect to spot cheetah, rhino and antelopes on the plains, and rare mountain zebras if you venture up. The joy of this location is not having many other jeeps to bump into and the awesome landscapes
    • On one of your game drives, try and get to the top of Eagle Rock, where the view is one of the best you could hope for in whole of Africa
    • In the middle of the day, you can lounge by the swimming pool, read on your veranda, choose from their massage menu (including Swedish, head and foot), or perhaps take forty winks to recharge your batteries
    • If it's not too hot, play some tennis at the Karoo Lodge
    • Other trips on the reserve include a visit to ancient cave drawings, which require a little more walking than you'd expect on normal game drive. Bring your mountain bike to follow one of the several cycle tracks, guided or self-guided

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Birdwatching
    • Mountain biking
    • Plantlife / flora
    • Private Guided Tours for (Manor House and Mountain Retreat)
    • Private Vehicle and rangers also available at Karoo Lodge (extra cost and subject to availability)
    • Safaris
    • Swimming
    • Tennis
    • Wildlife


    i-escape's Best for Kids Awards 2014
    Winner: Best For Wildlife Spotting

    A great option for families, with an understanding of hungry minds and energetic bodies, there are lots of children's activities on offer, babysitters, and separate game drives for under 8s - look out for the Funny Five (giraffe, warthog, wildebeest, monkey and aardvark). And the reserve, although now well-stocked with wildlife, isn't teeming with predators (only cheetahs currently and they don't attack humans). And there's the excitement of getting to see the many creatures which wander into the camp from large shiny millipedes to vervet monkeys, buffalo and baboons.

    They also put together a personalised pack for children on arrival, containing drawing materials and spotter books; and every night there was a story placed on our daughter's bed ("How the Zebra got its stripes" was a favourite).

    Best for:

    Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    Karoo Suites can take up to 2 kids, whilst Lodge Suites can take 1. Sibella Suites have interconnecting rooms, but for younger children we'd opt to stay in the Lodge Suites (main building).


    Babysitting is available by arrangement

    Creche/Kid's Club:

    Their AardvARK childrens programme specially caters for children of all ages, taking them on adventure safaris, providing private dinners and hosting young children at the Lodge - which allows parents to enjoy stress-free game drives. There's a reed enclosure where children can play amongst giant and miniature wrought-iron cut-outs of animals found on the reserve. There’s a sandpit and an outside play area as well as an indoor playroom where kids can paint and make things

    Children's meals:

    A children's menu is available

    Kids Activities on site:

    • Tracking and Orienteering
    • Cheetah tales
    • Star naming and stories
    • Trampoline
    • Tennis
    • Croquet
    • Table tennis
    • Create your own Bushman paintings
    • Face painting - camouflage
    • Play dough and Samara puzzles
    • Treasure hunts
    • Crafting with African beads
    • Spekboom planting

    Families Should Know:

    Children (and parents!) will need good and constant sun protection. Malaria is not present here.


    • Airport: 3 hours
    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    Based on 1 independent review from i-escape guests


    We had three nights at Samara and loved it; the setting, the game drives, the food, the service and the friendly atmosphere. Our ranger was very knowledgeable and went to great lengths to provide a good experience for us and reflect our interests. We enjoyed being able to wander around freely and felt that the conservation mission at Samara is genuine and worthwhile. Sometimes we walked from the land cruiser to get closer to the animals, so it is worth having decent footwear. The fleecy ponchos and hot water bottles provided were surprisingly welcome on the early morning drives. We were upgraded to a massive room in the lodge from the Sibella which we had booked, it even had a decanter of sherry! The Sibella rooms overlook the waterhole but are much smaller from the look of them, so we were very happy with this. We are not used to the level of service and luxury but it was great to just relax and enjoy it and it did feel like good value. It is easy to overeat so waistlines beware! It takes at least half an hour from the tarmac road to get to the lodge driving on the dirt road and would be easier in a 4x4 but we had a small hire car which managed fine. It is really worth arriving in time to join the 4pm game drive on the day you arrive and definitely worth having two nights or more if you can.


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