Seamlessly blending with its surroundings, the Samara Private Game Reserve in South Africa embraces a design focused on treading a light footprint and providing dramatic views of the native flora and fauna
Samara Private Game Reserve, located in South Africa’s Eastern Cape (south of the country near Port Elizabeth), is a tranquil sanctuary set amidst the stunning Karoo landscape. This is the ideal point of departure to set off on an unforgettable safari experience in search of blue cranes, Cape buffalo, black wildebeests, elands, springboks, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, vervet monkeys, meerkats, servals, striped polecats and Cape leopards – wild animals that guests will have the opportunity to catch sight of. Samara was the brainchild of Mark and Sarah Tompkins, who bought the first farm on the site in 1997. The idea was to acquire enough land to establish a self-sustaining ecosystem that would welcome game – the herds of antelope that used to inhabit the area and the predators that maintain the balance – and thereby celebrate the rebirth of a unique piece of Africa.
NATURE AT ITS HEART
Restoring the biodiversity of the Great Karoo is a key focus at the Samara resort – a multimillion-dollar project – with a main objective to realise the land’s potential as an area of outstanding natural beauty and home to reintroduced endangered wildlife. With a design that revolves around sustainability and offering the best views for game and bird watching and stargazing, Samara’s old farm homesteads were restored instead of building out in the virgin bush. All suites come with verandas so guests can absorb their surroundings and adopt the pace of nature.
A PERFECT LAYOUT
Accommodation options comprise Mountain Retreat, The Manor and Karoo Lodge, where elegant lodges are encircled by pristine wilderness. Ongoing building renovations began at Karoo Lodge 12 years ago, and at The Manor and Mountain Retreat five years ago. It took three years for the interiors to be decorated and two years for the landscapping to be completed. The wild, rustic and secluded Mountain Retreat was restored by the owners as their personal getaway to the mountains. It’s suitable for families and groups who value privacy, as well as being close to nature and slower pace of life.
The Victorian homestead houses three en-suite bedrooms, and the restored 250-year-old barn two en-suite bedrooms. A jacuzzi on the deck and a covered patio with comfy sofas allow guests to enjoy the views down the Valley of the Bushman. Family antiques embellish the interiors. “Part of my family are from the 1820’s settlers; some of the furniture came from them,” says Sarah. “Others were sourced locally in Graaff Reinet, which is a quaint little town. My maternal grandmother’s name is Van der Vywer, and we have a priceless collection of Boer War plates commemorating the Boer War on the side of the Boers made by Limoges; these are displayed in an antique dresser in the dining room.
SAMARA WAS THE BRAINCHILD OF MARK AND SARAH TOMPKINS.
We have some lovely old English and Dutch tables and a rustic pine dresser that came from a convent. Plus I have lovely old pictures from my Girdlestone cousins, also from the Eastern Cape. The Girdlestones were originally descended from Admiral Lord Nelson’s sister.”
A MANOR STORY
The Manor is all about luxury, privacy, romance and indulgence. Here, guests may take advantage of the services of a personal ranger, chef, butler and nannies. The concept was for a contemporary Karoo house embodying elements of Karoo design with a modern twist using light, colours and structure inspired by the veld that surrounds the site.
Sarah explains, “Karoo design is simple colonial use of reeded ceilings with mud packed on top to keep the summers cool and the winter warm. The modern rendition of it is using elements such as local stone and local wood.” Built on the site of a Victorian farmhouse and retaining one of the original walls, the stately homestead showcases a warm aesthetic reflecting the local landscape and traditions. It was designed by well-known South African designer, John Zwiegelaar. “The Manor is Zwiegelaar’s inspiration totally and completely,” notes Sarah. “He has a unique way of conceiving the vision and then extrapolating it bit by bit, layer by layer, using height, form, light and colour to achieve his goals. We were inspired by materials from the veld, old stone walls, stone from other parts of the property, the colours of the white bark of the Shepherd’s Trees and the olive green leaves.” Zwiegelaar skillfully transformed an area once used for raising goats, sheep and cattle into a modern living space designed so that all rooms flow into one another. The dining room leads off the living room and has a bar around which guests may gather for a pre-dinner drink. Divided into two areas, the living room places great emphasis on natural light that floods in through tall windows. The alcoves are decorated with marshmallow comfort cushions for children to have an afternoon nap; they are also perfect
“THE MANOR IS JOHN ZWIEGELAAR’S INSPIRATION TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY.”
for playing card games. Accommodation consists of four spacious air-conditioned luxury suites with large en-suite bathrooms for up to eight guests. These suites open out on to private patios featuring spectacular views and outdoor sofas. The 21-metre-long infinity pool descends into a natural waterhole where guests may catch sight of wild game that come to quench their thirst. Zwiegelaar designed all the custom-built contemporary furniture in The Manor. They were hand-crafted in Graaff Reinet or Cape Town, by talented local artisans. Sarah points out, “The Manor has light fittings and table bases that were made by an old guy called Talla Crouse in Graaff Reinet, who is an ironmonger. Plus most of the wooden vanity units in the bathrooms were made locally.”
A restored homestead with modern-day amenities but with echoes of its colonial past, Karoo Lodge caters to individual travellers and families, or may be privatised for up to 20 guests. Each suite is traditionally decorated and balances comfort and the beauty of the African bush. Think refined country-style living with front-row seats of breathtaking views of the mountains and magnificent wildlife. The three suites in the main homestead open onto a wide wraparound veranda with outdoor chairs, and the Sibella suites overlook a waterhole that attracts abundant birdlife. Sarah remarks, “Karoo Lodge was the family home of farmers, then our family home. It’s filled with old wooden floors and yellowwood beams on the ceilings laid over reeds, which have been used for centuries to cool a house in summer and keep it warm in winter. We modernised it somewhat and built all the colonial cottages for our friends. As we have pretty fussy friends, we tried to make them as usable as possible with large open spaces and great views out over the Cape Vulture mountain in the background.”
(Clockwise from top right) A gorgeous hunting lodge welcomes visitors on arrival; Expect to catch the ‘Big Five’ while out on safari; The mountains by night are awe-inspiring; The breathtaking and stunning Karoo landscape
(From left) Dining under the stars is an experience not to be missed at the reserve; The landscape transforms at dusk to provide guests with a totally different feel; Sliding wooden panels allow the master bathroom to open up into the bedroom when necessary, offering guests the luxury of choice