When I had more or less plotted out our road trip itinerary I stepped back and took a look at the map, looking for the large swaths of green that meant a national park and did what I could to include as much as I could in our trip. A visit to Addo Elephant Park was a given. Who doesn’t love elephants, and to see a park that was dedicated specifically to them!? Obviously!
Addo Elephant Park: A Safari Along the Garden Route
Addo Elephant Park is less than an hour drive from Port Elizabeth so it’s easily added to any trip along the Garden Route. We chose to stay inside the park for two nights, but most people we came across were passing through just for the day en route to their next Garden Route destination. So if you’re tight on time in South Africa but want to squeeze in a safari, this is a very easy option. Kruger (being larger than Belgium and more isolated to the northeast) is a larger time commitment, but you can easily cover most, if not all, of Addo in a day.
Give yourself time
Just because you CAN do this park in a day doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. If you have more time, give yourself a couple of days to really enjoy yourself here. It wasn’t at all like Kruger (different topography, game, and smaller size) and we had a completely different experience. We saw a lot of Black Back Jackals, which we hadn’t seen in Kruger. We also listened to them from the deck of our cabin in the evenings as they howled to each other. We saw quite a few Red Hartebeest (antelope pictured above) that we hadn’t come across in Kruger. We were even lucky to see lions twice, even though the park only has 7 or 8 that were brought in to help lower the enormous warthog population. They have not done their job very well.
Benefits of staying at the Main Rest Camp
- Comfortable Accommodation: Before the trip, I had envisioned staying inside the parks as some sort of rustic, camping experience. It was actually extremely comfortable. We spent two nights in a forest cabin at around $60 US a night, we slept like babies with air conditioning and an en-suite bathroom. There are also tents and plenty of other options (including large houses for those traveling with family).
- Dining: There’s a restaurant in the camp with affordable dishes priced around $10 US each. There’s a curios shop that also has basic grocery items or snacks for those preferring to cook. There were full kitchens available and are our cabin had all the utensils and dishes necessary.
- Convenience: Being able to roll out of our bed and into the car at 5:30 when the gates opened was priceless. There’s a lot more action in the park before the heat of the day, so the earlier you start the better.
- For more information about options and prices go to their official site here.
Where to spot game?
Watering Holes: There are quite a few watering holes set next to the road, plan your drive around these and you should definitely see some action. We would pull up as close as we could, put the car in park and easily spend an hour or two just watching. You’d be surprised how long you can spend staring in awe at these beasts. I particularly enjoyed the hierarchy. We pulled up to Carol’s Rest and saw these buffalo above going to town. The zebras sauntered up but kept their distance, waiting their turn. The warthogs didn’t give a shit about anything or anyone, darting underfoot. Eventually, a group of elephants came in and stole the playground from everyone. The real victims here: the zebras, will they ever get a turn?
Main Camp’s Underground Hide: At the Main Camp there’s an area with benches overlooking a watering hole where you can rest your bones and see some game. BUT underneath this is a hidden away blind. This is money. Go there whenever you’re passing through the camp. Be silent, just opening the zipper of my bag to get my camera brought me dirty looks so get prepared before going down there. Silence matters because you are literally meters from the watering hole. You’ll get some up close and personal views here.
Etiquette & Tips
- Obey the speed limit.
- Don’t drive over the dung in the road. Endangered dung beetles breed in it, weave around
- Never get out of your vehicle (except at specified locations). We saw one man who seemed to think the buffalo 50 meters away was just not close enough. He got out of his car, brandishing his cell phone, and walked closer and closer before a game drive guide finally screamed at him to get back in his car, probably saving his life. Don’t be that stupid. At worst, you could get killed, and at best you could get slapped with a large fine and have your photo displayed at headquarters (shame!)
- PACK: Sunscreen (you will burn sitting in your car all day), sunglasses and/or hat, snacks, LOTS of water, camera & SD card with a lot of available storage
The highlight of our time in Addo was one afternoon at Harpoor Dam, we saw hundreds of elephants surrounding the watering hole and more on their way. I am NOT exaggerating. There were a few large herds of elephants already there and a seemingly endless parade on their way. There was an enormous bull working as a crossing guard (seen above). He stood without moving while family after family of elephants crossed the road to reach the watering hole. And when I say enormous I mean it, he made the others seem petite! We parked in one spot for a while watching them cross before moving the car to watch the watering hole itself. After the final elephant crossed the road the big guy went to join them.
When we turned our view to the water it felt like we were watching an everyday scene at a city public pool. Adolescent elephants slid into the water and swam, splashed and play-fought. There was a tiny puddle of a pool that baby elephants splashed in, and the mothers all stood guard on the edge watching carefully. We stayed here for hours!
So, if you’ve made it this far, and you’re still wondering, “Is Addo worth it?”, then there is nothing I can do for you. It was such a fantastic experience, if you’ve been and loved it, or have any questions, comment below!