This post is a part of our series on our road trip through South Africa along the Garden Route. New to this series? Check out our first post here.
Because of the distance we had driven the day before, we had a much shorter drive today. It was only going to take about 4 to 4.5 hours to get to Addo Elephant National Park. We got up early anyway though, because we wanted to make a stop at Tsitsikama National Park and see the suspension bridge that dangles over Storms River as it empties into the Indian Ocean. Tsitsikama isn’t very far from Plettenberg Bay so we were at the gate and paying the entrance fee of R80 per person within an hour. The park is fairly large and we could have easily spent the entire day there (if not two days), but at the very least we knew we had to check out the mouth of Storms River. After entering the park we made a bee-line for the river. Fortunately, we were there early enough to grab the last parking spot in the lot. With our hiking boots on, we hit the trail.
As we entered the trail head a family of baboons made their way onto the beach where they proceeded to climb up on to the restaurant deck above. Baboons are notorious for being aggressive, so we gingerly continued up the trail, hoping none would pounce on our heads looking for a snack. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and we were soon deep into the dense forest, seemingly far from the open ocean and any river. The trail was a raised wooden platform with many steps leading up and over the mountain side and then down to the suspension bridge which hangs over the river mouth. It was spectacular. The bridge looked like a bit of dental floss dangling between these two massive mounds of rock. It was more structurally sound, fortunately. The entire scene was picturesque and we couldn’t help but take lots of photos. Sadly, we really only had a couple of hours that we could spend in the park so after pausing to take in the views, we made our way back to the car. Of course, I had to stop and touch the Indian Ocean before we left. It was our first time seeing it and we had to get a sense of how much warmer it was than the Atlantic. Honestly, I could barely tell the difference in the shallow water. Next time we’ll just have to take a swim.
From Tsitsikama it was pretty straight forward to get to Addo. We just needed to stop for lunch somewhere along the way. The small beach town of Jeffrey’s Bay was another recommended stop, so thats where we went. We found a small restaurant on the beach there. The food wasn’t great, but the view of the ocean from our table was excellent. If it hadn’t been so windy and cold outside, we probably would have stayed on the beach all day. Instead, we decided to just get to Addo, where we might be able to catch a tour or get into the park before the day was over.
Before we arrived at Addo, we made a quick pitstop for groceries to stock our cabin. Since Woolworths are everywhere, we were able to pick some things up in Port Elizabeth before making our way to the R335. This route wasn’t exactly scenic, but we did pass through a huge township before heading out of Port Elizabeth, where we saw the most safety-concious cow. It was alone, waiting at a busy intersection for the light to change before it walked across the crosswalk to the other side. It was bizarre to say the least, but no one else batted an eye. The rest of the journey to Addo was more of what you’d picture when driving through Africa. The R335 got much narrower as we headed into a much more arid landscape of dry red soil dotted with desert-like vegetation.
At around 4 pm we arrived at the park. After a quick check-in we decided to book a spot on one of the night tours. While signing a waiver saying that the park isn’t liable if we are trampled by elephants or eaten by a lion, we spotted a huge herd of elephants was just roaming by the large windows. No big deal. We head down to the underground bunker that looks out on to a large watering hole just inside the park. Although part of the herd had already left, quite a few elephants were still around getting a drink. As a kid I was able to get close to and pet elephants at the zoo, but this was very different. These were massive wild elephants just doing their thing while we silently observied (you had to be silent so as not to disturb the animals). I realized this was essentially the opposite of a zoo. Yes, it was a controlled environment, but it was us, the humans that were carefully corralled so not to disturb the animals that were roaming freely. Not the other way around.
Once the stragglers at the waterhole made their way back to the herd, we drove to our little cottage. Addo is setup so that you aren’t actually staying amongst the animals (that would be dangerous, obviously), but just on the other side of the fenced in park. Although outside of the park, most of the cabins and cottages have clear views into the park and, especially with binoculars, you can watch the animals from the comfort of your patio. The cottage was like a studio apartment; basic kitchen and bath with a small couch for lounging around. The cottage would have been perfect except for one small, but important flaw. It reeked of what can only be described as Clamato vomit. Clamato is a drink of clam and tomato juice. I’ve never had it, but I’m positive it’s disgusting. Anyway, we attempted to air the place out in the few remaining hours of daylight. I even poured some complimentary hand lotion over a dish towel to create a makeshift air freshener (nothing worked).
After unsuccessfully defunking our cabin, we made our way to the night tour. Addo closes its gates to all visitors every night at sunset, so taking a night tour is the only way to get a glimpse of the wildlife at night. Since lions like to hunt at night, we figured it might be our best chance at getting to see that (Spoiler: we didn’t). It was a full tour and surprisingly, the old folks were the pushiest in the group. I guess when time is limited you want to make sure you get the best seats (note: there are no “best” seats on a safari truck).
The truck we took was exactly what you would expect of a safari truck; an open elevated bed of surprisingly comfortable bench seats with a canopy above. The only light, aside from the stars, came from our guide’s giant spot light that he used to sweep across the plains to look for animals. He was so proficient and quick with the spotlight we initially thought there was no way he seeing anything, but we soon realized he knew exactly what he was doing. He was spotting animals near and far, including small hares running across the field. He was also very knowledgable and gave us a lot of background information on the park and the animals we were going to see. Unlike many parks, especially “safari” parks in South Africa, all of the animals in Addo are native to the area (meaning they didn’t import giraffes just because people like seeing them). We didn’t see a lot of activity during our tour, but we did see an owl hunting, kudu (lots of kudu), zebra, hare, a caracal (a smallish cat which are rare to see), and jackal. As if this wasn’t dramatic enough under the cover of nightfall, there was a storm in the distance and although the sky was completely clear where we were, occasionally a bright flash of lightning would illuminate the sky. We couldn’t believe where we were and couldn’t believe what we were seeing. It was quite a surreal experience considering just weeks before we had no plans of even visiting Addo.
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