Expert Reviews – Addo Elephant NP
Melissa is an award winning travel writer for Fodors, Frommers and Insight, including guides to Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
7 people found this review helpful.
Addo – elephants, penguins and the flightless dung beetle?
It’s hard to keep up with Addo. I think it has secret plans for world domination. The first time I went there, it was this tiny, insignificant little park set up to protect the last surviving handful of elephants in the Eastern Cape. Now it’s ballooned out into one of South Africa’s largest national parks, covering 1,800 sq kms (695 sq miles). And there are further plans to increase the size to 2,640 sq kms (1,019 sq miles) as well as taking in 1,200 sq kms (463 sq miles) offshore as a marine park.
What I find fascinating about this growing patchwork is not only the huge variety of landscape which stretches from mountain to Kalahari desert to fynbos and coastal sand dunes but the fact that the park authorities are equally enthusiastic about the elephants (there are now about 550) and the park’s unique flightless dung beetle. It must surely also be the only park in the world where you can find both the Big Five and thriving colonies of African penguins and Cape gannets (on the offshore islands).
The Eastern Cape vegetation tends to be scrubby and you don’t get the giant herds of plains animals so gameviewing can be frustrating for those spoiled by the Serengeti or Kruger, but there is a good variety of species here and the scenery is gorgeous. It’s also malaria-free. My recommendation would probably be that it’s a wonderful area to explore, but possibly not as your first safari experience.
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
4 people found this review helpful.
Elephants up close and personal
This is a difficult park to rate fairly because it can come across as a bit of a one-trick pony. Along with Amboseli in Kenya, I would rank it the best place anywhere in Africa for exciting close-up encounters with elephants – which are wild, but so habituated that they frequently walk within touching distance of cars. Since the park was expanded a few years back, elephants are less densely clustered and conspicuous than they used to be, but on a good day you still might see several herds comprising a total of 100 or more individuals on the reliably rewarding Gorah Loop. The rest of the Big Five either occurs naturally (buffalo, leopard) or has been reintroduced (lion, black rhino), but sightings are far from guaranteed, That said, on our most recent (two-day) visit we had excellent views of buffalo and lion (including a pair of black-maned males feeding on a kill next to Domkrag Dam), and also saw a distant black rhino. Unsurprisingly, we dipped on leopard. I was impressed by the large number of greater kudus, many of which possessed truly spectacular spiraled horns. We also had a few sightings of spotted hyena and back-backed jackal in the vicinity if Domkrag Dam. Conspicuous birds included Denham’s bustard, black-headed heron, pied starling, southern boubou and Cape longclaw. If one bird species is emblematic of Addo, though, it would be the bokmakierie, an endemic, atypically non-secretive and pretty bush-shrike with mostly yellow feathering and a habit of calling loudly from open perches.
Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
4 people found this review helpful.
South Africa’s premier park for elephant-watching
Thanks to rapid expansion in recent years, Addo is South Africa’s third largest park after Kruger and the Kgalagadi. The total 1640-sq-kms encompass large bush areas as well as fragmented pockets of varied habitats, from woodlands in the Little Karoo to sand dunes along the Indian Ocean. Like most visitors to Addo, I’ve always seen elephants in the principle game-viewing area around Main Camp thanks to flat bush, waterholes and pans—one time a magnificent herd of more than 100-strong splashing around in their morning bath. Main Camp’s underground hide overlooking a waterhole is another great vantage-point too. Cape buffalo, zebra, and antelope are common, lion and spotted hyenas are occasionally seen, and look out for the curious flightless dung beetle. Also explore the other distinct regions for their different habitats and animals – for example black rhino are present in the Darlington area, while the Sundays River in the Zuurberg section is home to hippo. An all-year-round park, Addo is ideal for novice game-watchers and children, and of course all elephant-lovers.
Emma is an award-winning travel writer for Rough Guides, National Geographic Traveller, Travel Africa magazine and The Independent.
3 people found this review helpful.
Huge herds of elephants and much, much more
It’s about time that Addo changed its name, not for any lack of elephants (the park started out as an elephant sanctuary, their numbers now exceed 550, and I’d be amazed if you didn’t see several herds during your visit), but because there are so many other species here, too, from endemic flightless beetles to hyenas, black rhinos and leopards.
I love the great variety of habitats and activities on offer here, including wildlife-watching on horseback, and there’s even more more in the pipeline. Already a Big Five park and the third largest protected area in South Africa, Addo is growing – there are plans to expand its coastal section into a marine reserve. That will, of course, make it a Big Seven park, six and seven in this instance being great white sharks and whales.
The fact that Addo lies within a malaria-fee region is a tremendous bonus. If your stay in South Africa includes the Garden Route or Port Elizabeth, you’d be crazy to miss out on Addo, even if you only have time for a quick day-trip.
Kim is a travel writer who authored and updated over 15 guidebooks, including Lonely Planet's South Africa and Bradt's Tanzania guides.
2 people found this review helpful.
Elephants, elephants & more elephants
If you have a serious fetish for elephants, look no further than Addo. Close encounters of the elephant kind are an everyday experience here – so much so that you can almost become blasé about it. While parks such as Zimbabwe’s Hwange may boast greater numbers of the lumbering giants, in my experience I’ve spied more elephants in Addo than anywhere else in Africa. In fact, each time I’ve visited I’ve found it near impossible to count the numbers I’ve seen. Beyond elephants, the park is also home to Cape buffalo, lion, black rhino, various antelope species, warthogs and the flightless dungbeetle (which is exclusively found at Addo). However, Addo’s dense bush veld means that you will struggle to see much more than antelope. The elephants though more than make up for this. Each time I’ve visited, I’ve found it practically impossible to count the number of elephants I’ve spied. For anyone interested in the park’s smaller creatures such as insects and birds, a walk along the Spekboom Trail is well-recommended. The trail is set within a fenced-off botanical reserve, meaning you can roam through it freely without fear of being charged by an elephant or rhino or ending up the main meal of a hungry lion.
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
2 people found this review helpful.
Addo, where elephants and dung beetles thrive
As the name suggests, Addo Elephant National Park offers great elephant viewing. This is an understatement though; it offers some of the best elephant viewing in Africa. The sheer number of them is impressive (about 600 and growing) but what’s really exciting is how close they come. Being used to less habituated elephants elsewhere, I’ve had at least one scary moment when a big bull casually brushed past my car. There is lots of other wildlife as well; particularly conspicuous are the greater kudu bulls with their impressive spiraling horns. Cape buffalo, Burchell’s zebra, red hartebeest and eland are often seen as well. Due to the thick vegetation, predator sightings are hit-and-miss but it’s worth heading out early to increase your chances of seeing lion and spotted hyena on the move. Although notoriously shy, the park isn’t bad for black rhino either. And then of course there are the flightless dung beetles, quite rightly almost as celebrated in Addo as the elephants whose dung they roll.
Lucy is travel writer for a range of publications, including Lonely Planet's guides to Africa, Southern Africa and South Africa.
1 person found this review helpful.
The first thing that struck me about Addo was the terrain – not the flat, often barren land that you see in many nature reserves, but a landscape of green rolling hills that provide a pretty backdrop to your wildlife photos. And you will take plenty of photos – animal sightings are good, whether you opt to self-drive, join a guided drive or even see the park on horseback. As the park's name suggests, elephants abound here and you'd be incredibly unlucky not to see them in great numbers, drinking, foraging, playing or simply watching you as you watch them. But elephants are not all you'll see – the park is home to all of the Big Five and it gave me my first, and to date only, sighting of the elusive and endangered black rhino. Buffalo also roam en masse and there are lions, though sightings are fairly rare.
Christopher is a British travel writer and has contributed to various Fodor's guidebooks and a range of travel magazines.
Elephants and more elephants in Addo
Addo does exactly what it says on the tin: the park is absolutely teeming with elephants, more than 600 of them in total. But that’s not all that this sizeable national park has to offer: there are more than 400 buffalo, a growing rhino population and predators including leopard, lion and spotted hyena, though the park’s perennially dense vegetation makes some of these sightings a little tricky.
Addo is also a very accessible park, situated near Port Elizabeth and along the popular Garden Route. Inside the park there are plenty of tar roads and you can self-drive your way around. It’s a popular family choice and can get busy along the main thoroughfares, but it’s big enough that you can generally escape the crowds where necessary.
I’ve been lucky enough to stay at the secluded Gorah Elephant Camp, which sits on its own private concession of Addo and has beautiful views across the green rolling hills that characterize this park. But I’ve also enjoyed staying at the more basic South African National Parks camp by the main entrance, and at excellent accommodations just outside the park, where you’ll often get more privacy and better value for money.
James is a travel writer and author of many Lonely Planet guides, including senior author of the guide to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Addo is South Africa's third-largest national park, covering 1800 sq km, and a popular stop for both self-drive and guided safaris, situated near Port Elizabeth and the Garden Route. While it can get busy (book well ahead to stay here over Christmas), the park certainly lives up to its name, with over 600 elephants comprising Africa's most concentrated pachyderm population. I experienced my most memorable elephant sightings here: thirsty herds hurrying to waterholes, trunks swinging and cute calves scurrying; and the surly adolescent male who passed our vehicle, his glaring eye sizing up our camera lenses. The sprawling park covers numerous environments, from the Zuurberg Mountains to the coastline; the main section is pleasingly hilly, with viewpoints and ridges to drive along. My hottest tip, for small groups, is the Narina Bush Camp. It's a blissful, electricity-free getaway with a gas-powered fridge, donkey-boiler shower, and an inviting waterhole and terrace.
Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.
I have visited this Eastern Cape park at least six times in the past decade, which should tell you something in itself. At 164,000 hectares Addo is no longer the little elephant sanctuary most people remember; it has evolved and expanded into South Africa’s third largest national park.
Most visitors mistakenly concentrate all their time in the main game-viewing area, which is choc-a-bloc full of elephants and home to the rest of the Big Five. The elephant sightings are superb and I’ve seen a couple of lion kills here too, but the area lacks a sense of wilderness and starts to feel very small and contained after a couple of days of exploring. As such, I would recommend all visitors escape into the quieter Zuurberg section of the park, or take a walk along the Alexandria hiking trail for a chance to forget the people and rediscover the wilderness vibe.
With plans well-underway to expand Addo into a 360,000 hectare mega-park including a large marine component, penguins, sharks and whales will soon be added to Addo’s already impressive species list. Tourism infrastructure is currently being developed in the coastal region, which will allow for southern right whale and great white shark viewing opportunities. So, when you combine these marine mammals with the traditional Big Five already found in the park, Addo will shortly be the first conservation area in the world to proudly boast a Magnificent Seven safari option.
Gemma authored several Lonely Planet guidebooks, including the guides to Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.
A great day/overnight trip for those doing the Eastern Cape
The best thing about Addo is that it’s so accessible – you can fit in a real safari experience while road-tripping between the beaches of Jeffrey’s Bay and the scenic beauty of the Wild Coast. It’s well worth the detour if you’re not going to be safari-ing anywhere else or if, like me, you’re an elephant fanatic whose idea of heaven is to park up by a waterhole and watch the herds come and go for hours on end. The eles are the main attraction, although the park has lions, hyenas and myriad varieties of antelope too.
The top-priced self-catering accommodation here is quite gorgeous for a special occasion, and I loved the chance to eat my picnic at the floodlit waterhole within the campground, which also has an underground hide. Avoid weekends and school holidays, when lots of families make the campgrounds rather noisy and the roads crowded.