The Disappearing Act of the Addo Elephants

“Go to Addo and see the Addo elephants,” is the first thing that comes to mind – time and time again – when I get asked about what to do while visiting Port Elizabeth, what to do in the Eastern Cape and what one of my favourite places in South Africa is.

Addo Elephants

“Go to Addo Elephant National Park.”

Of course, every now and then a negative Nancy will verbally slap back with a, “I went to Addo and saw nothing” or “we did not even see one elephant” or “the road to the Park is dangerous”.

First of all, if you’ve read my Tribute to all the “nothing” animals, you will know how I feel about this “nothing”-mentality.

It is nearly impossible to see nothing when visiting a South African National Park.

Dare I say that it is completely impossible?

And second of all, the road to Addo is not dangerous; in fact, all roads lead to the Addo Elephants (scroll to the bottom for 3 different route options).

Addo Elephant National Park is not only a place close to home, but also a place close to my heart.

It’s a place where the history is part of the fences, where oranges are forbidden and where the skull of a tortoise has power. It’s where you park your car and watch elephants bathe, it’s where you drive circles around dung beetles and laugh at the warthogs’ antenna-tails.

With every visit, especially during the last 5 to 10 years, heading to Hapoor Dam always brought the greatest elephant sightings where tiny babies, teenagers, mothers and big bulls will bathe, snorkel, splash and frolic around in the water. On a hot day you can see multiple herds approaching or leaving and there is always that one bull staying a bit behind, keeping an eye open like a bodyguard. Often there is a bit of a scuffle or a friendly wrestle; they kick up dust, push each other aside and interlock trunks while their trumpeting grunts and barks echo from spekboom to spekboom.

On a good day Hapoor Dam turns into party central as zebras, kudus, buffaloes, warthogs and even black-backed jackals join the crowd.

channeling my inner animal

“We did not even see one elephant!”

Ja, right. What a lie.

At least that’s what I thought until one fine day in May when I saw the sum total of two.

No, actually it was one and a half.

One elephant granted me the view of his face will another showed his butt for a few seconds. Both were hundreds of meters away and quickly disappeared into the thick bush.

And while it is still difficult to believe “We did not even see one elephant!” I am beginning to understand – and willing to admit – that it is highly unlikely, yet possible.

But that’s the beauty of Mother Nature; she is unpredictable, full of surprises and everything is completely up to her.

Addo Elephants 3

I didn’t see big herds of Addo elephants roaming or splashing around in the water this time because of all the (much-needed) rain that poured down in the week leading up to my visit.

And while it would’ve been great to see an ellie or a lion, it was even better to see how the bush rejoiced and broke out in shades of growing greens just a few months after everything was still dull, dead and filled with dust.

Have a look at the video from my visit; the day was a bit on the grey side, the roads were bumpy and muddy and there’s not a lot of variety in sightings but it’s still Addo and it will always be one of my favourite places! If you want to see another video of Addo, click here.

My favourite subject to photograph will always be nature’s living creatures – be it birds, bees or wild life – because I don’t have the luxury to be in control of the subject’s choice to move, stay or strike a memorable pose. What you see is what you get.

Addo Elephants 5

My recent visit to Addo just reminded me again how unpredictable nature can be and, when you do see something, how grateful one must be that all the stars lined up just for you to be in the right place, at the right time.

Directions: All roads lead to the Addo Elephants

If you don’t want to take the road going through Motherwell (the road that has been dubbed as dangerous), you can take the N2 towards Grahamstown and enter the park from its South gate, Mathyolweni.

If you want to go through the main gate you have two options: If you are coming from Port Elizabeth’s side you can simply continue on the N2, take the N10, and turn left onto the R342 and then right again onto the R335 – a detour yes, but it will bring you to the main gate. Or, another option is coming from Uitenhage’s side and taking the R75 towards Kirkwood; just after the springs resort, take the gravel road (MR00470) and where the road forks, take the right. This road will connect with the R335 that will bring you straight to Addo. If you take the wrong fork, no worries. The left fork ends in the R336 and you can either turn left to go to Kirkwood or right to get to the R335.

When I visit Addo on a day trip I usually enter at the Mathyolweni gate and exit at the main gate.

If you can’t stay overnight then make a day of it; pack a picnic basket, have a braai or get lunch at the Park’s restaurant.

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