As I mentioned the other day, my mom and I recently spent a week in the Addo Elephant National Park, just to take a little break from our busy lives.
While we have this long-standing dream of doing the Camino de Santiago together (which I know we will eventually get round to), time and finances haven’t really allowed (just yet), but we both felt like taking a bit of much-needed time out, so decided to do a more manageable local trip instead.
Both avid bush-lovers, we knew we wanted to go somewhere a little wild, but also didn’t want to spend too very many hours on travel… which made Addo the obvious and perfect choice.
We set out on our little road trip on a Saturday morning, overnighted in J-Bay and checked into Matyholweni Rest Camp in the very south of the park sometime after 2pm the next day. Although we had been warned beforehand, the fact that Matyholweni literally has zero cellphone reception left us feeling somewhat unsettled at first – I had a few last minute work assignments to finish and send off, and my mom was swamped in post-election day communication.
However, once we got used to it, disconnecting actually became quite a saving grace – after a day of driving out and game viewing, we’d return to our cosy little cottage and be out of touch for the rest of the evening. No whiling away time on Twitter or scrolling mindlessly through Facebook. We actually had to look each other in the eye, talk deep stuff and unwind. I count myself very lucky to have had the luxury of spending this sort of quality time with my one and only mother.
Apart from these cherished moments, the park itself has also found a very special place in my heart.
Here are five reasons why I think everyone who loves a bush holiday should head there next time the safari itch needs scratching.
While I would probably consider Kruger my first love when it comes to South Africa’s national parks, I have to say the crowds can be a bit of a downer. Someone spots a lion flicking its tail behind an obscure bush 200m from the gravel road and everyone descends upon the sighting, hoping to catch a glimpse and snap a shot.
In Addo we were lucky enough to watch as two majestic male lions snacked on a buffalo they had killed the previous night just a few kilometres from the main rest camp, literally 10m from the road. By the time we got there, only three or four other vehicles were lined up alongside the kill, after which a maximum of 10 rather civilised cars gathered around. As most of you will know, this is really nothing in comparison to what you would find with a sighting of the same calibre in Kruger and the likes.
Even better, though: on another occasion we had three lionesses lounging at a waterhole all to ourselves and a single other vehicle. Crazy!
Unusual animals & behaviour
During the few days we spent in Addo, we were treated to a whole bunch of magical and magnificent sightings:
- a young elephant bull engaging an older (and much larger) one in a sparring contest. The two pushed each other around for a good half-an-hour – the elder allowing the younger to have the upper hand ever so often. In between, they’d both take a bit of time out at the nearby waterhole, which appeared to be disappointingly empty, as they took turns placing the tips of their trunks over an almost invisible pipe built into the tiny dam’s wall and sucking with all their might.
- A pair of jackals guarding a piece of elephant dung in the road just after dawn. After spending some time watching them from a distance, we finally started inching the car closer. Skittish by nature, both jumped up to hightail it out of there… but not without their precious poo. If memory serves, one even turned back to pick it up before they disappeared into the lush Spekboom forest next to the gravel road.
- An aardvark peacefully digging into a delicious ant heap in broad daylight. Like it ain’t no thang. (FYI: they’re normally nocturnal and notoriously impossible to spot!)
- A variety of adorable behaviour from baby elephants, including difficulty controlling trunks and teasing older siblings by blocking their way. We also spotted one older elephant using his trunk quite capably to chase away two doves who were getting under his feet. He simply stretched it out in their direction and off they went.
It’s also worth mentioning that Addo’s elephants are remarkably peaceful, unlike a few of the bullies we’ve encountered in Kruger.
Because the park only has two rest camps – Addo, the main camp in the north and Matyholweni, a smaller, more secluded camp in the south – with one road connecting them, and a cluster of self-drive loops surrounding each, it’s relatively common to come across the same people day after day.
It doesn’t take long to build a rapport with fellow guests, making for a very cosy and comfy neighbourhood-like feeling. Apart from this, all staff members we encountered were also particularly friendly and welcoming, using every opportunity to make conversation and share interesting information.
Vistas and vegetation
One of Addo’s unique selling points is the fact that it’s the only national park in South Africa where you can see the Big 7 – the usual culprits, with the addition of two ocean species: Great White sharks and Southern Right whales.
However, even if you don’t actually get to tick these guys off your list, the view of Algoa Bay stretched out in the distance – and the contrast it creates with the traditional idea of bushveld spaces – is spectacular enough already.
Incredibly enough, the park also encompasses five of South Africa’s nine biomes: fynbos, forest, Nama Karoo, coastal dunes and grassy plains. While this sounds pretty boring ‘on paper’, seeing the scenery unfold into so many different expressions of itself in a single outdrive is almost too beautiful to bear.
My favourite by far, however, was the bright green burgeoning of stout Spekboom in various sections of Addo. I marvelled at the fact that these round-leaved succulents – with their almost magical carbon-storing capabilities – grew so joyfully out here. I’ve watched far too many shrivel up and wilt, as I killed them with kindness in terracotta pots on my kitchen windowsill. Some things are just better left untamed.
Accessibility & diverse accommodation
Located less than an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth – just a quick sho’t left off the N2 – you can hop on a flight from anywhere in SA and be settled into your accommodation before afternoon tea. Of course, road tripping there – especially if you take it nice and slow along the Garden Route – comes highly recommended.
Finally, when it comes to accommodation, you really are spoiled for choice in Addo. There are cottages and safari tents, caravan/camping sites and chalets, bush camps and luxury lodges – most of which you will find in the main rest camp alone.
If you’re craving something a little more secluded, however, Matyholweni rest camp in the south is your best bet! Literally meaning ‘in the bush’ in Xhosa, each cottage is tucked away among lush vegetation, offering maximum privacy.