Reoccupation: Chilli, one of two adult cheetahs in the Samara reserve, and one of her cubs. Picture: LESLEY STONES
Reoccupation: Chilli, one of two adult cheetahs in the Samara reserve, and one of her cubs. Picture: LESLEY STONES

The Land Rover is tilting at a precarious angle as we drive slowly up a mountain. None of the other passengers looks nervous, so I relax and place my trust in ranger Julius Mkhize as we grind up 1,300m from the Plains of Camdeboo to a plateau on the surrounding mountains.

There’s a chill on top as we cross scrubland dotted with rare Cape Mountain zebras and wacky wildebeest chasing one another like cartoon characters.

Then we’re walking to the edge of a plateau, inching onto Eagle’s Rock and thinking inevitable thoughts about tumbling over the edge into oblivion. One of our crew hangs back with an attack of vertigo.

The views are magnificent even in the haze. Mkhize scans the broad plains with binoculars and spots a solitary rhino in Samara Private Game Reserve far below.

We are astonished by vast views of the plains we had walked across earlier, tracking cheetahs and spotting other wild animals. The views are spectacular enough to be an attraction.

Mkhize leads us away from the precipice and parks for sundowners as dusk’s golden blaze lights up the mountains. Then we’re bumping back down the mountainside to the Manor House, where housekeeper Candice Afrika is waiting to serve supper.

With a dedicated team of housekeepers and a chef, guests at the Manor House never need to visit the larger main lodge at Samara, a 15-minute drive away.

Instead, you live in opulent but tasteful splendid isolation with four en-suite bedrooms, endless intriguing ornaments to ponder, patios and lounges to relax in, a full kitchen, a welcoming bar and a skinny swimming pool.

Samara is a 40-minute drive from Graaff-Reinet and three hours north of Port Elizabeth.

It’s the sort of place where you guard your time jealously, happy to chill on a settee watching monkeys skitter around the garden, and downing drinks in between the hot-cooked breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and four-course supper.

One afternoon a cheerful masseuse set up a massage table on my strip of the wrap-around patio. Vervet monkeys squabbled with baboons in the trees outside as I was pushed and pummelled into utter relaxation. It isn’t difficult.

But there are cheetahs to be tracked, so the next morning, we saddled up at 7am for a game drive — no need for that up-before-dawn malarkey when there are no other predators to catch in the act.

Samara reintroduced the first cheetah to the area in 125 years when it released Sibella and two males 12 years ago. Sibella had been savaged by farm dogs and was nursed back to health by the De Wildt cheetah sanctuary.

Her daughter, Chilli, is now one of two adults in the reserve, both fitted with microchipped collars so the rangers can track them to make sure they’re safe and for cheetah research. The chips are handy for tourists, too, because after an hour of walking behind a bleeping radio antenna, we spot Chilli with her four cubs.

They’re accustomed to being observed from a distance, and we silently watch the cubs cavort and wrestle with each other to hone their hunting skills.

They’ll certainly need their wits about them when the lions are introduced.

• Stones was a guest of Samara Private Game Reserve.

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