If a picture is worth a thousand words, then you likely want to get comfortable for this post about our trip to Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape – if I’m doing the multiplication correctly, then it will take me over a million words to cover our 3-day visit. The shorter (though perhaps still excessive – sorry, it was difficult to narrow!) photo-based version is available in the post below or here: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four. Enjoy.
However, picture captions don’t quite capture some of the incredibleness of this experience. To offer some perspective, when given the choice between Addo and DisneyWorld at the end of our trip, both Sadie and Ben opted for Addo. Meggan too. I am pretty much there as well.
A bit of background – the Addo park was created in the 1920s at a moment when public opinion first turned against the practice of elephant hunting and when the once plentiful population of elephants in the cape region had dwindled to 15. Yes, 15. 15 elephants survived hunting sprees hidden in the thickest portions of the African thicket. The hunting was spurred mostly by farmers protecting their farms at the time. The government set aside area as an elephant preserve, but had limited success at first – the problem was partially caused by the fact that the preserve sought to show off the elephants as a sort of super-sized zoo installation by luring herds toward fences with citrus fruits; the fences, however, were not sufficiently strong to hold back elephants and so there were frequent escapes to nearby farms and frequent kills by nearby farmers. Then, in the 1950s, the preserve was enlarged substantially and the fences strengthened, and the elephant population began to recover. Today, Addo is a 633 square mile preserve with multiple sections and is home to a huge variety of wildlife and plantlife, including the most eclectic range of biomes in South Africa. Today, there are 450 elephants in the park and though the wildlife is monitored, it is authentically wild – the animals go where they please, eat what they can, and, other than the occasional encounter with automobiles or boundary fences, exist in their natural habitat.
We spent two days in the park, situated in a thatched-roof chalet overlooking the park grounds. We took two guided tours through the park, including one at night when our vehicle was the only one in the park; we also spent 5-6 hours driving our own car, meandering through roads of varying quality. On the third day, we were transported to another section of the park in the Zuurburg mountains. This area, though only 15 kilometers away, had a topography that was quite different – mountainous and rocky rather than the bushy grasslands and hills of the nearby main camp. At Zuurbug, we stayed in an isolated settlement in the mountains in what is best described as a first class treehouse tent. On the fourth day, we moved on south to Port Elizabeth along the Indian Ocean coast where I had a conference to attend. But the highlights of the three days were the encounters with the animals, many of which are portrayed if not fully captured by the pictures (hoping to upload some videos soon as well). Here are a few notable moments: