A GLS Expedition to Samara Private Game Reserve |

The Karoo has served as the test bed for many a new model, with all manner of prototypes nowadays becoming a common sight in the small towns spattered across this vast area of desolation. A road trip with the Mercedes-Benz GLS 400d 4-Matic to the Samara Karoo Reserve, located on the “other side” of the Karoo, proved to be the ideal hunting ground for this capable luxury SUV – the S-Class of premium SUVs.

Pointing the three-pointed star due north, from George, we crossed the Outeniqua Pass to get a first glimpse of the Klein Karoo, before entering the Great Karoo as we passed Uniondale, leaving the coastal mountains behind us and heading towards the escarpment silhouetted on the horizon to the north, and our destination, the Plains of Camdeboo and Samara Private Game Reserve.

Samara Private Game Reserve is a multi-award-winning private game reserve comprising 70,000 acres, much of it reclaimed farmland that has been restored to its former glory and restocked with large game and bird species. Today, thousands of wild animals roam this born-again wilderness, and Samara is working with local stakeholders to extend the conservation area to over three million acres. There is diverse wildlife roaming the reserve, from cheetahs, lions, and large herds of springbok to desert-adapted black rhinos, elephants, and the unusual aardvark.

Surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of mountains that descend into the vast plains of Camdeboo and the greater Graaff-Reinet area, Samara Private Game Reserve is in perfect harmony with its wild surroundings, along with a wondrous sense of space and time.


The Mercedes-Benz GLS 400d 4Matic creates its own sense of space and time. Low noise levels, constant desired interior temperature – thanks to the automatic climate control – and highly comfortable seats made the long journey through the scorching Karoo one of pure enjoyment.

The Mercedes-Benz GLS is even larger than its predecessor, with a 60mm-longer wheelbase that provides increased interior spaciousness, especially in the second row. The three fully electrically adjustable seat rows offer all passengers a generous amount of space and seating comfort. The third row can be lowered into the floor to increase the boot space (up to 2,400 litres), while the seats in the second row fold flat. The seats in the third row are fully-fledged seats that are suitable for people up to 1.94-metres tall.

Combining modern luxury with the character of an off-roader, the GLS 400d gives the driver a sense of control in all driving conditions – both on and off-road. With an enhanced Airmatic air suspension system with Adaptive Damping System Plus fitted as standard, the GLS constantly adapts damping characteristics to the road condition and driving situation in real-time while keeping the car at the same level, regardless of the load on board.


The GLS’ off-road functions include recovery mode when coupled with the optional Off-Road Engineering package: if the GLS has become bogged down in a sand dune, for example, the suspension level is automatically raised and lowered several times, which changes the ground pressure of the tyres and therefore improves traction – the GLS rocks itself free. Individual wheel actuation allows the level at each wheel to be individually adjusted via the touchscreen of the media display, thus improving the vehicle’s alignment on rough terrain when one wheel is stuck in a ditch, or a wheel spring is fully contracted, for instance. This also helps to increase traction and torque at the wheel.

Although badged as a “400”, The GLS 400d is fitted with a 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder turbodiesel engine. Performance is impressive as it generates 243 kW of power and 700 Nm torque. The 9G-Tronic automatic transmission is an absolute pleasure in all driving modes – quick out of the blocks and even more remarkable when passing slower traffic on those long stretches of road that defines the Karoo.


Samara Private Game Reserve offers two intimate five-star owner-run lodges with a true sense of place, offering a quintessentially warm Karoo welcome. Karoo Lodge is a traditional restored homestead that can host up to 18 guests in comfort and exceptional service. Slightly more secluded and intimate, the Manor offers a contemporary interpretation of Karoo style in a villa that can host eight guests. 

We bedded down in the Manor for the duration of our five-night stay. Surrounded by mountains and beautifully decorated by South African interior designer John Jacob Zwiegelaar, the Manor offers four spacious, air-conditioned suites, each with a spacious ensuite bathroom. Each suite also boasts a private patio with an outdoor seating area from which you can enjoy the majestic views.

Our private chef spoiled us, and our friendly butler made sure we did not want for anything. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the Karoo and the conservation mission of the reserve. On every game drive, we were treated to the best game viewing in the Karoo; the highlight was witnessing a female cheetah chasing and catching a springbok for herself and her three cubs. We were fortunate to see the ordeal play off right in front of our eyes and then approached on foot to get a closer look at the mother and her cubs feasting on the catch.

The reserve offers many activities apart from game drives and bushwalks, including tracking sessions, conservation activities, fly camping, kids’ programmes, wilderness picnics and what must be the ultimate experience at Samara, the Star Bed. 

Located on the banks of the Milk River, the raised platform is furnished with a four-poster bed, with only your loved one and the Milky Way for company. This ultimate romantic wilderness experience will take your breath away, while breathing in the vastness of the Karoo landscape, lit by a canopy of stars. 

The reserve is 45 minutes from the picturesque town of Graaff-Reinet, South Africa’s fourth oldest town, steeped in a wealth of history and heritage.

Next time you travel to the Eastern or Western Cape, be sure to include Samara as part of your itinerary. And if you own a Mercedes-Benz GLS, find an excuse to make this trip of a lifetime. You will not be disappointed.


For additional information on Samara Private Game Reserve or to make a reservation, visit, contact the reserve via email at, or telephone +27 31 262 0324.

Report by Wilhelm Loots | Images © Driven / Samara Karoo Reserve


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