Expert Reviews – Addo Elephant NP

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Addo – elephants, penguins and the flightless dung beetle?
Overall rating
4/5

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.

South Africa’s premier park for elephant-watching
Overall rating
3/5

While Addo has been significantly extended in recent years and now stretches from the Indian Ocean to the Little Karoo, most visitors naturally head for the area where the elephants are found near the main entrance. They are easily spotted thanks to the relatively flat bush, and they seemingly like routine in their behaviour and habitat. In fact over several visits, I’ve never not seen elephant, and pretty much instantaneously just a short drive from the rest-camp; one time a herd of more than 100 strong splashing around a waterhole – a magnificent experience. Other species of game are present; Cape buffalo, zebra, springbok and kudu are also fairly common, as is the flightless dung beetle (unique to the park and found wherever there’s elephant dung). Addo is ideal for novice game-watchers, children and all elephant-lovers.

Huge herds of elephants and much, much more
Overall rating
4/5

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.

Elephants up close & personal
Overall rating
4/5

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. Otherwise, while the rest of the Big Five has been reintroduced, they mostly maintain a low profile, though you stand a fair chance of seeing black rhino and buffalo. The bird checklist is rather low fort a reserve of its size, but it is a good spot for seeing birds endemic to South Africa such as bokmakierie and southern boubou.

Elephants, elephants & more elephants
Overall rating
4/5

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.

Addo, where elephants and dung beetles thrive
Overall rating
3/5

As the name suggests, Addo Elephant Park, is a great place to see elephants. The look of this park is very different to the classic parks near Kruger, and unfairly, it somehow doesn’t give me the same feeling of being in the bush. Instead of acacia scrub, the succulent, Spekboom, is the main plant throughout. The driving circuit is rather small, but the many waterholes attract lots of herds of elephants and other wildlife like greater kudu, zebra and eland.

Because it is located on the popular Garden Route, the park attracts many day-visitors that want a quick fix wildlife experience. Congestion around elephant sightings on the road is common. The elephants are unusually relaxed around vehicles and being used to less predictable and trustworthy individuals in other parks, I’ve had some scary moments with elephants literally brushing past my car. Also of interest are the many flightless dung-beetles that can be found rolling balls of elephant dung on the road.

Pachyderm paradise
Overall rating
3/5

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.

Elephants and more elephants in Addo
Overall rating
3/5

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.

Elephants Galore
Overall rating
4/5

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.

Expanding Addo
Overall rating
3/5

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.

A great day/overnight trip for those doing the Eastern Cape
Overall rating
3/5

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.

Average User Rating

  • 3.5/5
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