Addo Elephant Park, Eastern Cape
If it is elephants you want to see then head to Addo Elephant Park. Now South Africa's third largest national reserve, Addo Elephant National Park lies in the malaria-free Sundays River valley in the Eastern Cape, just over an hour's drive from Port Elizabeth. It stretches from the semi-arid karoo of the north, over the Zuurberg Mountains and down through the Sundays River valley to the coast, to between the mouths of the Sundays and Bushman's rivers.
Addo is home to one of the densest African Elephant populations on earth, roughly 550 of them. They once roamed the entire continent. By 1979 there were only 1.3 million African elephants left, and in 1989 they were added to the international list of the most endangered species, with only sixteen left in the Greater Addo area.
The Elephants play a key role in the environment - pulling down trees, breaking up bushes, and digging waterholes and trails. Their droppings are particularly important as baboons and birds pick them over for undigested seeds and nuts, and the dung beetle (the flightless dung beetle is only found in Addo) use them in which to reproduce.
To see elephant, head to the waterholes of the Addo Elephant reserve. In the hot climate of Africa, elephants need roughly 190 litres of water to drink on a daily basis. Their trunks, which are something like large and long hosepipes, have a 23 litre capacity. The main rest camp in particular overlooks a waterhole with an underground viewing area that gets you up close to the elephants. Often you need do little more than remain around this hole to see herds of elephant.
An overnight stay out of season is even better, as once the noise of the daily visitors subsides then the watering hole becomes quiet and still. Guided game drives at sunrise, sunset and at night offer more chance of sighting the rest of the Big 5. And if you prefer to do the viewing in the comfort of your own car, guides are available in a 'hop-on' service. Elephants are known to come within metres of visitors' cars.
Hiking trails in the reserve include the Alexandria Hiking trail a 2-day, 36km trail in the Woody Cape part of the park, Tree Dassie Trail a 7km day hike, Zuurberg Mountain Trails that range from 2.4km to 8km in length, and the PPC Discovery Trail through the Albany thicket ecosystem. To reach the coastal area of the park, head to the Sundays River mouth off the N2 near Colchester, or to the Woody Cape ranger's offices off the R72 near Alexandria where there is a walking trail and boardwalk.
If you are considering a visit to this famous National Park then you may find this article helpful: Addo Elephant Park - a commune with Elephants.
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Addo Elephant Park
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The highly adaptable leopard has always managed to survive in the area and with the consolidation of the land during park expansion, lion were reintroduced to complete the big five. Furthermore, with the park now stretching to the shores of the Indian Ocean, whales and dolphins swell the viewing opportunities. Among the smaller mammals to search for, family groups of meerkat may be seen.