Expert Reviews – Tembe Elephant Park
Kim is a travel writer who authored and updated over 15 guidebooks, including Lonely Planet's South Africa and Bradt's Tanzania guides.
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Walk of the elephants
Located on the border with Mozambique, Tembe Elephant Park is by far the best government-run game park for the Big Five in KwaZulu-Natal. In my opinion, it also comes a pretty close second to Kruger. Beyond the park’s namesake Elephant, the park is also home to larger mammals such as zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and hippo as well as a variety of antelope species including the world’s smallest antelope – the Suni which stands about 12-17 inches high to its shoulder. Noted for its vast swamplands and spectacular sand forests dominated by thickets of tall trees, Tembe is a wild, remote place that is very special indeed. Its true beauty, however, is only revealed if you allow yourself the time to spend a couple of nights in the park.
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
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Tembe Elephant Park: home to some of the biggest tuskers in Africa
Being at the end of the road in a far corner of South Africa, Tembe Elephant Park is not very well known. The delicate environment of sand forest is only accessible by 4x4 and only 10 vehicles per day are allowed in the park. The remote wilderness vibe is a key attraction, but the real draw is South Africa’s biggest elephants. These elephants are the last remaining indigenous herd in KwaZulu Natal. Before heading out here, I expected this to be a bit of marketing hype, but I was mistaken: the elephants are enormous and their tusks are some of the biggest I’ve seen. The 3 biggest tuskers have been given names and I wasn’t fortunate to see any of them, but I saw plenty other impressive bulls. All of the big 5 are present in the park, but we didn’t see a lot on the drives. The best viewing of elephants is from the excellent hide overlooking a waterhole. Elephant bulls arrived steadily alone or in small groups and we also saw some of the breeding herds coming down for a drink and a bath.
Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.
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Tuskers of the Sand Forest
In my humble opinion Tembe is nothing short of amazing. If you have time to visit just one game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, then I would unreservedly recommend it be the meandering sand tracks of this gloriously wild reserve. With only one small lodge within the park and a maximum of ten self-drive 4x4s allowed in per day, Tembe is one of the few game reserves in South Africa that feels truly wild. The 30 013 hectare Tembe Elephant Park is dominated by sand forest and the game-rich Muzi Swamp in the east. It is home to an abundance of wildlife, including wild dogs and a burgeoning lion population (over 40 at last count). But, it is the Tembe’s elephants – and especially its huge tuskers – on which the park has built its reputation. More than 200 of these gentle giants tramp the sandy paths of this pristine wilderness and sightings are all but guaranteed from the hide overlooking Mahlasela waterhole as well as at nearby Mfungeni Pan. Quite aside from the huge buffalo herds, plentiful elephants and abundant general game, the overgrown sandy tracks of Tembe explore one of the last wild tracts of South Africa that still exudes a genuine wilderness feel.