During the October school holidays we hit the highway and headed north up the N1 to explore an area of South Africa that we had previously only driven through… the Karoo!
At 5am on a Sunday morning we piled our car high with bags, blankets and bodies and headed off on our next family travel adventure – a Karoo for Kids experience like no other! A stay at the exclusive 5 star Karoo Lodge in the Samara Private Game Reserve located in the Camdeboo region of the Karoo just outside Graaff-Reinet.
As South Africans we were familiar with the Karoo and had driven through places like Laingsburg, Beaufort West and Graaff-Reinet on previous trips but the intense heat and dry, barren land with little more than a scattering of sheep appeared to offer little and we had never stayed longer than a quick loo break… If I’m honest my expectations were low!
And that is probably the best way to travel – or just to travel through life – with low expecations you’re always bound to be pleasantly surprised or blown away. And the latter is exactly how I left Samara just 4 days later…. totally blown away by the breathtaking beauty, warm hospitality and soulful serenity that I found in this hidden corner of the Karoo.
Our journey to Samara took us 7.5 hours,with one or two quick stops along the way, which was shorter than our Google Maps lady had told us to expect! After driving along some of the straightest stretches of road in South Africa, we finally found ourselves on a dirt road heading into a desolate valley at 12:30.
After about 18km’s of gravel we were suddenly greeted by a giraffe head sticking it’s neck out above the tree it had been eating – and then we noticed that there was an entire giraffe family just behind it. Both families – human and giraffe – had a good ogle at each other for quite some time before we headed off to go and find our own lunch!
After the long drive, the sign to Karoo Lodge was well received by all occupants of our car, and after a few bends in the road we crossed over a river surrounded by bright green acacia and realized that this was a very special secret of the Karoo… We had arrived at Samara!
An ice cold welcome drink has never been more welcoming than when you arrive after a hot, dusty 8 hour car journey… Our hostess, Veronica, took us on a quick tour of the main lodge – the original farm house of the area complete with wide open verandas and polished floors – and then showed us to our room…
Karoo Suite 1 was everything you’d imagine a 5-star “Out of Africa” experience to be: A huge king sized bed swathed in mosquito nets and made up in crisp white linen, 2 large couches and a selection of African novels to wile away the day, a generous bathroom complete with a huge Victorian bath plus an outdoor shower and a private patio with loungers and a view over the veld and mountains beyond. Plus the aircon was on to greet us – heaven when the temperatures outside were pushing 35!
The kids were also catered for with their own little alcove off our room with two single beds and a little drawstring bag filled with a selection of activities, books, colouring in things and a few sweet treats too! They were sold!!
After taking an hour or so to unpack and unwind in our beautiful new “home” we headed back up the gravel path to the main lodge to enjoy a Colonial style afternoon tea: a decadent display of chocolate cake, mini quiches, cucumber sandwiches and an array of teas and coffees plus a refreshing homemade lemonade. My kids quickly adapted to their new 5 star lifestyle as is evident here…
Relaxing on the veranda overlooking one of the Karoo vistas while sipping a cup of tea and reading my book was definitely a highlight of this trip for me. As a mom, taking time out is a luxury all in itself and one that happens all to rarely! I relished being able to find a little spot of my own on one of the verandas of the main lodge or outside our room to sit undisturbed and soak in the sounds of silence (and a few naughty monkeys in the trees!)
I made time for relaxing here. It was a priority! And it was not hard.
I adore reading but only get around to this pleasure once in a blue moon, and usually only when we are on holiday, so I made sure I packed a good book and took it out my bag upon arrival to remind me to read!! And this was such a wonderful spot in which to get really into it… After our morning game drives and before lunch I would sit under the oak tree and watch the kids swimming while dipping in and out of my story, after lunch I headed back to my bed to lie under the cool aircon and soak in the luxury of the king sized space. I even woke up early one morning (willingly!!) to sit on the stoep with my tea and rusks and finish my book while watching the bush and the birds awaken for the day! It was bliss!!
And where were my children I hear you ask!? Well, the only way this was possible with 2 kids in tow was that they were blissfully (safely) occupied elsewhere! During the early mornings they were kept busy with their activity packs, colouring in the pictures of the animals they had seen or playing one of the games we packed. Mid-morning they enjoyed swimming at the pool with the ranger and after lunch they headed off with the ranger to play tennis or explore the kids play area and then came back to our room for a nap out of the heat of the day.
Kids are really well catered for at Samara. Aside from the great kiddie packs I have already mentioned they also have a wonderful kid’s menu including favourites such as macaroni cheese, burgers, spaghetti bolognese and chicken nuggets. Before we arrived we were aware that they would not be going on any game drives with us as the minimum age is 8 and as it was the school holidays there would be a variety of kids activities on offer to keep them occupied while we headed out looking for animals. It was our plan to let the kids have fun with the caregivers and enjoy the game drives on our own as a couple but as it happened on our first evening my daughter was not feeling well so my husband decided to stay behind with her and our son, just 2 weeks shy of his 8th birthday came along to keep me company! NOT that he was complaining, he adores animals of any sort especially African animals and is in his element on the back of a 4×4 safari vehicle so he was super excited to be coming along after we had explained he wouldn’t be able to!! Click this link to find out more about Samara’s children’s programme and policy.
Around 4 we met up with our ranger, Tendai, for the first time and then along with 2 fellow guests, a Swiss couple, we hopped onto the back of the safari vehicle for our first drive out into the Karoo veld. Exploring the bush with someone who is well versed at reading the tracks and signals about where to find the animals makes such a difference… Within a few minutes with Tendai at the helm we were spotting creatures we otherwise might have driven straight by! A little bat-eared fox scurried under the bushes, a yellow-tailed mongoose ran across the road, a flock of bright blue starlings swooped over our heads, a gemsbok nervously hovered on the edge of the thicket before disappearing into the trees…
Ben spotted a huge hole in the middle of the road and wanted to know more so Tendai was quick to stop the car and jump out with him to explain who made this massive hole and why – an aardvark looking for ants to eat as a midnight feast! An amazing aspect of Samara in comparison to other game reserves we have visited is that the absence of predators allows you more freedom to explore the bush on foot. We were able to jump out the 4×4 to explore plants, insects, spoor etc and it really made the bush come alive! From that first drive Ben adopted the “tracker” position in the vehicle – front left – and stuck to that on every subsequent drive, asking interesting questions and even spotting game we may have missed! He loved it and felt super chuffed when he was the first to spot something! One of his activities was a sheet in which to complete a drawing of each of the “spoor” (animal footprints) and with the help of Tendai and his guide book he filled this out each time we found the animal in question or their tracks.
After a few minutes spent enjoying a special sighting of a brave male Red Hartebeest that just kept coming closer and closer to us, it was time for the obligatory sundowners… My favourite time of the day (and not just because it involves wine and snacks!)
Even in Cape Town I love this time of the day but in the bush it’s super special… I love watching the last rays of sun sweep over the African plains, the birds heading to bed and the bats coming out to swoop through the night skies. Listening to the sounds of the bush as the sun sets make things even more exciting, a highlight was hearing jackal calling to each other, their whines echoing across the valley.
And all too quickly our first game drive at Samara was over and it was time to head back to Karoo Lodge for supper, not that we were complaining, our hungry tummies were only too pleased to be filled with a delicious meal prepared by the amazing chefs in the Samara kitchen!
And before supper was even over, a few of us were over too! A comfortable couch in the Karoo Lodge lounge area proved too welcoming for one tired little body…
And this was only a half day spent at Samara! We headed to bed feeling two emotions that are proof of a very good day: tired and happy!
Come back next Monday where I share a bit more about our magical time at Samara and our Karoo for Kids experience… And if you’ve already decided that your next holiday should be at Samara then you’ll be pleased to know that they are currently running an awesome special for November!
We stayed in Karoo Suite 1 but Samara’s Sibella Suites are two delightful air-conditioned suites with an en-suite shower that share a wooden deck and overlook the waterhole which are perfect for families and the rates are a bit more reasonable for South Africans. Alternatively Samara do offer a discount to all South African residents. (SA ID number required) to stay in the Karoo Suites. Call Jenny at reservations +27 (0) 23 626 6113 for more information. (Valid only at Karoo Lodge and excluding Sibella suites. Direct bookings only. Valid untill 10 December 2014 and subject to availability.)
Images: Kathryn Rossiter