From its humble beginnings in 1931, Addo Elephant National Park has grown into one of South Africa’s most ambitious conservation projects. The park is situated in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa and the ideal destination for wildlife safaris, family holidays and romantic getaways.
Addo is South Africa’s third largest national park at 180 000 hectares, and the recent addition of a long stretch of coastline stretching all the way to the Bushman’s River includes massive dune fields adding significantly to the park’s ecological diversity. It includes six of South Africa’s seven biomes – from the vast open spaces of the Karoo to rolling hills covered in fynbos, thicket and sloping sand dunes flanking the coastline. With the inclusion of marine areas the park now boasts the Big 7: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, buffalo, southern right whale and great white shark.
The below video will give you a taste of what Addo has to offer.
History of Addo
Today, Addo Elephant National Park is home to the densest populations of African elephant in the world. The area boasts a carrying capacity incomparable to any other wilderness region. But it wasn’t always like this – Addo and the surrounding region endured dark times during the early 20th century when the once-widespread elephant population was hunted to near extinction due to the ivory trade and agricultural activities that encroached into the natural habitat of wildlife. The elephants had a penchant for oranges in particular and raided the local farmers citrus crops. To combat the ‘problem’ the Administrator of the Cape Province, Sir Frederick de Waal employed hunters to exterminate the elephants. A professional hunter, Major P.J. Pretorius, was especially destructive by killing 120 elephants in his first 11 months in the area. It is journalled that he once shot 16 elephants in 30 seconds.
When the elephant population reached a critical number of only 11 individuals things started to change. Due to public pressure a reserve was allocated and in 1931 the national park was proclaimed. The elephant survived in an unfenced area of around 2000 hectares. Only in 1951 the park was fenced and the elephant-human conflict stopped. The population grew steadily, but due to the low numbers the genetic pool was too small and most of the females were tuskless. The National Parks Board then decided to introduce a number of elephant bulls from Kruger National Park. But the results took a bit longer than planned as the new bulls quickly formed their own herd and didn’t integrate with the local population. The theory according to the local rangers is that the new bulls didn’t speak the same dialect and it took some time for the new-comers to find their place in the Addo family.
Map of Addo
The below map shows the main wildlife area of Addo Elephant National Park with the two camps – Addo Main Camp in the north and Camp Matyholweni in the south.
Visitors to Addo can expect excellent game viewing of Africa’s magnificent wildlife. Enjoy self drive game viewing in your own car, or if you want the in-depth knowledge of the local rangers, join them on the scheduled morning and afternoon game drives. Night drives are also a good opportunity to spot some of Africa’s more elusive nocturnal animals and birds. Horse riding is available from Addo Main Camp. Bird watchers won’t be disappointed with 450 species to tick off and a hide offering a view of the local bird species up close.
Accommodation in Addo
Addo offers a variety of accommodation options. From family friendly self catering units in Addo Main Camp to luxurious boutique lodges (such as Gorah Elephant Camp) ideal for honeymoons and romantic getaways. If we include the Greater Addo area, your options include some of South Africa’s most unique private game reserves such as Shamwari and Kwandwe. Read more about the Greater Addo Route we recently experienced.
Addo Main Camp is conveniently situated in the central part of the National Park just off the main road. This makes for access easy and should be high on your list when planning a self drive holiday. The camp is full of interesting things to do for kids and include a jungle gym in the shape of an elephant. The interpretive centre offers an insight into the wildlife found in the area. Night drives are offered from Main Camp with horse riding and game drives in open sided vehicles also available. A fully stocked shop is ideal for anything you might have forgotten and the restaurant allows a break from cooking at the chalet. The actual chalets are ideally placed next to the fence, so it’s great for spotting wildlife walking past (which happens often!).
Camp Matyholweni is the most southern camp, tucked away into the natural vegetation. The family chalets are fully equipped for self catering purposes and built on stilts, overlooking the beautiful densely vegetated hills of southern Addo. Ensure that you have all your food, drinks and things like firewood and fuel before you settle in here. This camp doesn’t offer a shop or any other facilities but the town of Colchester is a 10 minute drive away if you urgently need supplies.
One other camp called Spekboom Tented Camp is another option for self drive guests, but not ideal for children as each tented unit only has two beds. It will work for families with older children. This camp also does not offer any facilities so stock up at Addo Main Camp before heading out for an overnight at Spekboom.
Bedrogberg 4×4 Trail
If you travel in an all-terrain vehicle Addo offers a 45km 4×4 trail over the Zuurberg mountains between the Kabouga and Darlington areas of the park. It offers spectacular views and interesting history. The scenery is completely different from the main wildlife area with riverine thicket, afromontane forest and fynbos on the peaks. As you make your way into the mountains you will see cycads, one of the most ancient plant species in the world. The trail takes you across flowing streams and mountainous valleys. The route will take you around 6 hours. Accommodation before and after the route is available at Kabouga House or Mvubu campsite (camping only) on the Kabouga side and the luxury Darlington Lake Lodge is available on the Darlington side. The below map will give you a rough idea of where it will take you.
Alexandria Hiking Trail
As you descend down to the coastal section of Addo called Woody Cape, the landscape changes dramatically to forest and beach. The area offers two hiking options – the 7km Dassie Day Hike and the 36km 2 day circular Alexandria Hiking Trail. The trails are well-signposted. The 2 day hiking trail is made up of 19.5km on day one and 16.5km on the second day. Accommodation before and after the hike is available at the Langebos huts situated at the start and end point. Your overnight stay on the first night of the hike is at the Woody Cape hut, nestled in thick coastal forest on top of the cliffs with a view of Bird Island in the distance. This hut has 12 beds with mattresses and drinking water is available in the form of rainwater tanks. This hike takes you through a variety of biomes starting out in the magical coastal forest where ancient yellowwods and exotic Knysna loeries can be seen. It then takes you onto the beach where you might spot southern right whales and dolphins off the coast. You will cross the largest coastal dune field in the southern hemisphere on day two before heading back through thick forests ending back where you started.
Where is Addo located? In the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Nearest city is Port Elizabeth.
Best time to visit? Addo is a year-round destination. Summer (November to February) is best for game viewing, as wildlife can be found around the few waterholes. Winter is colder, especially at night, with rain occasionally occurring. The coldest months are June and July.
Getting there? Fly to Port Elizabeth and transfer to one of the lodges. Or explore Addo by car. Rent a vehicle of choice or take your own and discover this beautiful park at your own pace. Addo is the ideal destination as a start or end point for a Garden Route and Cape Town safari.
Places to stay? Addo offers something for everyone – from luxury lodges for those wanting the best, self catering units for families and couples, affordable accommodation just outside the park and camping options scattered around the region.
Activities are on offer? Game viewing, hiking trails, horse riding, 4×4 trails, bird watching, night drives, guided game drives and the PPC Discovery Trail (a fantastic experience for visually-impaired and wheelchair-bound visitors).