Into the Great Ka­roo

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

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.

Check­list

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.

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