Expert Reviews – Addo Elephant NP

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Addo, where elephants and dung beetles thrive
Overall rating

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.

Pachyderm paradise
Overall rating

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.

Expanding Addo
Overall rating

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.

Elephants and more elephants in Addo
Overall rating

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.

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

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 Expert Rating

  • 3.5/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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