Expert Reviews – Tembe Elephant Park

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Southern Africa’s largest tuskers
Overall rating

Zululand’s counterpart to Addo Elephant National Park is the little-known Tembe Elephant Park. Tembe protects an elephant population that once ranged freely into neighboring Mozambique and is famed for producing massive tuskers. Indeed, about 10 years back, the park provided sanctuary to the three largest tuskers in southern Africa: Isilo, Induna and Makobona. The members of this legendary trio have since died of natural causes, but there are still plenty of impressive bulls with gigantic tusks. Probably the most reliable spot for elephant viewing is Mahlasela Hide. On the day we spent there a few years back, close on 100 individuals came past. Herds might be encountered anywhere in the park though.

Other wildlife is more difficult to spot. All the Big Five are present, but over the course of two visits, I have only encountered lion and buffalo once each, and I’ve yet to see a leopard or rhino. The reserve supports a dense population of nyala, a handsome antelope characteristic of Zululand. On our most recent visit, we saw two troops of samango monkey, a species that is very rare in South Africa. Birding is potentially exceptional. The park is home to several localized bird species associated with the sand forest in northern Zululand. In general, guided drives tend to focus on looking for elephant and other large mammals.

Tembe stands out for its remote location, relatively low tourist volumes and genuine wilderness feel (access is by 4x4 only). In addition, the local Tembe community operates a wonderful tented camp that offers very sensibly priced packages inclusive of meals and game drives. Birding in the camp can be rewarding and it is also often visited by bush babies at night. All in all, this is a low-key delight. For those not in a rush to tick off the so-called Big Five, the elephant viewing can be superb.

Excellent elephant action at waterholes and quiet bush atmosphere
Overall rating

This is a fairly remote, small park in Maputaland, on the border between KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique. While not teeming with plains game like some of the larger savannah parks in South Africa, it is home to the Big 5 in an area of sand forests, pans and wetlands. Elephants of course are the stars of the show, and there are some especially large individuals at that. The organized game drives from the one lodge gets visitors to them quickly, to watch the magical displays of families frolicking at the waterholes. The attractive nyala antelope is also a common resident, and I enjoyed the lovely sight of them skipping through the sandy bush. Sightings of other large mammals are fairly rare though – on my visit I count myself very privileged to see a solitary rhino in the reed beds and a leopard eying up branches from her position in the grass. Tembe is a good place for an introduction to the bush (especially for children) with guaranteed eli-watching. The community-owned lodge is also a highlight – not luxurious but friendly and laid-back where the staff and guides, all employed from the vicinity, have a great personal knowledge and affection for the park.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.3/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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