Into the Great Karoo
From Page 1 dining room — butternut pumpkin soup, tender Karoo lamb fragrant with wild rosemary, old-fashioned baked pudding and custard — there is the unlikely call of something like rhinos are up’’. We push back our chairs and off we bash in Wayne-o’s vehicle for less than a minute to see two white rhinos pottering about the lodge’s front lawn as casually as a couple of pets. But without a torch they just loom like bushes and I can’t help thinking I could have walked straight into them if they’d chosen the grass around my little Karoo cottage for their evening soiree.
We all want to see Sibella, Samara’s resident matriarch cheetah who was released from captivity and then a rehabilitation centre to Samara in 2003. Relocated with two males, she is one of the first cheetahs to be returned to the Great Karoo in more than a century; her forebears had been hunted to near extinction. She’s had 18 cubs in three litters and the guestbook is full of fond recollections of Sibella encounters, including one guest who apparently found her on their cottage veranda one morning. How boastful. We don’t see even a whisker.
But we can’t complain about the bush bounty revealed during Wayne-o’s drives. My spotter’s checklist reveals red hartebeest with their heart-shaped horns, guineafowl (never eat them in a month with the letter R, Wayne-o says, somewhat enigmatically), bustard kori (the world’s heaviest bird) and, on our first night drive, scampering scrub hares, a spotted eagle owl and a cartoon-cute bat-eared fox. Samara has more than 180 species of birds: next time, Wayne-o, if for nothing but dinner-party one-upmanship, I want to see a common titbabbler, a lesser swamp warbler, a forktailed drongo and, please, a spotted thick-knee.
The conservation mantra from Samara’s owners, Mark and Sarah Tompkins, more or less comes down to the fact we don’t inherit the land from our fathers but we borrow it from our children. It’s an uplifting message and one we carry with us as we set off for Port Elizabeth and beyond as Wayne-o waves goodbye and we desperately scan every bush and tree for a lastchance sighting of the elusive Sibella. Susan Kurosawa was a guest of South African Tourism.
Samara is 254km from Port Elizabeth; transfers are available, or arrive by rental car (most of the road is tarred but there’s a gravel track of about 20km). There are daily flights to Port Elizabeth from Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. Depending on the season, rates start from 1550 rand ($240) to 3600 rand a person a night twin-share; the rate includes meals and two game drives daily with an expert ranger. Valid for the month of September is a ‘‘ stay three nights and pay for two’’ offer to celebrate the opening of the Samara Spa, which overlooks a dam with an abundance of waterbirds. The deal also includes a complimentary massage for each guest. More: www.samara.co.za.
www.southafrica.net Susan Kurosawa’s pick of the best South African safari lodges: www.theaustralian.com.au/travel.