Then another one… stronger this time. And another; beep, static, beeeep.
“They’re over that way,” said our ranger Andre, pointing across the high arid plains of Bouwershoek with the aerial of his telemetry radio. “They’re on the move, but we should be able to find them.”
We were on the trail of two cheetahs; young males patrolling the plateau in search of unwary antelope. These young bachelors are two of 12 cheetahs on Samara Private Game Reserve, a 70 000-acre conservancy stretching across the Plains of Camdeboo and up into the mountains of Bouwershoek, where we now stand gazing across the plains stretching west towards the Great Karoo.
Tracking cheetahs on foot is one of the highlights of a stay at Samara. As one of the most endangered cats on the continent, all of the cheetahs on Samara are fitted with radio collars so that they can be carefully monitored.
It helps us to find our two young males loping through the dry grasslands, but it’s clear that they’d rather be left alone. After a few minutes walking a respectful distance behind them Andre decides it’s time to leave them to hunt in peace.
Cheetah-tracking or not, Samara is a delight to explore, and offers a different take on your usual ‘Big Five’ reserve.
“If we had lion on here they would certainly clash with the cheetahs, and the cheetah would come off second best,” says Andre. And on a reserve dedicated to
bringing this endangered cat back from the brink that’s simply not an option.
Even without the Big Five the reserve is engaging though, and home to an entertaining menagerie of wildlife. Herds of giraffe nibble on the boughs of sweetthorn acacia, plumes of yellow flowers casting pollen into the breeze, while lumbering eland and proud kudu stand quietly in the thickets of Spekboom. A herd of endangered Cape Mountain Zebra are also happy to call Samara home. Terapins hide in muddy puddles, and clapper Larks applaud our Land Rover as we trundle past.
You’ll get to meet them all on twice-daily game drives through the reserve. And yes, it’s worth hauling yourself out from under that down duvet to see the sun come up over the plains!
Hours between game drives are spent lounging about the Karoo Lodge, the heart and soul of Samara, where twinkling paraffin lamps welcome you home after an evening game drive out on the Plains.
Unusually for upmarket reserves, children of all ages are welcome at the Karoo Lodge with special activities such as fossil finding and bug-hunts laid on to keep them entertained. There is even a special play area set up – a respectable distance from the lodge – for them to pitch tents, play games and generally go wild.
Whether you choose to go wild with them, or just enjoy the wilderness and wild animals, a stay at Samara is certainly a great way to leave the urban jungle and soak up the solitude of the plains of Camdeboo.
IF YOU GO…
Where it is: 290 kilometres north of Port Elizabeth.
Why go there: What’s not to love about a name like Camdeboo? The area abounds with intriguing history, wonderful landscapes and toothy wildlife, but you’ll get as much pleasure from simply sitting on the stoep gazing out over the plains.
What it offers: Three luxury Lodge Suites in the old homestead, decorated with an Afro-chic collection of antiques, Africana and 19th-century memorabilia. For peace and quiet the three freestanding Karoo Suites offer similar luxury, but with more privacy and a few quirky touches – ever showered in a water tank?
What it's like: These old Karoo farms were famous for their hospitality, and thankfully nothing has changed. You’ll find a warm welcome, a smiling game ranger and homely accommodation. The perfect weekend escape or road-trip stopover.
And the food: Delicious. Unpretentious, yet indulgent. Chef Quintinn van Rensburg brings the essence of the Karoo to your dinner plate using fresh local produce. Wild rosemary, tender Karoo Lamb, succulent Springbok Loin… hungry yet?
Rates: From R1550 – R3600 per person sharing. This includes twice-daily game drives, luxury accommodation, all meals, soft drinks and house wines.
Getting there: From Port Elizabeth, follow the R75 towards Graaff-Reinet for 258 km. At the R63 turn right. After 7kms turn left onto a gravel road at the sign for Petersburg and drive 23kms to reach the lodge.
Its name may sound like something from Lord of the Rings, but the Valley of Desolation is definitely food for the soul. These other-worldly rock formations are the highlight of the Camdeboo National Park, which virtually surrounds the town of Graaff-Reinet. The Valley is famous for the magnificent dolerite columns that have been formed over the past 100-million years, rising 120-metres from the Plains of Camdeboo. The best time to visit this National Monument is at sunset, when the towers of rock spring to life in the warm glow of the setting sun.
There are a number of great walks in the park, from the 45-minute Crag Lizard Trail to overnight hikes in the eastern section of the park. In the north the Nqweba Dam offers a welcome respite from hot Karoo days, with boating, canoeing, fishing and windsurfing all allowed on the dam.
First published in the Sunday Times, 9 August 2009.