Samara

Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape, South Africa Book from Book from £325 per night

MOST COOL FOR KIDS MOST COOL FOR KIDS
Awesome landscapes and great lodging in one of the largest privately owned game reserves in South Africa, 2.5 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 - and these efforts have paid off, with Samara now the only free-roaming Big Five reserve in the Great Karoo. Today you can not only see cheetah, both white and black rhino, lion, giraffe, the rare mountain zebra, aardvarks 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 an 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.

Highs

  • Varied landscape and amazing setting. You can reach some of the most heartstopping views in the world
  • Excellent opportunities to spot the Big Five
  • Top notch guides: ours knew everything, drove brilliantly and made us feel very safe
  • Malaria free, with great conservation and eco-credentials (all guests get a cutting of the drought-resistant Spekboom succulent on arrival to plant)
  • Inspiring programmes and activities for older children; under 8s are not usually allowed on scheduled game drives, but can enjoy shorter "Bumble drives"

Lows

  • It's a 2.5 hour drive from Port Elizabeth, and the last half hour is on a 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
World Favourite Family Hideaway

    Best rooms for families

    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).

    Parents should know...

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

Babysitting is available by arrangement

Their Samara children's 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

A children's menu is available

  • Tracking and Orienteering
  • Cheetah tales
  • Star naming and stories
  • Trampoline
  • Croquet
  • Table tennis
  • Create your own Bushman paintings
  • Face painting - camouflage
  • Play dough and Samara puzzles
  • Crafting with African beads
  • Eco-challenge (Orienteering, treasure hunt, games etc.)
  • Spekboom planting
  • T-shirt painting
  • Air-rifle target practice for older kids

Great for...

Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
Romantic
  • Safari Lodge
  • 13 suites + 1 house for 4-8
  • All meals included
  • All ages welcome: shorter game drives for under 8s
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Babysitting
  • Creche / Kids Club
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Tennis Court
  • Upright piano in Lodge
Room:

Rooms

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, fireplaces 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 but with a waterhole right in front, which no doubt attracts its share of wildlife. Unfortunately Sibella Suites do not 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 a personal ranger, chef and butler. South African designer John Zwiegelaar has created an impressive home with high ceilings, a swanky bar area and 2 living rooms and lounges. Outside, the 21m infinity pool and watering hole are enough to attract animals and fashion shoots in equal measure. Rates are usually based on exclusive use (min 4 guests) but for a group this works out not much more per person than any other option. Alternatively, if you're not coming as a group, you can book out one of the 4 double ensuite bedrooms individually.

Features include:

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

Eating

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, includes fresh fruits, yoghurt, muesli, pancakes, muffins, cheeses, peeled plums and passion fruit. And they'll take orders for cooked dishes, putting a South African twist on old classics: the Eggs Benedict on homemade roosterkoek bread 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 thought the setting by the long infinity pool was a beautiful spot for alfresco dining.

Features include:

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

Activities

  • Game drives tend to leave early in the morning or in the late evening to catch most wildlife. They typically last 3-4 hrs as the landscape is so vast, 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, lion, a small herd of elephant, 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 the 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
  • Completely unplug from modern life and go fly camping - it includes a guided bush walk in Big Five territory, a traditional braai cooked on an open fire and a camp-out in breathtaking surroundings
  • The night sky in The Karoo is a magnificent sight, so why not sleep under the stars in the Star Bed. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is at no extra cost, so just let us know if you’re interested at the time of booking
  • Take a walk with the Tracker Academy and learn about conservation awareness and tracking competency. You may not spot a cheetah, but spotting signs of its presence will be a humbling experience
  • For pure indulgence with an adrenaline-filled twist, you can organise (at an extra cost) a scenic flight in a helicopter over the endless Plains of Camdeboo. Whilst you will not want it to end, the delicious picnic awaiting you on top of the mountain plateau will certainly keep you on cloud nine
  • Other trips on the reserve include a visit to ancient cave drawings, which require a little more walking than you'd expect on a 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 Vehicle and rangers also available at Karoo Lodge (extra cost and subject to availability)
  • Safaris
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Wildlife

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
  • Kid Friendly:

    Location

    Samara is located in the Eastern Cape, near Graaff-Reinet, and a good 3 hours' drive from Port Elizabeth.

    By Air
    Port Elizabeth (285km) - internal flights only. For international flights use Cape Town International or Jo'burg. There's also a scheduled 40 min flight 7 days/wk from Plettenberg Bay to Graaff-Reinet. Click on the links below for a list of airlines.
    Air charters from Plettenberg Bay to Graaff-Reinet can be arranged on request, as can a 15 minute helicopter ride from Graaff-Reinet to Samara. Samara can arrange air charters from other game reserves too.

    From the Airport
    Samara can arrange transfers from the airport or hire a car.

    By Car
    For car hire see our car rental recommendations. The final approach to Samara is along gravel road so it's preferable to have 4-wheel drive.

    Detailed directions to Samara will be provided when you confirm your booking through our site.

    More on getting to South Africa and getting around.

    Airports:

    • Port Elizabeth 290.0 km PLZ
    • Cape Town 760.0 km CPT

    Other:

    • Beach 285.0 km
    • Shops 55.0 km
    • Restaurant 55.0 km

    Our guests' ratings...

    Based on 2 independent reviews from i-escape guests

    10/10
    Room
    10/10
    Food
    10/10
    Service
    10/10
    Value
    10/10
    Overall

    My family had the most amazing stay at Samara. From the moment we arrived we were treated with genuine warmth. Every member of staff knew our names and interacted with us with an interest and a regard that cannot be faked. We arrived much later than expected after a 5 hour drive and even though we were not due to have lunch that day we were told that lunch was available to us. We had the most beautiful chicken caesar salad. Our Karoo Suite was gorgeous - 2 adults and 2 children (8 and 11) had oodles of space. The decor was beautiful - a luxurious colonial style. Bedding/ pillows were extremely comfortable with lots of choice of pillow heights to suit 4 different personal requisites - something of a difficulty for us in many accommodations. We had a large and powerful shower and a glorious claw-footed bath. On return from our game drive each evening the bath was filled and ready - complete with a carafe of sherry! Our suite overlooked a watering hole and was the source of lots of entertainment for the kids during our stay as they watched different animals come to drink. The Lodge is stunning - like something out of "Out of Africa". The beautiful wrap around veranda is a congregation spot during the day for a chat, a drink or to meet your Ranger and plan your excursions. During the day the garden is the home of many turtles ambling their way forward and back. It is also the home of the resident Warthog who likes to bathe in the sun! The veranda is where you eat your meals at night also and is subtly lit to create a dreamlike ambience. We had a fantastic Ranger named Julius who had many years experience and it showed. We have been on Safari before in a well known and pricey reserve and it did not even begin to compare with our experience in Samara. Both adults and children alike learned a lot about the animals, birdlife, fauna and tracking. Julius got us out of the jeep frequently so we tracked White Rhino and Cheetah on foot. We came within 15 feet of a White Rhino adult female and her young calf. We also tracked cheetah and her 3 month old cubs and came with in 20 feet of them - at all times feeling totally secure that Julius was in control of the situation and it was safe to be there. From the security of the jeep we saw every other animal one would hope to see, including elephant. We came within 15 feet of a Black Rhino. The Lions had not yet been introduced. We thoroughly enjoyed the food and found that we had plenty of choice. The standard was exceptional. We had a fantastic Boma on one of the nights of our stay that was very memorable. Veronica and her staff were very attentive and nothing was a problem for them. The journey to Samara is a long one but everywhere is an effort to get to in South Africa due to the vast size of the country (even more so when you are from the small island of Ireland!). We drove in and out and enjoyed the scenery in both directions. We are already planning a return visit to South Africa and we will certainly be returning to Samara rather than any other reserve. Samara has an uncanny knack of making you feel like you have returned to your family home, eaten at a top class restaurant, stayed in a luxurious hotel and been to school all at the same time. A sincere and warm thank you to Veronica, Julius and everyone else at Samara who made our trip one of the best memories we have of South Africa.

    10/10,

    This is a beautifully presented Colonial lodge in a stunning location. The moment you enter the reserve you know you are visiting a special place. Easy to see why others have commented how hard it is to leave!

    10/10,

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