White rhinos and buffalos. Pic by Mitch Reardon
It was a cloudy Friday when I landed in Port Elizabeth. Within a few minutes (the airport is quite small), I was at the car rental place with my friend to get our ride to Samara Private Game Reserve, which was about two hours away.

The drive there was nothing like I imagined, given Cape Town’s drought status. The luscious green vegetation featured prominently among scattered patches of brown grassland.

A long, dusty road lay beyond the entrance gates. Of course, as far as rides go, a sedan was a poor choice for those bumps and dips. At the same time, the storm that had been threatening to arrive did so with a vengeance.

When we finally arrived at the five-star Karoo Lodge (we missed the signage and got a bit lost), the staff were on hand with umbrellas and welcome refreshments. After a quick tour of the renovated farmhouse, which boasts charming colonial-style furniture complemented by modern-day comforts (like wi-fi), the hunger pangs reminded me of my foolishness in deciding against grabbing breakfast at the airport in favour of grabbing something en route. It wasn’t to be.

Despite it being 3.30pm, the chef whipped up these delicious Karoo burgers with wonderfully sautéed veggies.Given the weather, we opted out of the afternoon game drive. Chilling on the wide veranda, we got to witness an entrancing view of double rainbows, which made me feel like a kid again.

There are nine double rooms at the farmhouse, which is perfect for couples, families or just friends. There are children’s activities too. Aside from the game drives, there are walking safaris, wilderness picnics and volunteer programmes. If you prefer something more adventurous, there’s also an opportunity to track cheetah on foot.

There are romantic options on offer as well.

The cancelled boma dinner of the night was replaced by an intimate candlelit buffet where the chicken pâté was to die for. There were meat, chicken and veggie options. Each dish, whether grilled or curried, was seasoned to perfection.

Stuffed, it was off to bed as we were booked for a 6am game drive.

It was a bitterly cold Saturday morning, but the sunrise was worth the shivers as well as numb hands and feet.

Our game ranger, Jan Dunn, spotted fresh rhino tracks. Using his makeshift aerial, he was relentless in trying to locate them but they were better at playing hide and seek.

In the interim we spotted a leap of leopards, blending beautifully into their habitat while basking in the unexpected sunshine.

Then Jan suggested the group get off the safari vehicle for a closer look.

We had to move stealthily in single file, mindful of not making any sudden movements. The rush of being a few feet away from these magnificent big cats was something else.

The next sighting was a tower of giraffes, gracefully meandering about in the grass. Of course, Jan was still determined to find those elusive rhinos.

He eventually caved in and took a mid-morning break.