Addo elephant in the water at one of the watering holes.
By Amelia Meyer
Addo Elephant National Park
At 180 000 hectares in area, the Addo Elephant National Park is the third largest national park in the country and covers a variety of areas and landscapes. These include the arid, scrubby Karoo, the breath-taking Zuurberg Mountains and the Sundays River and Bushman’s River valleys. Each year, Addo Elephant National Park welcomes approximately 140 000 visitors to the park from all over South Africa and the world. Just over half of these ones are overseas tourists.
Centuries ago, this area was abundant in wildlife and natural vegetation and was occupied by local African tribes. However, the 18th and 19th centuries saw an influx of colonial hunters, who almost wiped out the elephant population completely.
In addition to being hunted for trophies and sport, the elephants were also killed to protect the farming crops and to minimise competition for valuable water. By the time the area was proclaimed a national park in efforts to protect the species, which occurred in 1931, there were fewer than 20 elephants left.
At this time, the park was only 2 000 hectares in area. Still, there were enormous outcries by the surrounding farmers as the elephants were not contained in any way, and ambled across the borders onto surrounding farmland. In 1954, fences were made using tram rails. These enclosed an area of 2 270 hectares and 22 elephants.
Mother elephant and her calf drinking.
The archaeological remnants of the Strandloper people, a travelling African culture, remain in the Alexandria Dunefield, where shells and bones testify to their diet and fragments of ceramics and stone implements reveal their way of life. These have been preserved within the caves of the Zuurberg Mountains and provide hours of fascinating exploration for visitors.
Today, Addo Elephant National Park has expanded, now home to more than 550 African Elephants as well as about 400 Cape Buffalo, lions, ostriches, hyenas, warthogs, zebra, 48 Black Rhinoceros (an endangered species), leopards and the famous Addo Flightless Dung Beetle, unique to this area. There is an official list of 170 identified bird species, includingweavers, herons, red bishops, coots and terrapins. For a better chance at seeing a wider variety of animals in their natural habitat, there are a number of accommodation options available to visitors of Addo. These range from camping facilities to luxurious tented retreats and lodges.
During their stay in Addo Elephant National Park, visitors are encouraged to enjoy some (or all) of the following activities:
•Game drives (guided or self-driven) •Horse rides along established trails •Walks along the various hiking trails •The Tree Dassie Trail (Tree Dassies are a rare type of Hyrax or Rock Rabbit) •4 x 4 rides along challenging terrain •Bird watching •Picnicking and barbecuing with a view of one of the frequented water holes
Facilities at the Addo Elephant National Park include:
•An a-la-carte restaurant •Curio shop •Underground hide at the watering hole •Swimming pool •Picnic and barbecue area •Lookout platforms at the watering holes •Fuel station