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I've been to Addo Elephant Park several times over the past few years when I've been traveling around South Africa (also known as my favourite place on earth!). It is the absolute must go place if you pang to see elephants in the wild as its an almost foregone conclusion that you WILL see elephants - and probably several other species of animal as well. The park was set up in 1931 in order to provide a protection for elephants whose numbers were dwindling at the time.
Addo Elephant Park is situated just outside of Addo, about 45 minutes from the town of Port Elizabeth on South Africa's southern coast. From Port Elizabeth, we took the main N2 road towards Grahamstown and then turned off left when we saw signs towards Addo Elephant Camp. Its not a hard drive, but once you leave the N2 the road isn't completely great as there are some potholes and so you need to take care while driving. The long stretch of road from the N2 mostly is without streetlights and so if you're traveling there in the dark (as I have done on one occasion) then its important to take even more care. Its a long straight road and its practically impossible to get lost......even for me!
There are several gates into the park, but I've always gone in through the main gate because its the gate that is easiest to find and its also got the visitor centre there.
***The Visitor Centre***
As you drive into the main gate you have to pay a conservation fee which, at the time of our visit, was R130 (about £11.50) for foreign visitors per person per day. This gives you access into the park and to the visitors centre. I think this is pretty good value because we've always spent a whole day there whenever we've been.
The Visitors Centre is the first area you come to when you drive through the main gate. Its here that you can find toilets, a restaurant, a souvenir shop and the office where you can book guided safaris.
The restaurant is okay - but certainly nothing special. You can't go wrong if you grab a burger or a steak and although its not memorable, it will fill a hole. If you're choosing to eat at popular times (between 12-2 mostly) it does get pretty busy and so if you're in a big group its worth booking a table. I do find it a little odd that you can eat ostrich and kudu here when the chances are you've just been taking photos of them in the main park area!
***Driving through the park***
We've always taken the option to self-drive in the park as its easy driving on tarmac or gravel roads and a 4 wheel drive is not necessary. Basically I found driving round the park very unstressful as there is hardly zero traffic and it just feels very relaxing to be driving around in search of elephants. Its all done at a very unhurried pace - and I think in many ways, the more unhurried you are when you drive round, the more you will be rewarded. And the fact that I'm the one doing the driving kind of makes me feel like its more of an adventure because anything I come across is something that I personally have found - and its just mine for that moment. There are many examples, but here are a few memorable experiences:
I remember being sat watching a herd of elephants playing in the waterhole. They seemed completely oblivious to my presence and played like toddlers would in a paddling pool.
Another time I came across to big bull elephants fighting which was a little unnerving as they were really going for each other, but I kept my distance and just sat and watched them right through to the resolution of the challenge.
I also remember sat watching some antelope and this little family or warthogs walked past with piglets that could have been no more than a few days old. They stopped not far from the car and the infant warthogs started feeding from their mother - which was wonderful to watch.
I've seen buffalo, various antelope, hyena, cervets, warthogs, zebra, black rhino, elephants (of course), ostrich - and the notorious dung beetle which are a protected species within the park. But the speciality here is, without doubt, the elephants which you can find in massive herds throughout the park - or as single nomadic males.
There are trails to follow - or routes to follow - but to be honest they are not easy to follow at all and inevitably I ended up finding myself off the trail I was trying to be on and found myself on another one. It can get a bit frustrating - but once I gave up trying to be too ordered and just went with my instinct it was much more enjoyable.
I guess for some this park could be a little sedate as its not really about searching for the elusive lion kills or bombing around the park ticking animals off your list. But its a place to enjoy nature, to contemplate and reflect - and to do while watching some of the worlds most wonderful and sophisticated animals.
***Organised Sundown Safari***
On one occasion we went on an organised sundowner safari where you go on one of the big 4 x 4 open-air jeeps with a small group of other people. This was organised at the visitors centre and cost R285 (about £25) per person and allowed you to go into the park with a guide once all other visitors had left the park and be there as the sun gets lower in the sky and the animals become more active. Once the sun starts to set, the jeep stops and you get out and have a glass of wine and a few snacks - hopefully watching a beautiful sunset.
To be honest, I think if you've had a good day driving around the park then I'm not sure you gain anything more from driving around in the jeep - especially if you're going to be doing another safari while you're in South Africa. Although the guide does share some information with you, its nothing that you can't find out from a guidebook. Don't get me wrong.....its perfectly pleasant, but if you're on a budget, its probably an unnecessary expense which isn't worth the high price.
***Where to stay***
You can stay within the main camp as there is accommodation there which suits all budgets. However I've always stayed in B & B's outside the camp but within the Addo district. I can very much recommend both Chrislin African Lodge and Happy Lands - both of which are wonderful B & B's within 15 minutes drive of the park and beautifully located. You can find both of these on Trip Advisor - and I'm sure if you stay at either, you'll be very satisfied with your choice.
***What else is there to do in Addo?***
Although the main reason we've come to Addo is to go to the Elephant Park, there are several other things I would recommend in the area:
- Elephant Back Safaris (www.elephant-back-safaris.com) where you get to ride giant elephants bare back on a three hour safari. This was a wonderful experience and although expensive, I would highly recommend it. However, the journey there, although only 20kms from Addo is hair-raising - and so opt for them to pick you up! Honestly, the drive there was probably the most scared I have ever been!
Raptor and Reptile Centre: This is quite a small centre and the number of animals is quite limited, but I enjoyed it because I was able to get up close and personal. Darren, the manager, is very enthusiastic and this kind of rubs off!
Daniell Cheetah Breeding Farm: This is a wonderful place which breeds cheetahs to be released into the wild. However, they also have a pet cheetach who we could play with, and two other cheetahs who were used in a Disney film who you can get close to and pat. While we were there they just had a litter of lion cubs born - and as they were under 5 weeks old, we were permitted to pick them up and pet them (any older and we wouldn't have been allowed). This was one of the most memorable moments of my life!
Give yourself a few days in Addo. Its a lovely area and its a nice place to explore at leisure.
Addo Elephant Park is one of South Africa's 20 National Parks, located near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The National Parks are often considered the poor man's safari however having experienced both Addo and some more exclusive, luxurious game parks my personal preference would be for the National Parks any day!
Originally Addo Elephant Park was founded in 1931 to provide a safe haven for the few remaining elephants in the area, however over the years Addo has grown significantly and is now home to more than 450 elephants, as well as lions, rhino, buffalo, leopards and whales to name but a few. It has become a huge tourist attraction due to the fact that it is so much cheaper to visit than the other private game reserves in the area.
We only gave ourselves a day to explore Addo and thoroughly regret not allowing ourselves extra time there. We mistakenly thought that because it was a National Park it wouldn't be as exciting as the private reserves we'd planned to visit. We were completely wrong! The number of animals we saw far outweighed those elsewhere - at one point we parked up by a watering hole and were fortunate to see what must have been in excess of 50 elephants gathered - I've been told this sort of sight is quite rare.
On arrival at Addo we opted to do a self drive tour around the Park however guided Safari's are also available if pre-booked. I was a little concerned about driving around the park as I wasn't sure what to expect so my partner did the driving and I navigated using the map we were given. I think I would have been fine driving round however as the main tourist roads were tarred roads, my only concern would have been about animals walking out in front of the car but everyone tends to drive around very slowly in order to take in the animals, flora and fauna so there is plenty of time to see animals coming. Be warned though, there will be big piles of dung on the road and it is against the rules to drive over/through it as Addo is home to a rare dung beetle. At certain points you can also leave your car and walk around enclosures from which you can view the different animals.
We only spent a day driving round Addo so we did not experience the accommodation or other facilities however I believe there is a range of accommodation to suit all tastes, from the basic tented camps to the more luxurious. The park also boasts a swimming pool for overnight guests, braai (barbecue) and picnic areas as well as a shop, restaurant and petrol station. There are also plenty of guest houses and hotels within easy travelling distance.
We are definitely planning to go back to Addo and next time we will stay either at the park or nearby and spend a lot more time exploring. In my opinion it is far better value for money than the private reserves we visited. Perhaps that may be because I'm not bothered about luxurious accommodation, my main reason for visiting these places is to see the animals and with the private reserves, while we did see some fantastic animals, the whole experience was mainly based around the standard of accommodation and service. The self drive safari experience at Addo was much more magical for me!
Located on the Eastern Cape region of South Africa.