Addo Elephant National Park is fast becoming the crown jewel in the South African National Parks portfolio, with the widest range of eco-systems of all parks in Africa.
My first trip to Addo Elephant National Park was memorable for an incident of immense embarrassment to myself, although nobody but a colleague and I were aware of the embarrassment.
It was while I was working for the old Cape Department of Nature Conservation and had gone to Addo to collect game capture equipment from the National Parks game capture unit. Upon arrival the necessary person was not yet available and so we decided to do a drive in the park. After some time I began to wonder why other drivers were showing such surprise as we drove past them. Some even looked worried.
The realization slowly dawned that we were on a one way road - and we were travelling the wrong way. Our saving grace was that we were in a conservation car - the department of conservation logo could very easily be mistaken for the national parks logo. Everyone we past presumed we were on a patrol. To this day the only people that know the truth are my erstwhile colleague and I.
Addo Elephant National Park today is a far cry from the times of my first visit more than twenty-five years ago and is considered by many conservationists as the 'next big thing' in South African tourism. The Elephants are thriving, more species have been introduced, and the park is growing in size.
Once a small park of valley bushveld, and some Elephants, Addo now stretches from the ridges of the semi-arid Karoo through the valley bushveld and into the Indian Ocean. With six biomes the park boasts the greatest bio-diversity of any park in South Africa.
Driving around Addo National Park is easy - the main roads are paved and the dirt roads are well maintained. The game is plentiful and is habituated to vehicles, although it can still be intimidating when a large elephant bull walks a few feet past your car.
During the drier winter months the waterholes are the best bet for game viewing as the animals concentrate around these water points. It is not unusual to find five species in the vicinity of one waterhole, although it is the Elephants that are usually dominating proceedings.
The main rest camp in the park has a number of accommodation types ranging from camping to luxury chalets. Other smaller rest camps provide more intimate and unique getaways in the newer areas of the park. Addo Elephant National Park is a far cry from the park where I drove against the flow of traffic all those years ago.
By Leigh Kemp