It is icy cold and deadly silent. Feet firmly planted in the dust, miles of boundless semi-desert stretching ahead, steam rising from a much-appreciated mug of hot chocolate.
It is early morning in Southern Africa. Nothing moves on the broad, never-ending plains of Camdeboo in the Great Karoo. It is an ancient land with more than 9000 species of plants and with the largest variety of succulents found anywhere on earth. Home to rock paintings reflecting the past presence of Khoi-San tribes and fossils dating back some 250 million years.
The first real cold of the approaching winter is here. There is a whisper of snow on the mountains and frost patches show on the yellowed winter grass. Temperatures hover just above zero degrees. In the crisp sunlight the contours of the Sneeuwberg Mountains cut sharp shadow lines through sand and bush. To the right Nyala buck stand motionless in the morning sun.
Then the moment is gone. The buck move on. Wayne Reed, our field guide, waves his arm: Come!
Picnic gear cleared away, wrapped up in blanket-poncho?s, earmuffs in position, hot water bottles in laps and cradled against chests, it?s time to move on, the 4x4 roaring out a steep dirt road up the towering Kondoa Mountain through Wolwekloof Pass.
Below, to the west somewhere on the farm Apieskloof, lies Samara Private Game Reserve?s luxurious Karoo Lodge with its broad stoeps, cosy log fires and old colonial Karoo style interior.
"? a plain of waving yellowed grass?"
Surrounded by a mountain amphitheatre and the 70 000 acres of Karoo land that comprises the five star reserve, the lodge is very much the stuff that African dreams are made of. The sheer elegance of the lodge contrasts with the stark, unforgiving landscape.
A stylish interpretation of the original Karoo farmhouse, it boasts a comfortable living room, snug bar and dining room. With three Lodge Suites in the main building and an additional three free standing Karoo Suites, it caters for family groups and individuals. The suites all have wide verandas and are decorated with antiques, nineteenth-century lithographs from South African artists, zebra skins on the wooden floors and indigenous-wood four-poster beds.
Back at the top of Wolwekloof Pass, a plain of waving yellowed grass comes into view.
Unbelievably, we suddenly seem part of an African wildlife video. Wayne accelerates slightly to keep up with three mountain zebra and a blesbok running along on the left, about a hundred meters away, while on the right hand side, against the backdrop of the Sneeuberg Mountains, black wildebeest are prancing and bouncing about. No wonder the wildebeest are known as the clowns of the bush. And not the prettiest either. Word has it that when God made all the animals these were put together with the leftovers, quips Wayne.
The game drive vehicle progresses towards the edge of the plateau bringing a 180? vista of the Camdeboo plains into view. Far in the distance one can just make out the farmhouse of Cranmere Farm where internationally renowned writer Eve Palmer penned the classic 'The Plains of Camdeboo'. About 100 km away the Cox Comb Mountains shimmer blue near the horizon.
"The last annual springbok migration in this area was in 1896," says Wayne, pointing down to the plains. "Millions of buck passed here, non-stop for two consecutive weeks. And when they were gone, rumour has it that it took another two weeks for the dust to finally settle." Ghostly memories of times past, never to be regained, fill the mind.
"? but no such luck today?"
He takes out his telemetry receiver, pointing it to the sky to pick up the signal of the elusive cheetah in the reserve. Cheetah are the world?s fastest land mammals and Samara has taken great strides to alleviate the dwindling habitats and species integration through a pro-active cheetah rehabilitation project. Two of Samara?s cheetah, Sibella and Beethoven, are collared for research purposes.
The receiver produces a faint bleeping sound. "Let?s see if we can spot one of them in its hiding spot," Wayne suggests and sets off through the veld in the direction of a nearby gorge.
"It is by monitoring the cheetah that we know that they recently caught a fully grown kudu cow and a young wildebeest. Maybe we are lucky enough to find them today. Standing only a few feet from an untamed cheetah is an unparalleled and humbling experience," he says. He searches for a while, but no such luck today. They must be on the other side of the gorge, too far to walk?
Dinner time at Samara. Open log fires create a warm, intimate atmosphere in the dining room, living room and pub. The reed ceilings and African earth colour scheme contribute to the stately, but homely feel.
After a perfect end to a perfect day it?s back to braving the cold and dark for a quick walk to the suite, accompanied by a field guide in case the buffalo that often roam the lawns at night have prepared an unexpected surprise.
In the suite the open fire is burning, the lights are low, the goose down duvet is turned down, a small bottle of Amarula liqueur rests on each pillow. And around the corner, in the spacious bathroom that final detail, that final perfect touch. A hot bubble bath is waiting, two glasses of warming sherry within easy reach, heated towels, bathrobes and slippers an arm length away.
Such is the luxury of Samara? caring hands catering for every need, including those that hadn?t entered the mind yet. Total bliss, complete peace, a magical piece of Africa hidden amidst the wide, Never-ending plains of the mystical age-old space that is the Camdeboo of the Great Karoo.
For more information, and to book, visit www.samara.co.za.