Emma Stevens reports from Addo Elephant Park, South Africa
The drive from Montagu on the Route 62 is amazing, with the jagged mountains and hair-raising bends of the Berger and Outeniqua Pass and the arid plains of the Klein Karoo. I felt as if the landscape had not changed since time began. The only modern additions being the odd windmill and electricity lines. We passed through small dorps along the route, children walking in the chilly dawn on their way to school. (Even though I could not see a school for miles). We spotted several wildlife en route including a large troupe of vervet monkeys, several meerkat lined up on the road, a few mongoose, and numerous ostrich. This route has many ostrich farms as well as hundreds of Karoo sheep, cows and goats. As we entered the Eastern Cape, the landscape became less mountainous and greener, evidence of the wetter climate in this region. We also passed many citrus groves and vineyards. After an enjoyable 7-hour drive we arrived at Addo.
This National Park was established in 1931 after poachers and farmers decimated the elephant population in the area. Left with only 11 elephants it is now home to over 600 elephants as well as zebra, lion, rhino, buck and a wide variety of bird life. It is the 3rd largest National Park in SA and is malaria free. There is a range of accommodation from self-catering chalets to even a wild bush camp experience. It is easier to use your own vehicle although guided tours are available. The restaurant on site is a Cattle Baron (SA steak house chain) serving a full range of dishes and drinks.
On the first afternoon we drove into the park (most of the accommodation is understandably located outside the main camp gates). We saw some animals including the rare black backed jackals, zebra, kudu and some very funny warthogs. There was also a helicopter circling overhead, directing the game rangers who were on foot with rifles casually slung over their shoulders. On our way out we enquired from the warden at the gate as to why they were searching. He explained that 21 black-backed jackals had recently been found dead and they were collecting carcasses for analysis.
We stayed in a small self-catering chalet that was fairly basic but clean. The shower was hot, the kitchen was adequately equipped and the views over the park excellent. The boundary fence just 10 metres from the veranda and ideal for spotting game. It is necessary to bring your own food if you don’t want to eat each meal in the restaurant. I would also advise bringing your own entertainment, as there are no TVs or radios.
Obviously the Addo Park is famous for its elephants and on day 2 we were treated to a spectacular display of these magnificent beasts. We stopped by Harpoor Dam to watch a small family group of elephants. More and more joined them! Elephants just kept appearing across the landscape to drink and play in the dam and to greet each other excitedly. Baby elephants stayed close to their mothers. Teenagers splashed noisily in the water, squirting each other and swimming. As soon as each family group arrived, (there are 7 groups in the park) they drank vast amounts of water (elephants need approx 200 litres per day).
The whole display was wonderful and we sat for at least an hour watching and photographing over 100 elephants. As well as the amazing elephant display we saw various other wildlife. One of the funniest being the warthog running around at the water hole near the elephants. One group of 3 indignantly strutted towards the water looking irritated that their morning drinking session had been interrupted by hoards of elephants. The baby elephants’ favourite game appeared to be “lets chase the warthogs”!! They would charge towards the unsuspecting warthogs trumpeting loudly constantly chasing them away.
Day 3’s highlight was particularly special. As we entered the reserve, a ranger told us that a lion had been spotted at Rooidam. We quickly headed off in eager anticipation and were rewarded by the sight of a very large male lion guarding the carcass of an enormous kudu, which he had killed in the night. Half of its stomach was eaten away, quite a gory sight. Later in the day, after a picnic at Jack’s picnic spot and having seen more elephants, warthogs, tortoise, jackals, mongoose, zebra and various buck we returned to Rooidam to see if the lion was still there. We were in luck. As expected he had not moved far, given the size of his last meal.
Shortly after we arrived more elephants came down to the dam running in excitement to the water’s edge. The babies sandwiched between the older females protecting them from predators. (Lions attack baby elephants). A large old female elephant with her trunk vertical, wandered in the direction of the lion. She had obviously scented his presence close by. Suddenly she trumpeted loudly and charged towards where he was lying. He leapt up and ran for his life while she chased after him for at least ½ a kilometre. Minutes after this incident, an enormous bull elephant started mating noisily with one of the females from the herd. This sent a signal to other bulls in the vicinity as several charged out of the bush towards them. Unfortunately our car was in their way! I threw my camera down and reversed as quickly as possible to clear their route.
We sat quietly watching the aftermath of this excitement. After the lion and mating incidents, the elephants seemed quite agitated. A number stood blocking the road, which meant that no one could move their vehicles for at least 45 minutes!
I don’t think in my lifetime I will ever see another event such as this. That is what makes visiting a wildlife reserve so special and enjoyable. Every day one sees something new and exciting and this day was no exception. Addo in my opinion is definitely worth a visit. However, if you do have the time, the Kruger National Park is still top of my list in terms of game viewing in South Africa.