Home to the Big 5, as well as one of the densest Elephant populations in Africa, and offering a truly unrivaled biodiversity – The Addo Elephant National Park is not to be missed.
The Addo Elephant National Park has come a long way since we first explored it in the late eighties when it consisted of what is now the central section!
Since then the park has been extended to include the coastal Colchester and Woody Cape sections to the south, as well as the northern Darlington, Kabouga, Zuurberg and Nyathi sections.
At 1640 square kilometres it is now our third biggest national park, after the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Want to have a look at the Addo Elephant National Park layout?
Where is the Addo Elephant park?
The Addo is located in the Eastern Cape, near Port Elizabeth, and at just over 750 km it is the most accessible true bush experience to Cape Town (the next closest is the Kgalagadi at around 1050km and you have to trek 1800km for your Kruger fix).
Another bonus is that the entire park is in a malaria-free area. The Addo is also the only national park that can deliver a “Big 7” experience (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard, humpback whale and great white shark).
Tip: We prefer to drive and plan our own trips, but not everyone does, so if you’re on holiday in Cape Town and you’re wanting to go on a guided safari with a trusted opperator, then either a 7 day Garden Route, Addo and Winelands tour, or a 5 day Garden Route and Addo tour are both great options.
Addo Elephant Park animals
In the past, you had to be really lucky to see lions, but now the numbers have grown to around 30 and you stand a reasonable chance to see these majestic creatures during your visit.
We have been to the Addo ten times, and have yet to see a leopard, but can boast caracal sightings on two occasions and even a black rhino once.
Buffalos are guaranteed, but the real draw-card is the 600-odd elephants, because nowhere else on the planet will you be able to enjoy close encounters with these magnificent giants.
The reason is unknown, but somehow the Addo elephants are much more chilled out than their Kruger counterparts, which means you don’t need to get out of their way; they simply walk past your car, literally brushing within meters of you (sometimes centimetres!) and at no point do you feel threatened.
Just switch off your engine and enjoy watching them go about their business of foraging for food or sipping in the cool waters of the famous Hapoor Dam, where herds of over 100 specimens are not uncommon.
Elephants without tusks
So why do some elephants have small tusks, or have tusks missing altogether?
It is a simple adaption for survival, because poachers target elephants with big tusks for their ivory. Elephants that have tusks are removed from the gene pool, and the tusk-less survivors pass their traits onto the next generation.
In most African elephant populations, as few as 2 percent of the cows lack tusks. But among Addo’s 300-odd females, the rate is 90 percent to 95 percent, a trait that has evolved rapidly over the last century.
The result? Well, the Addo elephants may just be the biggest success story in anti-poaching to date. Tusklessness has helped protect them against poachers. Maybe that’s why they are more chilled out than their Kruger counterparts…
Addo Elephant Park Accommodation
There are numerous accommodation options in most of the aforementioned sections, but in this article, we will focus on the central main section, which also hosts most of the wildlife, including all the “Big 5”.
Accommodation is set around the main camp, which is easiest to access via the R342 skirting the western boundary. However, this road is not in great condition, especially the section near Port Elizabeth, so we prefer to enter the park from the Colchester gate off the N2, about 40km past Port Elizabeth.
Not only do you avoid a bad road passing through unsightly industrial areas, but you also get a bonus game drive as you slowly cover the 35km north to main camp (along decent gravel roads).
Most of the accommodation in the main camp caters to non-campers, with chalets, cottages, cabins and rondavels spread out within the fenced area (tip: chalets 17 to 24 and 33 to 38 all have views onto the water hole, where game frequently congregates).
The campsite consists of about 30 spacious sites (some are small and can only handle tents, so make sure you book a large one if you are taking a caravan or trailer). See here for the detailed camp layout.
Addo Elephant Park Downside
There is one thing we need to warn you about because the first time you experience it you will be thoroughly confused… there is an active train line that runs a kilometre to the north of the camp, with long freight trains passing a couple of times daily.
However, that being said, you soon get used to it and it’s hardly a distraction after day 1.
Addo Elephant National Park – Ammenities
The rest camp is really impressive, starting with the well-equipped shop where you can get everyday food items, beverages (including the full range of alcohol) and all manner of curios.
Then there is the impressive restaurant, which serves amazing Springbok shank, or you can just sit on the covered veranda sipping your drink and watching the hustle and bustle of camp life drifting by.
They have an exceptionally informative education centre that will keep you occupied for hours. Another centrepiece is the underground hide (floodlit at night), where you get an eye-level view of game at the water hole, just meters away, a brilliant spot to hone your photography skills.
The PPC Discovery trail, located within the fenced rest camp, allows you safe access to get some exercise while marvelling at the spekboom, a truly unique plant, which is believed to be 10 times more productive in terms of generating oxygen than the Amazon rain forest! Finally, there is a communal pool to pass time during the midday heat, when animals are generally at their least active.
Oh, and there is a spa. The main rest camp really has it all!
Addo Elephant Park self drive
We recommend that you do two game drives every day to make the most of your time in Addo and we suggest you stay between 3 to 5 nights. In that time you can cover all the 120km of roads in the central section, giving you a good perspective of the various different landscapes on offer.
The Domkrag Dam is a great place to observe water birds and you are free to get out of your car, but remember there are lions in the park, so be vigilant.
The Zuurkop, Kadouw and Algoa Bay Lookout points are the other three places where you may alight from your vehicle, and being elevated, these offer great views of the entire park.
Our best game drive is to head to Hapoor dam, via Gwarrie pan and Rooidam, where you have the best chance to encounter large herds of elephant and buffalo.
Then pop into Jack’s Picnic site (fenced), where you can enjoy a late breakfast at one of the shaded and secluded braai spots.
A longer game drive suggestion is to head into the southern Colchester section, with its superior hilly landscapes (and arguably better prospects for lion sightings).
For those new to self-driving, it is often a good option to consider one of the organised game drives, which can be arranged at the booking office next to the education centre, or if you are staying outside the park, for example in Port Elizabeth, you may consider an 8-hour tour from Port Elizabeth, as offered by Get Your Guide.
What else can you see in the Addo?
Speciality sightings include the flightless dung beetle, which only occurs in the Addo Elephant National Park. It is endangered, and you should avoid driving over elephant dung, where these fellows like to hang out.
A paradise awaits the twitchers, with a bird list of 417 species for the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.
So what are you waiting for?
See any photographs you really like? Visit our Etsy page to order prints of your own!