The Great Karoo-Samara

In August 2019, it was late winter in South Africa. Helen and I were fortunate enough to join Lou Coetzer on a CNP Safari trip to Samara Private Game Reserve. This was a new unique destination which turned out to be very different to our Chobe, Grumeti and Masai Mara destinations and very different to all the other South African places we have visited. Different and fascinating at the same time with unique landscapes, wildlife and interactions with the wildlife.

“Once a year go someplace you’ve never been before.” ~ Dalai Lama

The Karoo is roughly split into two sections: the expansive Great Karoo wilderness in the north-east, and the smaller and tamer Little Karoo in the south-west.

“Never let your memories be greater than your dreams.” ~ Douglas Ivester

Samara lies within the Great Karoo. The latter incorporates around 400,000 km² of semi-desert landscape, a region uniquely defined by its geography, history, geology and climate. This region is characterised by its low rainfall, dry air, cloudless skies, and extremes of temperature during the day and at night. In winter on the plateau in upper mountainous regions, the temperatures can fall to -15c. In summer in the lower lying areas the temperatures can rise over 40c.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” ~ Oliver Wendell-Holmes

Samara is located at the foothills of the Camdeboo mountains. We visited Samara in late winter so it was nippy at night and the early mornings were crisp, but the days were warm and sunny.

There are three aspects about Samara which make it extraordinary: the landscapes are a photographer’s dream; the conservation efforts by the owners provides unique sightings and experiences with the wildlife. Thirdly there is an eclectic mix of wildlife in the park offering good sightings of several rare species.

“At first encounter the Karoo may seem arid, desolate and unforgiving, but to those who know it, it is a land of secret beauty and infinite variety.” ~ Eve Palmer

The conservation efforts have brought both White and Black rhino to the park. We were able to leave the vehicle and walk close to this female White rhino and her (alert) calf.

We walked to within 30 metres of the White rhino. This was a family group with the bull closest to us and the female behind with the calf close behind the female.

Being in the Karoo, you would expect to see springbok in this area….and they are numerous.

One of the more exciting species which we never got close to, was a flock of around 200 Blue cranes. They were very skittish and would not let us get within a few hundred metres of them before flying off. The trick was to find out where they roosted. An experience for another trip.

Being in a semi-desert region we found Ground squirrels. The males were very vocal – alarm calling when standing on their back legs.

“All of our dreams can come true if we just have the courage to pursue them.” ~ Walt Disney

One of the several unique sighting in Samara was of an Aardvark or Ant bear (as we called them in Zimbabwe). This is the first time I had ever seen one foraging in the open in daylight.

These are nocturnal mammals so it was very special to watch this Aardvark going about his foraging out in the open and reasonably close to us. Aardvark are usually very shy animals but this character did not seem to fuss about having us nearby. We had some exceptional sightings which will be the subject of another post.

Conservation of any endangered species must begin with stringent efforts to protect its natural habitat by the enforcement of rigid legislation against human encroachment into parks and other game sanctuaries.” ~Dian Fossey

After meandering around on the flat open plain section of Samara we headed up the mountains. The journey up the mountain was along steep passes. On our way up, a more unusual sighting was of a Black rhino foraging in the thick bush on the side of the mountain.

Once on top of the plateau, the view down onto the Great Karoo plains was spectacular.

Up on the plateau, as the sun was sinking, we came upon a herd of Black wildebeest. The herd would not let us get too close and bolted every time we attempted to drive closer to them.

As the evening sky darkened, the mood became quite bewitching.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

As the sun on the south side of the plateau set, the light cast a very different picture. The last vestiges of the day’s sun rays caught the protruding rocks- a last illumination for the day.

It was getting cool up on the plateau as the sun set. It was winter after all. For a photographer, winter can be a magical time to photograph landscapes because of the incredible light and colours which are created in the crisp dusty last light.

“Dark and light striking each other, vividly etching wild colors through the horizon. The charm of sunset makes me want to scurry home.” ~ Tara Estacaan

It was getting dark and time to pack up the drinks (after our sun-downers) and make our way back down the mountain to our gorgeous lodgings at Manor Lodge which took all the hardship out of this rugged terrain.

The last visages of the day were sinking in an electric blue serenade. This was the view from Manor lodge. Inside there was a large log fire burning to entice animated discussion about day’s sightings over a few heart warming drinks.

This was the first day of a five day visit to Samara with Lou Coetzer of CNP Safaris. Over the days that followed we were privileged enough to walk with cheetahs and watch them kill an eland calf and walk with aardvarks in the late afternoon and even get close to White rhino. These experiences will be the subject of my next few posts about Samara.

The vastness of the Karoo pervades your senses. In our short time there, we were introduced to a small selection of the unique animals and birds which live in this wild open place. It got cold at night, being late winter, so dinner and drinks around the fire were very welcome and the evenings were spiced by stories about walking with cheetahs, rhino and aardvark.

Heads filled with stories, we went to bed brimming with expectation about what the next few days would bring us.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of your life is to give it away.” ~ Pablo Picasso

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be,

Have fun, Mike

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