East London - When our ranger leapt out of the game drive vehicle and put it in 4x4 mode we knew we were in for something special - but we weren’t sure if he would be able to top our experiences so far. He did.
When my father, Etienne Creux, and I arrived at Samara Private Game Reserve near Graaff-Reinet three days earlier, we were welcomed by assistant manager Veronica le Gransie. We were warmly greeted and handed cups of hot chocolate, then shown to our suite in the Karoo Lodge and told to make ourselves at home.
That night, we met Jan Dunn, our ranger. He asked us what we wanted to see and discussed some of his plans with us. We agreed to be ready for a drive at 6.30am the next morning.
We went to the bar for a pre-dinner drink and there we met our companions for the rest of our trip.
Lynn Handy and Gary Harding, a couple from the UK, were great travelling companions. Experienced travellers, they were up for anything and enjoyed seeing small animals and birds as much they enjoyed seeing the big animals.
Dinner was a four-course affair with a choice of mains. We ordered Karoo lamb but unfortunately there was a mix-up in the kitchen and we got the hake instead. It was well cooked, but we were a little disappointed. The rest of the courses were delicious.
At 6.15am the next morning we met in the lounge for coffee and rusks before heading to the game vehicle for our first game drive. On the seats of the vehicle were warm ponchos folded on top of hot water bottles, which were placed on top of blankets on the seat. I put on my poncho and put the water bottle on my lap. I was comfortable and ready to see some animals. I wasn’t disappointed.
We saw a female rhino and her baby, giraffe (including two babies), a hare, kudu, warthog, yellow mongoose, zebra, baboons, vervet monkeys, springbok, blue cranes and secretary birds.
Dunn pointed into the bush and asked if we could see two adult female rhino. Then he stopped the vehicle, told us to climb out and made some coffee. We sipped our coffee and kept half an eye on the rhino.
When we were done, Dunn told us we were going to walk into the bush to take a closer look at the rhino. It was exhilarating. Our hearts were pounding as we stepped through the bush and saw the rhino up close. We followed them for a bit as they walked though the bush grazing. When we walked back to the vehicle we felt privileged to be close to such large animals.
Then it was back to the lodge for some breakfast. We then had some down time to read or nap before the evening game drive at 4.30. Lunch was served outside on the veranda we watched the tortoises as we ate our couscous and stir-fired vegetables.
At four we met for tea before the drive. We introduced our new friends to koeksisters, drank coffee and chatted before going out to the vehicle.
We had set Dunn an impossible task, we wanted to see an aardvark. He said we would have had better luck in the winter but he would give it his best shot.
We drove up one of the mountains and stopped at a spot with a great view of the park for sundowners, then headed back down the mountain and started looking for animals in earnest.
Dunn brought out the spotlight and the fun began. We were lucky enough to see two bat-eared foxes and porcupines. We were on the way back to the lodge when I saw it. I shouted out. Dunn stopped the vehicle, swung the light around and there it was - an aardvark ambling along the side of the road. It was not impressed with the light and wandered into the bush. Dunn told the four of us to jump out shine a light on our feet and follow him into the bush. It was a bit chaotic and we lost the aardvark but we had a great time. By the time we got back into the vehicle our adrenaline was pumping.
As we turned into the driveway of the lodge we saw spring hares leaping around on the lawn. Looking up, we saw the lodge lit up with lanterns. It was magical.
We put down our belongings and headed straight to dinner. This evening the staff had put the four of us at one table. We had a cauliflower soup and lamb for mains. The soup was great. The lamb was served with a balsamic reduction and it was perfectly cooked.
Dunn came to see us and we agreed to a 6.30am start the next morning. So we finished our meals and went to bed early. When I went to my room I noticed it smelled nice and discovered the source in the bathroom - the staff had run me a bubble bath. I had a relaxing soak and went to bed.
Five-thirty arrived too soon. Up we got and dragged ourselves through to the lounge for coffee and rusks. Later, Dunn got out the tracker and looked for a collared cheetah.
He had seen her the previous evening and knew where to start looking. We were in luck, as we were driving along she walked across the road in front of the vehicle. Dunn stopped the vehicle and told us to jump out, we were going to follow her up the hill.
We followed closely and listened to all his instructions. She walked ahead of us for a while and then decided to lie down for a bit. She threw herself down and then looked at us over her shoulder. It was great moment standing in the bush looking at a cheetah. She watched us for a while but then decided to walk off. We lost her trail for a while. It is impossible to keep up with such a graceful creature while walking through the bush. We got back into the vehicle and caught up with her again. She walked for a while before again lying down. This time she rolled around in the grass before getting bored and walking off in the bush.
It was a great experience. We drove off and found a great place to have some coffee and a bit of a walk around. But Dunn wasn’t finished with us yet. He took us to a boma where another cheetah was being kept before his release into the park. It was then time to get back to the lodge for breakfast.
Dunn told us the night drive would leave early. We would leave at 2.45 and have tea in the bush. We were excited because it was our last day and we knew he had something special planned.
That afternoon, when Dunn drove the vehicle towards the mountains, we knew this was it. So when he changed the vehicle into 4x4 mode and welcomed us to Wolvekloof, we knew we were in for a treat. Dunn made driving up the dirt road on the side of the mountain look easy.
When we reached the top we were blown away. Instead of a little koppie, we were faced with huge plains with a number of different antelope grazing in every direction we looked. There were gemsbok, black wildebeest and even Cape mountain zebra.
When Dunn stopped the vehicle for our drinks break we jumped off for a walkabout. Without a word, Dunn grabbed the cooler box and disappeared up a path over a small hill and into the bush. We decided to follow him.
When the path ended I was standing on Eagles’ Rock and had the Karoo spread out for kilometres at my feet. While we were sipping our drinks we spotted two birds flying past. They were black eagles!
It had been that kind of trip - everything we wanted to see we saw, and just when we thought it couldn’t get any better it did. I enjoyed every minute of my time at Samara Private Game Reserve and would go back in a heartbeat.