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Addo Elephant National Park

mum and baby elephantPeople who visit Addo Elephant National Park almost always say that although it is very different from other safari parks, with all the birds and the animals, seeing them in family groups at the waterhole, soft lit at night and the beauty of the landscape, this Park never disappoints.

It’s a great place to bring the kids, the accommodation is comfortable, there is plenty to do, lots to learn on land and sea. Bird and St. Croix Islands and the other island groups offer lots of opportunities to see the marine animals, thereby giving visitors the best of both worlds.

Diversity & Purpose

About 75 km (46.6 miles) from Port Elizabeth, Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa’s third largest, is said to be “a world of diversity all in one place”.

These days, national parks are not just for our pleasure, they have a serious purpose as well, which most often, is to conserve the landscape, the flora and fauna – in essence the total biodiversity of a particular region.  This is the primary purpose of Addo, to conserve the animals, the thicket vegetation and generally the landscape for future generations of animals and humans.

The Park covers roughly 695 sq. mi., taking in the south coast between the mouths of both the Bushman’s River and Sundays River, running through Sunday’s River Valley, over the Zuurberg Mountains and into the semi-desert karoo (a flat, elevated plateau) in the north near Darlington Dam. It also takes in the island groups of St. Croix and Bird Islands, northeast of the city of Port Elizabeth.

Addo started in 1931 with only 11 elephants, today it has over 600. This sanctuary is the only national park that is home to, and conserves, the African lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, black and white rhino. There are also zebra, leopards, several antelope species, spotted hyena and many smaller animals as well as the Addo flightless dung beetle which is found no where else. And, of course, the coastal areas conserve the great white shark and the Southern right whale. And along Algoa Bay, there is the largest population in the world of breeding Cape gannets and the African penguins located there make up the second largest breeding colony in the world. There are plans to include the coast of Bird and St. Croix and the other islands, approx. 463 sq. mi. in a Marine Protection Area.

Why Visit Addo?

Probably the best reason for going to Addo is to see the herds of elephants at the Hapoor Dam, the lions in the southern portion of the Park, the rugged, beautiful Zuurberg Mountains, the Woody Cape’s shifting sand dunes. And, of course, a visit to the Ulwazi Interpretative Center is a must for their displays i.e. the “great wall of horns” and so much other information about the Park’s wildlife and history.

The Park’s primary purpose has always been to protect the elephants but over the years, protection of the thicket vegetation, the Black Rhino and the flightless dung beetle have been added. In essence the purpose of the Park has been enlarged to encompass the conservation of the entire biodiversity of the region plus making people aware of, and appreciate, the value of what this park holds.

With roughly 160,000 people coming to the Park annually (of which 40% are foreign visitors), the economic value of tourism to this region is significant. In fact the number of bed and breakfast places, guest houses and lodges, along with the jobs they bring, have grown as a direct result of the expanding numbers of visitors to Addo.Addo National Park

What To Do At Addo

Among the things people can do while at Addo, the following are paid activities that need to be booked, usually in advance.

Guided Game Drives – These happen at sunrise, during the day, at sunset and at night and last about 2 hours.  Tip: take a blanket for the sunset and night time drives as it can get quite cold.

Guided Horse Trails – A certain level of experience is necessary as these trails go through big game areas, children under 16 are not allowed. Some of the trails go through the Zuurberg Mountains.

Four x Four Trails – The route is self-drive from Kabouga to Darlington or from Darlington to Kabouga and goes through areas of historical significance where battles were fought during the Anglo-Boer War and rock art paintings can be found.  Accommodation is available at Mvubu Camp and at the Kabouga Cottage.

Hiking Trails

  • Alexandria Trail is a 2-day, 32 km (19.9 mi.) circular trail. The first day’s walk is 18.5 km (11.2 mi.) with the second day 13.5 km (8.4 mi.). Accommodation is available either at the beginning or at the end of the trail. This is not a guided walk, but it is well marked. Hikers must bring their own equipment and provisions.
  • Zuurberg Trail is a 1-3 hour walk into the Zuurberg Mountains and does not cost anything.

Marine Eco Tours – These 3-4 hours guided ocean cruises cover roughly 50 km (31 mi.) and go to see whales, African penguins and seasonal visitors – the humpback whales, Bryde’s kuduwhales, Southern Right whales, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Indo-pacific humpback dolphins, Cape gannets and much more.

There are many other activities that do not need to be booked nor cost anything other than the entrance fee, such as:

  • wildlife viewing in your own car, not guided,
  • Red Bishop bird hide with a view over wetland area, over 200 types of birds have been spotted here,
  • lighted watering hole with viewing platform which allows close-up animal viewing,
  • viewing hide that is underground at the main camp,
  • picnic and braai (BBQ) sites, main camp and Jack’s Picnic site in the botanical reserve,
  • swimming pool for overnight guests, main camp,
  • children’s programs during their school holidays,
  • archeological sites that tell the story of the people who have lived here for 100’s of years,
  • the Interpretive Center with its information about the wildlife and the history of the Park.

A restaurant, shop and fuel station are all available at the main camp.  The Raptor and Reptile Center at the Lenmore Guest House on R335, not far from Addo, is another really interesting place to visit.

Miscellaneous Information dung beetles

  • The main camp is fully fenced so is relatively safe, but children should be supervised at all times since the fence won’t keep out small animals and snakes.
  • Security guards are stationed at the entrance gates after closing times.
  • No pets are allowed in the Park.
  • The best time to see lions and hyenas is in the early morning and early evening.
  • All guns must be declared at reception when entering the Park and will be sealed there until guests depart.
  • Bring along cameras, binoculars, walking shoes/boots, a torch/headlamp for walking outdoors at night, sunscreen and insect repellent.
  • The nearest hospital and doctor are in Kirkwood, 35 km (22 mi.) for the Park. Nearest police station is in Addo Town 15 km (9 mi.) away.
  • No drones are allowed in or over the national parks in South Africa.
  • There is strong mobile phone reception and a public telephone at Addo main camp.

There is so much more that we could say but the best way to find out about Addo is to go for several days and explore it for yourself.

Come and have the thrill of a lifetime seeing all the wonderful elephants at Addo.

elephants on the way home