Currently the third largest national park in South Africa, the Addo Elephant National Park, near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, is becoming a firm favourite amongst visitors from all over the globe. In the early centuries, big herds of wild animals inhabited the Addo region, living side by side with indigenous peoples. With the increase of modern farming activities, the struggle between man and beast intensified and took its toll on the elephant population until only 11 elephants remained in 1931 – this led to the proclamation of the Elephant Park. Over the decades the park has expanded to conserve a wide variety of African fauna and flora. Since the park was extended to the coast, the unique Addo Park has become the only national park in the world to conserve the Big 7 – this is the Big 5 (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino) as well as the southern right whale and great white shark off the Algoa Bay coast.
For many the main motivation to visit the Addo Park is to get a glimpse of all the Big 7 members, but from personal experience I am going to share my 7 reasons why I will go back time and time again.
Stretching from the semi-desert Karoo area in the north, over the craggy Zuurberg Mountains, to the Indian Ocean in the south, Addo covers a wild and wonderful landscape including the Bird and St Croix Island groups. Caves in the picturesque Zuurberg Mountains contain valuable examples of rock art and stone implements. Rolling sand dunes of the Alexandria dunefield are home to archaeological sites of the nomadic Strandloper people who lived here hundreds of years ago. The vegetation is interesting, ranging from arid Karoo plants to coastal grassy plains; from almost impenetrable thicket (elephant habitat!) to Cape fynbos and forests. A soft-wooded, almost evergreen compact shrub or small tree, called the spekboom, grows in abundance in Addo. Hilltop lookout points provide panoramic vistas over the diverse landscape and the multi-coloured sunsets are breath-taking.
Herds of elephant
Very, very few places in the world give you the opportunity to watch herds of 30 or more elephant – grumpy bulls, vigilant mothers, annoying teenagers and tiny toddlers – in their natural environment and way of life. A favourite spot for elephant watching is the Hapoor Dam. The dam was named in honour of the legendary elephant who was the dominant bull in the park for 24 years.
When an elephant arrives at a waterhole, the routine is most entertaining to watch: many hours of walking under the African sun and stripping leaves off the bush to nourish such a big body, leaves one thirsty! After drinking up to 200 litres of water, it is time for a beauty spa: spout water all over yourself with your handy power-shower trunk, roll in the golden brown dust, shake yourself, and you are ready for another day!
King of the jungle
Finding a lion or two in the enormous wildlife park, is always the highlight of any safari. It almost gives you a feeling of personal achievement; you are filled with admiration for this powerful hunter. When you have the luck as a tourist to spend hours with two male lions lying right next to the road, so near that you can count the thorns in their paws, you know it is an once-in-a-lifetime privilege! One of South Africa’s most well-known lions, fondly named Sylvester because of his free spirited individualism and his tendency to push the boundaries, has also recently found a home (and love!) in the ADDO Park.
The powerful African Buffalo is characterised by the heavy upward curving horns, and a rather mean look in the eyes… They are natural ‘lawn mowers’ as they can reduce a savanna environment to a short grassy area where other browsing animals can easily feed. Lion love to prey on buffalo – it provides a huge meal for the whole family! But this is scary work because when a buffalo is attacked, the rest of the herd will rush to its defence, and a few infuriated buffalo can stave off an attack by an entire pride of lions. Hunters regard a wounded buffalo as exceptionally dangerous and that is one of the reasons why this animal is included into the honorary circle of the Big Five. Buffalo are the topic of many hunting adventure stories, myths and legends that are told and retold around camp fires.
Quite a few species of antelope thrive in Addo; the climate and the vegetation just suit them perfectly. Without a doubt, the shy kudu is the most beautiful of these. Their brownish-grey skin colour, with a touch of white here and there, provides the perfect camouflage in the wild. Actually, everything about the kudu is special: the regal way in which a bull carries his impressive horns like a crown, the soundless grace of movement, the big ears catching every little sound like satellite dishes.
White with black stripes or black with white stripes? Who knows, and who cares … zebra are every photographer’s dream! They are abundant in Addo Park and each and every one has a different pattern; there is no blueprint for zebra! When a zebra calf is born, his mother shields him with her body from the rest of the group for the first few hours of his life so that her unique skin pattern is imprinted in his memory and thereafter he will have no problem finding her amongst hundreds of zebra.
Colourful, with its shiny red-brown skin, black markings and white abdomen, the red hartebeest is a conspicuous antelope. Though the long face gives the hartebeest a somewhat forlorn look, they are actually very happy in Addo – as long as they do not catch the attention of Sylvester and his lionesses!
Though they will probably never win a beauty contest, the hundreds of warthogs are the clowns of the park. They have the peculiar habit of kneeling on their front knees while feeding and around the waterholes they dig and wallow in the mud with obvious pleasure.
Normally they move around in one of three social groups: a single parent mum with one or two piglets; a group of smart bachelors; or a lone big boar with vicious teeth. And, when they run off, their little tails stick straight up into the air – like radio antennae, ready to intercept any news of a happening somewhere…
In this animal kingdom, human visitors are more than welcome. Addo Rest Camp offers a variety of comfortable accommodation options. The units are situated within easy walking distance of each other and of facilities such as the swimming pool, restaurant and shop. Lush vegetation around each chalet ensures valued privacy and a sense of being ‘in the bush’, exactly what you want on a safari. The restaurant has an inviting outdoor terrace where you can relax with a drink in the hand and the sound of sunbeatles in your ears. A unique feature in the camp is the waterhole lookout point, floodlit at night. However, the gathering place of animal lovers is the underground hide, allowing you to see and hear and smell wildlife up close and personal and at eye level. The evening quietude is interrupted with the calls of lion, jackal and hyena while bokmakierie announce each dawn.
Jack’s Picnic Spot is a well-planned fenced area, where you can stop, safely get out of your vehicle and stretch your legs. There is a restroom, picnic tables and private barbecue facilities. Plan your day to stop at Jack’s for a leisurely brunch. While you wait for the coffee water to boil, you can hum to yourself, ‘Memories are made of this’…
If you want to see the Big 7 in your lifetime, add the Addo National Elephant Park in South Africa to your ‘to do’ list today!
Celine Renaud is Head of Sales for Leo Trippi.
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