Safari, that’s cool

Cheetahs on the Samara Game Reserve Cheetahs on the Samara Game Reserve

Independent local travel advisor Jack Leaf presents a guide to the Samara Game Reserve in South Africa, which, if you visit at the right time of year, is the perfect place to turn down the heat on safari

On my first visit to South Africa 26 years ago, I arrived at the Eastern Cape city of East London during a horrendous rainstorm. We went to the airline office in town to change our ticket. On explaining our next stop would be Port Elizabeth, and then Cape Town, the clerk suggested we go straight to Cape Town!

I am delighted to say Port Elizabeth has come a long way since then, not least to enjoy the fantastic old charm hospitality at Hacklewood Hill guest house, a city walking tour including 'Mandela Way' Route 67, year-round whale-watching and a visit to the biggest penguin breeding colony in the world – and not forgetting a number of beautiful beaches too.

When you think about an African safari, no doubt you conjure up an image of The Big Five and oppressive heat. Allow me to introduce you to an alternative: Samara Game Reserve. This malarial-free location in the Karoo region is perfect for those of you not used to an African safari, or conversely, if you have experienced a safari replete with animals in abundance and are now wanting to enjoy diverse scenery. But most importantly, from April to June, the Cape is at its coolest; in fact, at times it stays surprisingly cold through the daytime. Here, Samara comes into its own with open fireplaces throughout the lodge, hot water bottles and fleece ponchos on the drives and wholesome cooking washed down with lots of convivial drinking.

At Samara, the emphasis is on connecting with the land; the scenery is varied and always breathtaking. Its location means it is semi-arid, thus rainfall is rare – one minute you're out on wide open Savanna-like plains observing nearly extinct white and black rhino and moments later you're amongst acacia trees watching giraffe and elephants feeding. The crowning glory are the cheetahs – and that you can get down from the Land Rover and walk to within 15 metres of them. One day, we followed a majestic male; the next day we followed a female and her four cubs.

Samara encourages a combined stay with Drostdy Hotel in Graaff Reinet, South Africa's fourth-oldest city after Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Swellendam. Samara is 45 minutes by road from Graaff Reinet, or a short helicopter flight across the Valley of Desolation, probably the most awesome desert topography I have ever seen. Leslie provides superb commentary during his tour of the valley, explaining the flora, fauna and geology, while Buck provides an insight into Graaff Reinet's prosperous history and hopes for its future on his city tour.

Samara Game Reserve are providing an exclusive offer for Wanstead Village Directory readers. Those booking will receive one of the following value added activities:

  • Starbed experience thats included (Only available from Sep to April)
  • Private Kondoa Picnic or Private Riverbed Picnic
  • Private Bushdinner

jlJack is based in Snaresbrook – visit destiny-travel.co.uk or call 020 8989 6764.


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