Great Wines and Food in the Wilderness of the Great Karoo

Award-winning Samara Karoo Reserve is a conservation journey on 67 000 acres of born-again wilderness in the Great Karoo. Located 270km from Port Elizabeth and 53km from Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape, Samara is easily accessible by road or by air, but retains a remote wilderness feel. Experience South African wine and wilderness like never before.

Five vegetation biomes combine with strikingly varied topography to support over 60 mammal species. These include the Big Five, cheetah, aardvark and vast herds of desert-adapted antelope, as well as 225 bird species.

Restoring Biodiversity: Samara’s Conservation Story

Samara’s story is also distinctive, a passionate rewilding project that began in 1997 and continues to this day. Samara’s founders Mark and Sarah Tompkins were inspired by tales of a long-lost Karoo – a wilderness in which millions of springbok once grazed, the now-extinct quagga roamed, and prides of black-maned Cape lion reigned supreme. The loss of this biodiversity through hunting, livestock overgrazing, and other human activities posed a formidable challenge.

An ambitious program of land restoration and wildlife reintroduction has seen the return of more than a dozen mammal species, including the first lion, cheetah, black rhinoceros, and elephant to step foot back on the land in over 130 years. Certain species, like the Cape vulture and leopard, have returned of their own accord – a testament to the reserve’s rewilding success. Today, still pursuing Samara’s mission with as much fervor as its founders, is second generation Isabelle Tompkins.

Samara vehicle tracking animals in the mountain landscape of south africa
A Samara vehicle tracking one of their tagged animals for conservation

Culinary Excellence and South African Wine

The attention to detail also includes mouthwatering dishes and an extensive wine list, which includes some of South Africa’s best boutique wines. Dining at Samara takes place around the villa and lodge and its grounds, from indoor crystal dinners in the dining room or on the verandah, to outdoor dining on the lawn under the trees or in various spectacular bush locations.

A luxury picnic in the Karoo wilderness
A luxury Samara picnic against the backdrop of the Karoo landscape

“The one thing that makes a good bottle of wine an excellent one, is the people it is shared with. Wine is, perhaps, the closest thing the planet has to an elixir of life.”

Marnus Ochse – Manager

Manager, Marnus Ochse, says their selection of fine wines from across South Africa has been handpicked for quality and taste, with a preference for family-owned, boutique vineyards producing unusual varietals through ecologically regenerative methods, some of which are not available to be purchased by the public.

A Wine List for the Adventurous Palate

The wine list has a wide variety of some of South Africa’s premium wine estates and includes Cap Classique and sparkling wines such as the Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Satin Nectar, Pierre Jourdan Brut and Leopards Leap Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir.

For white wine lovers, the choices offered include award-winning wines such as the Creation Reserve Chardonnay and Creation Cool Climate Chenin Blanc; and Waterford Estate Chardonnay. Red wine lovers will not be disappointed with premium wines such as the Beyerskloof Pinotage; Creation Reserve Merlot and Creation Pinot Noir; Kevin Arnold Shiraz; the Simonsig Labyrinth and Simonsig – Merindol Syrah; and Waterford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Waterford Estate Grenache Noir.

The wines by the glass are all from Simonsig Wine Estate in Stellenbosch and consists of a Chenin blanc, Cabernet Shiraz blend and dessert wine.

Selecting the Most Unique and Varied South African Boutique Wines

Marnus says: “We have a selection of 21 white wines, 36 red wines, 2 Rose’s and 5 sparkling wines and Cap Classiques. Four to five wines are chosen per cultivar, but vineyards in different regions are chosen to give variety, based on the quality and taste of the wines.

“Our wine list changes in small areas such as cultivar choice, new selection of wines or with menu changes once a year. My wife and myself attend an annual event called “Stoep Tasting” hosted by the Karoo Wine Club in Graaff-Reinet, and here unique and small vineyards come to display their selection of wines.

“So this is an excellent opportunity for us to meet new small or family owned South African wine farms and taste their different wines.  A lot of the current wines on our wine list were sourced here.”

The menus change seasonally and the variety of boutique South African wines available definitely compliments the menu.

Stylish young girl with foxy hairstyle in modern straw hat and cool summer outfit posing with glass with champagne outdoor..
The seasonal wine list curated by Samara ensures variety, with a focus on quality, taste and ecologically regenerative winegrowing.

Immersive Adventures and World-Class Lodgings

Three accommodation options only hosts a handful of visitors: Karoo Lodge, a renovated farmstead overlooking an amphitheater of mountains; The Manor, an elegant villa in a Karoo contemporary style; and the new explorer-style Plains Camp which evokes the era of mobile safaris with a focus on grounding experiences in Nature.

Activities on offer include game drives, bush walks, wilderness picnics, conservation activities, a star bed, fly camping, mountain biking and photographic safaris. Children of all ages are welcomed with a dedicated children’s program.

vehicle taking guests on a safari through the karoo at Samara
Rekindle your sense of adventure and keep a lookout for African game on your Samara Safari

The Manor’s unique warm design reflects the local landscape and traditions with a light, modern twist. Upon arrival the eye is drawn through the glass double doors flanked by beadwork and antiques to the breathtaking views beyond, where the mountain landscape unfolds over a 21m infinity pool descending to a waterhole.

Samara manor house living room with fireplace
It doesn’t get better than sipping a fine vintage next to the cozy fireplace of Samara’s manor house
Manor house at Samara
Warm, eclectic and inviting, one immediately feels at home in the Manor House

Sleeping Under the Karoo Stars

Samara’s star bed offers an unforgettable romantic wilderness experience. Located in total seclusion in a riverside location, the mosquito net covered four-poster bed sits atop a raised platform with panoramic views of mountain and sky, designed for tranquil nights absorbing the serenity of the Great Karoo landscape. The star bed experience starts just before sunset with a picnic dinner and sundowner.

Samara star bed in the Karoo
Get unparalleled view of the Karoo stars in Samara’s Star Bed
Samara Star bed in the Karoo
The warm South African evenings lend themselves to these luxury outdoor experiences

Guests can enjoy the spectacular view across the mountain landscape and watch as local wildlife descends to the river to drink while sipping on award-winning South African wines. As the night sky develops, guests will be in a prime position to admire the canopy of constellations that gathers overhead.


Herb-crusted rack of lamb with minted kidney bean puree, served with sautéed vegetables (Serves two people)

karoo lamb and waterford wine
Succulent, sustainable Karoo lamb pairs incredibly well with Waterford’s exquisite 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon

Herb-crusted rack of lamb with minted kidney bean puree served with sautéed vegetables (enough for two people)

Ingredients for the lamb

  • Rack of Lamb (3-4 bones), chime bone removed and frenched
  • 50 gm White Bread with crust removed
  • 25 gm Clarified Butter
  • 2 tbsp Grainy mustard
  • Handful of mint, parsley, rosemary


In a blender, process white bread and herbs. Transfer crumbs to bowl, add butter and seasoning.

Salt and pepper the rack of lamb and sear. Place on rack, to permit juice to drip.

Cover meat with mustard followed by herb crust. Roast lamb at 180 °C for 10-15 minutes depending on the size of the loin.

Minted kidney bean puree


  • 410g (1 tin) kidney beans
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 5ml mint, finely chopped
  • 30ml olive oil
  • Lemon juice, splash


Sauté garlic until soft, not brown. Add to beans with mint, olive oil and lemon juice. Puree with a stick blender.

Sautéed vegetables


  • 2 carrots
  • 4 baby marrows
  • 4 x Patty Pans
  • 8 cocktail tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp salted butter
  • Salt & pepper


Wash, peel and cut vegetables. Blanch vegetable in a pot for 2-3 minutes, rapidly boiling water. Remove vegetables from the pot and place on a dry rack. Heat the salted butter in a frying pan. Add the vegetable to the frying pan with salt and pepper to taste. Fry for 2 minutes.

Plate and enjoy.

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BY Maryke Roberts | November 9, 2023

Maryke is an award-winning, Cape Winelands based journalist who has been writing about local and international wine and travel for over three decades. When she's home, her days are almost exclusively concluded with a walk on the beach and a glass of South African fine wine or spirits.

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