The Addo Elephant National Park had a peculiar conception. In 1919, Major PJ Pretorius was employed to eliminate the elephants that came out of the Addo Bush and caused trouble for farmers in the Sundays River Valley. Within a year, 120 elephants were killed and the remainder fled into the impenetrable bush. Having been hunted almost to extinction, the Addo elephants had the reputation of being the most dangerous in the world. Various experiments with electrical fencing to contain them led to the declaration of a conservation area, today known as the Addo Elephant National Park.
Addo has grown from a tiny sanctuary in the bush to the excellent game viewing area that it is today and has become a sought-after destination for nature lovers from all over the world. Warm-to-hot summers and mild-to-cold winters are what you can expect in the park. Remember to pack a torch, camera and binoculars, because there are excellent walking trails in the park which include a hide overlooking a waterhole - a favorite gathering place for elephant and rhino.
The Addo Elephant National Park is located about 70km from Port Elizabeth and offers a unique South African travel experience. After the park was proclaimed in 1931, it was expanded and, following the inclusion of a marine park, the new Addo Elephant National Park is about 370 000 ha in size, making this safari area one of the largest in South Africa. Vegetation in the Addo consists of tropical to temperate flora types.
If you want to see African elephants in all their glory, this is where you should go. What started out as a conservation project in 1931 with only 11 elephants has flourished into a powerful parade of the highest concentration of these land mammals to be found in the wild. Over 600 elephants call The Addo Elephant Park home.
The park is now the third largest in South Africa. It covers the Darlington Lake, the Zuurberg Mountain Range and its abundant birdlife, the very popular Sundays River Valley and its spectacular sunsets, and even hiking along the sand dunes of the Woody Cape to watch the waves roll in. The diverse settings ensure that there is something special to be found for all nature lovers.
First and foremost, the park is malaria-free, which means no pills or pesky reminders to drink one. The park also accommodates all ages and mobility statuses: wheelchair-friendly accommodation is available, as well as activities where the kids can go horse riding or visit the Addo Raptor & Reptile House. Forget about your responsibilities and just enjoy the tranquil atmosphere.
The easiest and most utilized method to the Addo Elephant National Park is flying to either Port Elizabeth Airport (72 km), George Airport (368 km) or the Cape Town International Airport (756 km) and driving from there, depending on your tour. Flights from Cape Town International to both George and Port Elizabeth are also available on a daily basis.
The drive from Cape Town or George through the Garden Route - and especially the Tsitsikamma Forest - is a very popular scenic route in South Africa, but will only be incorporated into your tour if you are visiting more areas around the coast, as it is quite a long way to drive. From Port Elizabeth, a one hour drive will get you safely and comfortably to your destination.
The Addo National Park can be visited any time of the year. Summers can get quite warm, and in the winter the temperature drops somewhat during the evenings. The best time to visit is the low season between May and September, when the park is driest and the animals gather at the waterholes in masses. It is important to remember, however, that game drives in open-air vehicles may be very cool during this period, so be sure to pack a good fleece.
On the other hand, the increased rains during the summertime transform the vegetation in the area, and the fauna and flora welcome the new season in a spectacular fashion: newborns can be seen in all shapes and sizes, the wildflowers burst all over and the migratory birds join once again. Wildlife viewing, however, is limited due to thick vegetation possibly obscuring your sightings.
The Addo Elephant Park is rich in its history. It tells the story of the downfall and redemption of mankind. It began centuries ago with the untamed wildlife and nomadic tribes like the Gonaqua, who lived in harmony with all that surrounded them. Following the arrival of Dutch settlers, these tribes were almost completely eliminated in the 1700’s by a smallpox epidemic.
Concurrently, the Xhosa people had started moving slowly along the coast from the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains and extended their territory from the Sundays River to the Mbashe River in the Transkei between 1700 and 1850. Hunting during this time had devastated the herds of elephant and other animals.
In the late 1800’s, Dutch farmers had started colonizing the area. Threatened by the elephants' presence so close to their crops and water, a battle between man and nature ensued. The government appointed Major PJ Pretorius to take care of the problem. Between 1919 and 1920, 114 Elephants were killed in an attempt to exterminate the herd once and for all. 16 elephants survived.
A public outcry finally forced the government to pay attention to their disregard for the animals and the survivors were spared. In 1931, with only 11 elephants left, the park was proclaimed with 2 000 hectares to conserve the animals.
Throughout the years, the park expanded from its mere 2 000 hectares in 1931 to a mega park of 180 000 hectares. It includes five of South Africa’s nine biomes and conserves the “Big Seven”, which extends the Big Five to include the great white shark and southern right whale. The 600 wild elephants are, however, the main attraction. In the early years of the reserve, as an effort to persuade the elephants to stay (as they kept returning to the farmlands in the area), rangers started to feed them citrus fruits from the local farms. It was a huge success.
The feeding continued long after elephant-proof fencing was developed in the 1950’s. By the 1970’s, the citrus situation had become dire – the elephants showed signs of serious addiction to the fruits, becoming hostile and aggressive towards each other and the rangers, and destroying the natural vegetation in the process. In 1979, the feeding stopped. It is a well-known fact that the elephant has a great long-term memory: it is because of this that the elephants fled from the rangers at first, and destroyed farmers’ crops. It is also because of this that, up until recently, no citrus fruits were allowed into the Addo Elephant National Park.
The Addo Elephant National Park encompasses 180 000 hectares that stretch across the Eastern Cape, from the warm Indian Ocean to the vast open expanse of the Karoo. This includes the evergreen Sundays River Valley, the sand dunes of the Woody Cape coast, the Bird and St Croix island groups, and the Zuurberg Mountain Range. The diverse landscapes also contain many archaeological sites, such as the middens that can be found on the Alexandria dunefield, and the rock art found in the caves of the Zuurberg Mountains. The analogies between the artifacts found in the different areas also substantiate the fact that the nomadic tribes traveled immense distances across this area.
The park has expanded over the years to conserve five of South Africa’s nine biomes: the Albany Thicket, Fynbos, Forest, Nama Karoo and the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt, and also expanding to make it the world’s first “Big 7” conservation area. Their ongoing commitment to the varying ecosystems promotes a sustainable and inclusive eco-tourism industry as well as economic development in the Eastern Cape region, and plans are underway to further expand its borders. Upon completion, it is envisaged that the park will expand to conserve 240 000 hectares of land and a further 120 000 hectares of protected marine area.
There is something for everyone to do in Addo; game drives, hiking, canoeing, and 4x4 trails are just a few. The Bedrogfontein 4x4 trail, for example, takes you back in history - over mountains, through ravines and forests and into the Karoo as you travel from Kabouga to Darlington. This is where the Afrikaner and British troops fought many battles during the Anglo-Boer War, and is also a place where rock art paintings tell stories of a time long forgotten. This is a self-drive, one-way 4x4 route that covers 45km of grade 2-3 terrain. It takes approximately six hours, and another two hours from Darlington to the main camp.
For the more adventurous types, two-hour horse rides through the Nyathi area literally keeps you on the edge of your seat. Game viewing from horseback is great, because the animals aren’t as wary of the horses as, for example, a game viewing vehicle, and it’s not necessary to stay on the road. Game viewing in a Big Five area just adds to the intensity and excitement of the experience. Not to worry - the area and the behavior of the Big Five are monitored for your safety, but riders do need a moderate level of experience and no children under 16 will be allowed on the trail. With so much to choose from, let the African Sky team help you find what suits you best.
As expected, experiences to savor in this Big Five-bearing national park are largely oriented around the wildlife that you will encounter and the game viewing activities available. However, this unique park still offers more than meets the eye in terms of variety.
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