The sign as you enter the reserve..
Samara Private Game ReserveSamara Private Game Reserve is one of the larger game reserves in South Africa’s Eastern Cape and is located about three hours' drive north of Port Elizabeth. Samara is stretches about 280km² on the wide-open plains of the Great Karoo. It’s a malaria-free reserve (often requested by families with small children), hugging a scenic valley, with mountains and three river systems.
Samara is home to a variety of plant and animal species, some endangered, including cheetahs, blue cranes and the Cape mountain zebras. The general lack of most dangerous game makes the reserve a good bet for families.
Where to stay in Samara ReserveThere are only three properties in Samara Private Game Reserve currently - including a luxurious lodge with different kinds of suites and a lovely homestead. For detail see our Where to stay tab.
Topography and climate of SamaraThe Samara Private Game Reserve lies on the edge of the Sneeuberg mountain range. Much of this reserve is on the flat Karoo plains – including a section close to the lodges that lies within a natural amphitheatre, enclosed on three sides by mountain slopes. A few steep, rocky tracks lead up from here through the deeply-incised valleys, each of which has been formed over millennia by a stream line. On top of the plateau it’s relatively flat, although the range does have some dolerite-capped peaks.
Being quite a long way north of the Cape’s coastal strip – Samara’s climate doesn’t follow the typical pattern of the southern Cape. Its pattern is more typical of the rest of the subcontinent. This means that its summer the days (Nov-Feb) tend to be hot, and clouds will build up – often culminating in a late-afternoon thunderstorm. Whilst in winter, the weather (May-Sept) is often mild and sunny, with no hint of rain. However, the mountains will often get a little more rain, and even snow on occasions.
Flora and fauna in Samara ReserveSamara Reserve boasts a number of different types of vegetation, each associated with a slightly different microclimate. It hosts four biomes (the name of each vegetation type) out nine that are found in South Africa: Nama Karoo, Subtropical Thicket, Grassland and Savanna.
Samara’s birdlife is varied – 220 species of birds have been seen here – although our own experience is that the birdlife isn’t dense and keen birdwatchers will need to work hard to count a good number of species.
Specials at Samara include the large flocks of endangered, and very stately, blue cranes which are found here, especially during the winter (May-Sept); black eagles which breed here; and, surprising for the Karoo, African black ducks in the river. On our most recent visit, we also had a good sighting of an African hoopoe – as well as kori bustards, secretary birds, a handful of raptors and some ant-eating chats.
Mammals in Samara Game ReserveSamara Private Game Reserve has on it fairly low densities of large mammals, of which the most obvious on our last visit were red hartebeest, black wildebeest and, on the plateau, gemsbok, eland and Cape mountain zebra. Also occurring are springbok, kudu, steenbuck, waterbuck, blesbuck, nyala, common duiker, mountain reedbuck and grey Rhebok. Vervet monkeys are common, and we saw several groups of giraffe. The smaller predators here include African wildcats, small spotted cats, serval and caracals.
Black and white rhino are both found on Samara Reserve, and on our last visit a helicopter team was busy fitting tracking devices to some of the white rhinos – so in the future these may well be be easier for visitors to locate.
Meerkats and bat-eared foxes are both cute and of great interest to some visitors. Similarly, the largely nocturnal aardvark occur on Samara, and there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that aardvark densities here are particularly high. Though usually retiring and reclusive, Samara’s aardvarks seem more relaxed than most – or at least are seen more than most. It’s likely that this is due to the absence of their natural enemies – lion and spotted hyena – but whatever the reason, it does mean that Samara attracts a number of visitors who are very keen to head out of night drives with the aim of seeing these elusive animals.
Conserving cheetahs in Samara ReserveSamara works closely with the Endangered Wildlife Trust to protect cheetahs.
After being savagely treated in captivity, a wild cheetah, Sibella, was rescued and was released into Samara in 2003 along with two males. These bred very well, and with no competing predators many of the offspring survived. Most have now been sent outside the reserve to other reserves and breeding programmes.
What to do and see: activities in Samara reserveSamara offers a variety of activities, most focusing on combinations of 4WD safaris and guided walks. In our experience the guides here good, and good at explaining about the reserve’s flora, fauna and conservation efforts.
In many ways, the animals which most interest visitors on Samara are the cheetah – one of which is collared with a radio collar. This can be tracked and located and, because they’re relatively habituated to people, approached to within 5-6m by adults on foot. On our most recent visit here, we thought that walking up to within 6m of three adult cheetah was a really magical experience – even if we’d located them with the help of a radio-collar!
Night drives also possible if you’re keen to see aardvarks – but best to flag up that you’ll want these in advance if they’re important to you. And you might need to accept, as we did, that you may not see aardvark; we didn’t!
Our most recent experience here, in April 2014, was a generally good one. We felt that the reserve’s ambience of peace gave it a credible wilderness feeling, and the contrast between the plains and the plateau drive was very welcome. The drive that we took onto the plateau was a real adventure – with good herds of gemsbok and Cape mountain zebra at the end of it, as well as spectacular views. Our cheetah-tracking was also a highlight and we really enjoyed walking up to one of the herds of giraffe.
That said, Samara Reserve’s general game densities seemed very low to us; and without lion, spotted hyena or any real possibility of leopard sightings, we’re very aware that some travellers may be put off even coming to Samara. This is a shame as it does have a real wilderness feel. In fact, Samara should naturally be a strong contender for families with younger children precisely because of the lack of most dangerous game species.