Have you ever imagined a grown man so giddy with delight it was as if he aged back to being an 8 year old boy? I had not until we pulled up to Addo Elephant Park in Eastern Cape, South Africa. Elephants are Maynard’s animal. He LOVES elephants. He was pretty excited to spend 2 days scouting for animal life, but I was just excited to watch Maynard watch the elephants. When we decided to travel South Africa we had a list of must experience events. A safari was one of the first on our list. Originally, we had chosen Kruger, but the price and location did not work with our plans. We were heading South from Johannesburg via the Garden Route towards Cape Town, and we were on a budget. While researching parks in South Africa, Addo was the best fit for everything we wanted – reasonable prices, great accommodations and on our route to Cape Town. Oh and the population of 600 plus elephants had Maynard sold upon reading the name.
Addo had a few different options when it comes to accommodations. We did not see all the options, but we did see the Spekboom Tented Camp which is located inside the park gates. The camp was surrounded by its own safety gates, but the tents are inside the park for an up close night view and listen to the animals. The tented camp did have a curfew and once the gates shut for the night there was not getting in or out until the morning. We stayed at the main camp located just on the outside of the park enclosure gates. The accommodations were impressive. The cabin was huge with a full kitchen, outdoor seating area, porch and private bathroom. Our cabin backed up to its own little forest full of its own wildlife. As we relaxed in the evening, we could hear animal activity coming from the park. At one point, we heard a lion roar and I can not tell you the adrenaline rush we felt. So exciting.
The main camp has a pool, a night waterhole viewing area, restaurant, and lots of activities to keep all their guests entertained. They also have a “last seen” board to advise guests where the animals were last tracked. There are phone apps out there that do the same, but the board is pretty fun for the kids to use. The park offers several types of guided tours in and out of the gates, hikes, and horseback riding. The guides know the park well and know where and when to find the animals. They are able to offer more insight and history regarding the different families of and individual animals. A guided tour was not required to see animals in Addo. We chose not to take a guided tour and don’t feel we missed out on anything. There a few times we felt intimidated by the animals as we sat and gawked from our teeny tiny rental car, but we never felt unsafe. We easily saw 4 of the Big 5 (lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Black Rhinoceros but no view of leopard) and lots more while we motored around the park. The freedom of not knowing what we would find and the surprise of finding the animals on our own was so fun.
We found a fresh dead carcass on our 2nd morning. It was disgusting, but we couldn’t stop staring at it. Our most awe inspiring moment happened when we had stopped on the roadside to watch a pack of elephants from afar. Within minutes the herd started to head our way, as they approached the car they divided and passed our vehicle on both sides. The majority of the herd kept moving but 1 juvenile male stayed behind and kept an eye on us. He lollygagged around our car and stuck out his trunk to explore our car. He stared right at me, raised his trunk to explore through our car window. The parks safety recommendations stress to keep calm and do not move suddenly. I tried really hard to stay silent and calm, but I think I quietly squealed, and he stopped just inches from the window. He seemed to know I got a bit unsure and slowly pulled his trunk away. He continued to hang out by us and gently made noises. After some time we all heard a loud trumpet sound calling from his herd. He perked his ears up, swung his trunk toward us as if waving Goodbye and quickly trotted down the field to join his family. We both giggled, cooed and cried in total disbelief about what we had experienced. We were and still are both convinced that he was communicating with us.
Going to Addo Elephant Park was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream of mine, and reality proved to be vastly superior to any daydream I had. To watch elephants roam the countryside the way they were intended to do was so fascinating. The different herds had fully designed social and hierarchy structures with different roles to be fulfilled by its members. Then add the complex layers of herbivores and carnivores all around and it becomes a truly remarkable experience. Upon entering the park they give you a full color chart with the different types of animals found in the park and a place to check off once you have seen it. Glinda and I were like little kids scanning the horizon for any trace of movement and then fighting over who got to put the check next to our latest find. My time in Addo accounts for two of the best days in my life.
Logistics: A vehicle is mandatory to enter into the park, whether you rent a car or choose to use a tour guide. The closest airport is in Port Elizabeth (PLZ) 75 km away from the park and many car rental agencies are available there. If you are coming internationally, you will need to fly through Cape Town or Johannesburg and then catch a connection to Port Elizabeth. More information regarding tours can be found here and here.
Background: Addo Elephant National Park is a diverse wildlife conservation park situated about 75 km outside of Port Elizabeth in South Africa and is one of the country’s 19 national parks. The original section of the park was founded in 1931, in part due to the efforts of Sydney Skaife, in order to provide a sanctuary for the sixteen remaining elephants in the area. The park has proved to be very successful and currently houses more than 600 elephants among lions, buffalo, black rhino, spotted hyena, leopard, a variety of antelope and zebra species, as well as the unique Addo flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively in Addo on its 1,640 km². Current plans are underway to expand the park into the 3,600 km² Greater Addo Elephant National Park; fingers crossed. (Background info thanks to Addo’s National Park site and Wikipedia.)
Money: South Africa uses the Rand (ZAR) and the best exchange rate is given at the ATM. You would be advised to carry a mixture of cash and cards. Cards will be acceptable almost everywhere, but if the occasion calls for cash ATM’s are not as readily available outside the major metropolitan centers. Keep foreign transaction and conversions fees in mind when making transactions. Using travel cards that have no foreign transactions fees are advised for all international travel.
Recommendable: YES! YES! YES! Addo caters to all budget sizes, families, couples and singles. We look forward to returning and testing out the other overnight accommodations. Checkout their website for current rates and availability.
Have you ever been on a safari? Tell us about it!