This is how the eco-adventurer glamps

The new Plains Camp in Samara Karoo Reserve serves up extraordinary experiences with a dollop of luxury.

By Ingrid Wood
Samara Plains Camp-dining mess tent © Honest Work Maike Mcneill.jpg

If you fall into that luxury-loving category of travellers who prefer to avoid crowded spaces and resorts, Plains Camp combines the service and comfort of an upscale lodge with the solitude and tranquillity of the wilderness. Add to that exceptional close-to-wildlife experiences, off-grid style living and a commitment to eco-tourism and sustainability, and there is an enormous attraction for the discerning traveller who is looking to revel in the mindful, quiet luxury of an explorer-style tented camp. These are the indulgences that will draw me back to Samara Plains Camp…

Picnic panorama – Samara Mara Karoo landscape

Space, stars, silence

I had time to acclimatise to the vastness of Samara as the road trip from Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport (formerly known as Port Elizabeth Airport) to the reserve took us along the R75, which connects Gqeberha and Graaff-Reinet, with the last 15km being a gravel road. But I was still not quite prepared for the vistas and space that awaited me. Samara is located in the Camdeboo region of the Great Karoo, loosely translated from the San language as ‘place of the green hills’, which is the westernmost extent of one of just 36 Global Biodiversity Hotspots. The view from my tent was of the plains of the Camdeboo, with flat-topped hills and mountains in the distance. It’s a soothing vista and at that moment when the sun sets and the dust settles, it is magical and soulful.

Samara plains camp guest tents © Honest Work Maike Mcneill

A fireplace in my tent

And a sheepskin throw on my bed…Yes, there is a fireplace in each tent and it’s safe, thanks to the specially sourced fire-retardant canvas tents (one of the few things that were not sourced from the local community). With full stomachs and sleepy eyes, it’s a treat on a chilly night to return to a cosy tent and fall asleep to a crackling fire and a warm water bottle under the blankets. There are only four tents so total guest occupancy is never more than eight, and each has a spacious bedroom area, desk, solar lamps, a bathroom with a flushable loo (this is glamping, not camping after all) and a ‘bucket shower’ which is filled with hot water on request. All the Karoo-style furnishings are by local artisans in support of the local economy.

Samara plains camp guest tent bedroom and view © Honest Work Maike Mcneill

Off the grid

There is low to no connectivity, which may not work for some, but which I was more than happy to indulge in for a couple of days. It’s amazing that once you know you cannot send an email or receive a text, the work worries are set aside, and one really can be in the moment. There is a power bank in the communal mess tent where phones and cameras can be charged and on leaving the camp there are patches of signal if you must connect. (The other lodges on Samara Reserve have connectivity.) Water purification is done via a non-electric Biorock water treatment system and fully biodegradable amenities are supplied in the bathrooms, while solar lights and lanterns make evenings romantic and cosy. The tasty farm-style meals cooked over a braai come with delicious surprises, and water is provided in refillable glass bottles for use during your stay.

Samara plains camp open fire dining © Honest Work Maike Mcneill
Samara plains camp -walking safari coffee stop © Honest Work Maike Mcneill

Close encounters

There are not many places where walking safaris are part of the experience, but at Plains Camp, the key focus is on guided bush walks. Safety is always top of mind and the wide open spaces make the experience even more incredible as there is plenty of game in every direction, from herds of oryx and eland to springbuck and wildebeest. We were privileged to track cheetahs on foot and watch a mother and her sub-adult cubs on their family walk, as well as gain proximity to rhino – a humbling half hour of gazing at these magnificent animals, which are even more massive when faced on foot than from the vantage of a vehicle. But it’s not just about the big and bold, each off-the-beaten track journey is a discovery of the smaller things that are never visible from a game vehicle. We followed tracks, learnt about plants and the biomes, listened to bird calls, found ostrich eggs and saw where rhinos had passed based on the smoothly rubbed posts. Game drives are included too, and I admit I was relieved to view the six lions from the safety of the vehicle, especially after witnessing the speed at which the black-maned male moved when the younger males taunted him, and only noticing the one female sleeping flat under a tree, not three metres from us, as we were about to leave!

Lion at rest, Marnus Ochse

On top of the world

The final seal on the Samara appeal was a drive to the top of the world. The view took my breath away in more ways than one (thanks to the icy wind courtesy of a fresh layer of snow on the aptly named Sneeuberg Mountain). Fondly called the Samara Mara in reference to the famous Masai Mara, home to the epic Great Migration, the view from the mountain plateau of the plains below dotted with game is a close second to the famous grasslands. The vantage point also offers the chance to breathe in mountain air that clears the senses and resets the mind. It’s those kinds of moments that fill the soul. And it’s those kinds of experiences that are a reminder that living in the now is the new luxury. 

Samara cheetah tracking on foot – Great Karoo South Africa

Plains Camp is running a launch special of R4 750 per person per night sharing on a Stay 3 Pay 2 basis, inclusive of meals, twice daily safari activities and accommodation. Valid for travel dates up to and including 30 September 2023. Terms and conditions apply. 

In addition to Plains Camp, the 67 000-acre Samara Karoo Reserve has two luxury lodges. 

The Manor sleeps up to eight and Karoo Lodge, which will reopen on 15 December 2023 after an extensive renovation, sleeps 24 guests. For more info go to www.samara.co.za and for reservations, call 031 262 0324 or email  reservations@samara.co.za

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