In 2000 Mark and Sarah Tompkins bought Monkey Valley, a clapped-out sheep farm in the Eastern Cape, and decided to reintroduce the game that once roamed this region’s immense plains. Within a few years, the couple had snapped up 11 neighbouring farms and begun rehabilitating the scarred and eroded land to create what is now 66,700 acres of dense thicket, mountains and valleys and high-plateau grassland that rivals the Masai Mara. From the top of Mount Kondoa, where guests are dispatched with upmarket picnics, there are magnificent views across the surrounding Camdeboo Plains that reset heartbeats and elicit sharp whistles.
Mark and Sarah started bringing back the traditional wildlife by opening a cheetah sanctuary (the population of these endangered big cats was dwindling fast) that remains at the heart of Samara, and they have slowly added antelope and giraffe, Cape Mountain zebra, buffalo and most recently black rhino. There are three intimate and very beautiful lodges, two of which – show-stopping Manor House and the rustic Mountain Retreat – are available as private villas. The third, Karoo Lodge, has just 10 suites. So, with fewer than 40 guests on Samara any one time, it’s a given there will always be plenty of elbow room to kick back in solitude and silence to soak up the sparkling light and blanched blue skies of this astonishing Great Karoo landscape.