Addo Elephant Park

Addo Elephant Park

First visit to ADDO Elephant Park South Africa.

South Africa’s third largest National Game park, situated in the Eastern Cape, about 60 Km north from Port Elizabeth, is the ADDO Elephant National Park. A paradise for elephant viewing.

We went to do the famous, but strenuous 5 day Otter hiking trail, starting at the Storms River Mouth, Tsitsikamma National Park, ending at Natures Valley. It is the most scenic hiking trail that we have done thus far, but it truly is not for rookies, and one has to be very fit for this trail.The first day, is only a 3km hike to the overnight hut, but do not let the short distance fools you. You pass this beautiful waterfall,  after some serious boulder hopping and up and down hills. The day visitors may not go beyond this point. The landscape is breath taking, and the overnight huts have spectacular views. 

Otter Hiking Trail
Beautiful waterfall on 1st day of Otter hiking Trail
Beautiful waterfall on 1st day of Otter hiking Trail. The Otter trail is officially the oldest and undoubtedly the most iconic hiking trail in South Africa

The second day of the Otter Trail is a tough one, but very scenic once you reach the Skilderkrans lookout point. The trail follows rugged and rocky shoreline and from sea level  to an elevation of more than 160 meters. A lot of climbing up and down every day before you finally get to the overnight hut. There are several river crossings as well that you have to cross daily, sometimes easy to go through, others more technical.

Hikers clinging against rocks on Otter hiking Trail
Hikers clinging against rocks on Otter hiking Trail. The Otter trail is officially the oldest and undoubtedly the most iconic hiking trail in South Africa

The most difficult  and technical river crossing was, of course, the  Bloukrans river crossing, and one can only cross it during low tide. We started walking at 04:00 in the morning, whilst it was still dark, and it was  still a 10 km hike to the river crossing. Only 5 of us could make it across, as the tide already started to rise and it was very dangerous. When the other hikers arrived at the river crossing, the tide has already risen too high and they had to take the escape route. It is one of the most beautiful and scenic hikes in South Africa, and we can proudly say that we have conquered it.

Baby Elephant
Playful Elephant Calf extending it snorkel with a smile
Elephant calves spend several years dependent upon mother, and suckle for a period of up to five years.

After the strenuous 5 day Otter hike, we spoiled ourselves to relax and sooth the aching muscles before returning home. We  booked into the ADDO’s lovely safari tents for 5 nights. This was our first visit to the ADDO Elephant Park, and definitely not the last. If you want to get up close and personal to the biggest land mammal the Elephants, and their playful baby’s, then this is the place to be. The gates opened up at 07:00 until 19:00, depending on the season. There are a lot of tar roads as well as gravel roads to travel on. Because it is a semi-arid to arid area, with no natural water, most of the waterholes are fed by boreholes.

African buffalo eating green grass at Addo National Park
African buffalo eating green grass at Addo National Park. The African Buffalo, aka the Cape Buffalo, is the only native African mammal member of the bovini tribe

With +/- 600 Elephants, +/- 400 Cape buffalo and an abundance of Kudu, Eland, Hartebeest and Zebra’s in the park, you will always have something to photograph. Lions and Spotted Hyena were also introduced in the park. Warthogs are everywhere with their cute little tails in the air and feeding on their knees. When driving around, be on the lookout for the Flightless Dung Beetle and keep in mind that it has right of way on all the roads.

Zebra and Foal busy eating green grass at Addo Nationla Park
Zebra and Foal at Addo Nation Park South Africa. Native to Africa, zebras are distinctive single-hoofed mammals that live in herds.
Kudu bull with big horns eating grass at Addo national Park
Kudu with big horns eating grass at Addo national Park. These antelopes are browsers and eat leaves and shoots from a variety of plants.

For the bird lovers, this is a haven with  more than 160 bird species. Bokmakierie,  Cape Bunting, Cape Robin Chat, Fork Tailed Drongo,  Black Korhaan, Blue Crane and Secretary to name a few. Download a Bird Checklist from Sanparks website with all the birds in this area.

A large, sturdy olive-gray and yellow bushshrike with a distinctive black chest band that arcs up to the bill base, forming a broad necklace.

One of the most common vegetation that is seen in the area is the succulent Spekboom. It is a low growing coastal scrub plant and the main food for the elephants. Spekboom flourishes if it is grazed upon and regenerates very quickly. This makes it an excellent food source as one Elephants can consume up to 200kg of Spekboom a day. It is also said that it is also excellent in converting carbon dioxide. Strange enough, the Addo is totally different from the Kgalagadi and the Kruger National Park when it gets to game viewing time.

There will possibly be other photographers that might disagree. In the Kgalagadi, Kruger and other parks one has to get up very early in the morning to photograph the animals. Then head back to camp at 10:00 and then go out again at 15:00 until the gates closes. This is due to the fact that animals are not that active in midday, in these parks, and also for the perfect light early morning and late afternoon. Elephants at  the ADDO however, are most active between 10:00 to 16:00 when  the temperature rises. They visit the waterholes frequently in their numbers to drink and play in the water.

Elephant playing in mud at a waterhole in Addo National Park South Africa.
Elephant playing in mud at Nampoor waterhole in Addo National Park South Africa.

Another favorite to photograph is baby Elephants. They are so cute. They love to chase birds and small antelope and play big boy with their small trunks waving in all directions. We also have experienced that the ADDO Elephants are more relaxed than elephants in other parks. One can get much closer to them to photograph. But please keep in mind it is still a wild animal so don’t take changes.

Elephant herd walking away from Nampoor dam in the afternoon
Elephant herd at Nampoor waterhole in Addo National Park South Africa. Elephants are the largest existing land animals.

There are several waterholes, Rooidam, Hampoor Dam, Domkrag Dam and several others in the Addo. For us, the best water hole where we had the most sightings and obviously got our best pictures was at Hampoor Dam. Gorah Loop is also well worth to visit in the early morning or late afternoon, to get good pictures of Antelope and Warthogs in good light. There are still other parts of the Park that we did not had time to explore, like the costal and northern part of the park.

Elephant herd
Elephant Herd with baby's walking in a straight line
The African Elephant is the largest living land mammal. They can weigh up to 6000kg and measuring up to 3.3m at the shoulder.

Would we go back to ADDO? Definitely, without a doubt – We had scores of elephants at the waterholes. ADDO is totally different than other parks and that is what we liked about it. Like I said before, it is one of the best places in South Africa to photograph Elephants. We still have to go and meet the famous lion called “Sylvester”, that escaped from a former sanctuary in the Karoo, and is now relocated to ADDO.

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Fanie Heymans

Fanie Heymans is a wildlife photographer and nature lover. Based in the West Coast at St Helena Bay, South Africa. Images of his wild life photography was featured in the local Wild Magazine, Wildcard blog, and internationally by Media Drum World, and Mail Online.

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