Karoo The 5th wonder of our world

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Tourism News
Having a fine wild time in the Karoo
14 January 2011

It is not only the weather that is unpredictable in the Great Karoo. A curious monkey tampering with a transformer plunged the Karoo lodge at Samara Private Game Reserve into darkness just as the chef was preparing dinner for 10 guests, who included a number of international tour operators.
The unfortunate creature was electrocuted, totally blowing the main cable supplying electricity to the lodge, meaning no power and no water. But the chef still managed to rustle up a mouthwatering feast which, to her credit, didn't feature well-done monkey in any form. Instead we tucked into starters of snoek pate and sweet potato soup with home-baked bread followed by a main course of ginger chicken, pork belly kebabs, Karoo lamb and salads.
For dessert we had skutwepadda, a spicy vinegar pudding served with custard.
Once the candlelit meal was over, guests boarded a 4x4 vehicle for a night game drive with ranger Brandon Mandy, who wielded a powerful spotlight.
We snuggled into hooded ponchos and, within moments, spotted red hartebeest, kudu, duiker~ a bat-eared fox and tons of spring hares. The latter look like miniature kangaroos with rabbit heads, their big startled eyes glowing orange in the light as they hop through the veld.
An aardvark, with its pig-like snout and long ears, foraged on the side of the road before ambling into the bush.
The reserve, measuring 28 000ha of indigenous vegetation, encompassing four of South Africas seven biomes, is one of the largest in South Africa, situated on the plains of the Camdeboo close to Graaff-Reinet.
It is owned by British businessman Mark Tompkins and his wife, Sarah, who was born in Johannesburg and spent holidays in the Kruger National park as a child. With a dream to return the game and predators that once roamed the area, the couple bought up 11 farms, removed the fences and began stocking the land with herds of springbok, black wildebeest, zebra, oryx, eland, rhino, giraffe and wild cheetah, last seen in the area 125 years ago.
Early the next morning after coffee and rusks we set off up the mountain driving on a steep track.
On top we were confronted by a sprawling plateau with herds of rare Cape mountain zebra and black wildebeest, with the alpha male giving us a bellowing snort as we drove by.
The day before a baby giraffe was born, all slippery and wet and was just learning to walk on its skinny legs.
One of the highlights of the trip was tracking a cheetah named Sibella on foot with the help of radio antenna.
The cheetah was nearly killed by hunters in Namibia but rescued and rehabilitated at the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust before being released at Samara, where she has reared 18 cubs.
Mandy tells us the batteries in Sibella's collar are running low and she hasn't been spotted for several days but we follow his lead through the bush listening to the beeps from the antenna.
About 40 minutes later we encounter her sitting regally next to a rock.
Her name means queen in Swahili, Mandy says. She's an amazing animal. Sibella looks at us, yawns then saunters off with us in pursuit but keeping a respectable distance.
She then backtracks and walks right past us, paying no attention to the click of cameras.
While driving back to the lodge, Mandy stops the game vehicle and sets up a bar with gin and tonics, chilled white wine and Savannahs. We watch the sunset while snacking on dried fruit, nuts and biltong, and sipping our sundowners.
When we set off again a full moon is rising over the mountain.
Welcome to my office Mandy tells the blackout at the Karoo Lodge turns out to be a bonus because the second night is spent at Mountain Retreat, which is remote and wild and a 30-minute drive up into the mountains.
On the way up Mandy points out a black-backed jackal den where four pups are cuddling together.
There are two bedrooms with en suite bathrooms in a restored 250-yearold Victorian barn and a further three double bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms in the main homestead.
A Jacuzzi on the wrap-around veranda is a good way to cool off after exploring Khoisan paintings of cheetah in the ancient landscape. Groups of up to 10 friends or family can stay in the retreat which can be booked for self catering or have dining laid on.
Mandy and fellow guide Shelley Montile are knowledgeable and keep us entertained with anecdotes of their lives in the bush.
Some visitors, it seems, are as enthralled with the khaki-clad rangers in their rugged vehicles as they are with the wildlife. It's known in the industry as khaki fever but all the salacious details are strictly off the record.
A third accommodation option is the historical manor house, which can accommodate eight guests with four spacious air-conditioned suites, indoor and outdoor showers, free-standing baths and an infinity pool from which to watch game. Children are welcome at Samara and can be kept entertained with adventure safaris and bug hunts.
Samara is about a 2.5-hour drive from Port Elizabeth. The reserve also has a private landing strip for direct charter to the lodge. See www.samara.co.za or e-mail reservations@samara.co.za I Barn ford visited Samara Private Game Reserve as its guest.


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