It had been more than a decade since I last pulled into Addo’s main restcamp and what I saw was very promising – a full parking lot, buzzing shop and restaurant, and a packed campsite. Granted, it was the week before Christmas, but seeing South Africa’s smaller national parks bursting with tourists always puts a smile on my face. I wondered if the park would be teeming with animals as well – I’d seen very few elephants on my previous visit.
As it turned out, I was in for a treat. Heading out on my first game drive, not even a kilometre from camp, a small breading herd ambled up the road towards my car. It was clear that the matriarch was extremely relaxed, so I turned off the engine and waited calmly for the procession of pachyderms to pass our car. Without so much as a flap of her ears, the matriarch lead her family within an arm’s length of my window, making me wish I’d left my wide-angle lens on my camera body my 100-400mm lens really wasn’t up to the job. So began some of the best elephant viewing I had ever experienced. Scores of elephants, usually at the waterholes and always relaxed.
The key, I discovered, is to drive between 10 am and 4 pm. It seemed unnatural at first, heading out into the heat and glaring sunshine between the cooler, predator-hours around dawn and dusk, but the lie-ins and lazy breakfasts came as a pleasant change – as did all the overheated ellies coming out to bathe. Thank goodness for air-conditioning and cold drinks, or I might have been tempted to join them as they frolicked in and around the water.
Rooidam proved to be the most productive. One morning, nearly a hundred elephants gathered to bath, offering up a spectacle for those who braved the sun to come and see. Submerging themselves completely with their trunks in the air, riding on each other’s backs, squirting water high up into the air and rolling in the mud where it fell, all to the soundtrack of loud trumpeting and low rumbling. Small calves watched the show warily from between their mothers’ legs as big bulls in musth pursued young cows. Most extraordinary were the colours – some were whitish, some brown, and other red, depending on where they had muddied themselves, and those who had just had a splash were almost black. Despite the heat, it was a near impossible scene to leave, but one I knew I was likely to enjoy again the following day.
By the time I left main camp on the final day of my second visit, Addo Elephant Park and its multi-hued elephants had me begging the question: Why did I wait so long to go back?
Photography and game viewing:
If it’s elephants at the water you want to photograph, drive when it’s hot! Early mornings and late afternoons might produce great sightings of buffalo, lion and other mammals, but during the cooler hours of the day the elephants disappear into Addo’s thickets. Gwarriepan and Rooidam are both close to the main camp, making it the ideal place to start. Try to be there around 10 am when the light is still relatively good. Hapoor Dam a bit further south is also very good for elephant viewing, but if you ask me, not nearly as good as Rooidam, which has beautiful rolling hills in the background.
When it comes to landscapes, the southern part of the park (which is at least an hour’s drive from the main camp) is best. The scenes along the Ngulube Loop and Harvey’s Loop are some of the most dramatic in the park, with great open plains and little valleys that have much higher plant diversity than the more homogenous northern sector near the main camp. It’s here that you’ll see more kudus, buffalo and other general game.
If I want to go:
Addo Restcamp, the park’s main camp, is located approximately 70 km north of Port Elizabeth in the park’s main section. Addo is divided into several other sections where people can do adventure activities like horse riding, hiking trails and 4×4 driving.
Elephant viewing is great throughout the year, but the summer months (November to February) can become uncomfortably hot.
This is one of SANParks’ best-kept restcamps and visitors have a great variety of accommodation to choose from, including campsites (from R230/stand/night), safari tents (from R560/tent/night) and chalets (from R840/chalet/night). If you do decide to camp, make sure to book a ‘caravan site’ instead of a ‘tent site’, which have very little shade. Camp facilities include a shop, restaurant and swimming pool.
For more information on accommodation options or to make a booking:
Phone: (012) 428 9111