“Bloody hell, is that an orange???” I asked with a somewhat incredulous and panicked tone to my voice.
“No, I think it’s a Malayan Satsuma” replied the missus who was sitting next to me in the passenger seat slurping away “Its very juicy; no pips. Would you like one? There’s a whole bag in the back”
I took another glance in the rear view mirror and confirmed, to my horror, that the enormous (and I do mean enormous) bull elephant which had appeared to be rampaging purposefully towards our vehicle was indeed, beyond a doubt doing just that.
Smaller elephants were being batted aside by its massive flailing trunk whilst the other cars parked around the waterhole were being completely and utterly ignored.
‘Oh dear’ evidently he had eyes just for us, and what’s more, he was travelling at a velocity unbefitting such a huge unwieldy beast.
“Shit! Didn’t you see the sign at the main gate?” I screeched at my wife
“The one that said—‘Absolutely No Citrus allowed!’”
The Addo Elephant National Park, situated in South Africa’s Eastern Cape has a blanket speed limit of 40 kilometres per hour in order to protect it’s wildlife- however; in this case, I considered it prudent to bend the rules a little as it wasn’t actually the wildlife that needed protecting.
And so, off we sped, leaving both the astonished tourists and the enraged pachyderm eating the dust from the wake of our wheels.
A short time later, safely ensconced back at camp in our thatched roofed safari lodge, I emptied our Satsuma stash into the bin and sprayed the interior of the car with tea tree oil.
“That should do it” I said and then handed the National Park guide book over to my wife “Turn to page 2. That’s where the Oranges are explained”
Addo Elephant National Park, one of South Africa’s most diverse wildlife reserves, was established in 1931 in order to prevent the very last of the region’s once mighty Elephants from being blasted into oblivion by angry farmers. Land disputes and accusations of surreptitious maize nibbling (amongst other things) had led to an escalating series of confrontations which had ended in violence. On one side, small yappy dogs had been trampled, tomatoes had been pilfered, and unsightly footprints left on neatly manicured lawns. On the other – herds had been peppered with buck shot, waterholes poisoned and babies gunned down.
It was all a bit one sided really, and before long there were very few elephants left.
But then along came some big hearted greenies who complained about the slaughter and rallied public opinion in favour of the beleaguered pachyderms; and just in the nick of time too for only eleven elephants remained. Eventually though, a fence was erected around 2000 hectares of land and daily rations of Oranges were shipped in. And that’s how Addo was born.
But things couldn’t stay ideal forever; especially where food was concerned, and as the elephant population increased, their hitherto polite table manners were replaced with argybargy and frenzied mayhem. Little elephants got squashed by bigger elephants and once the fruit had been hooverd up, the animals just sat around and waited for the next delivery. And so, in 1979 the feeding was stopped and the elephants were told to go forth and eat native vegetation (which doesn’t really taste very nice). However, as we all know, elephants have impeccable memories, and that’s why you’re not allowed to take citrus fruit anywhere near the park.
Since those first humble 20th centaury origins, quite a lot has changed in Addo National Park. Firstly, it’s grown in size to accommodate not only the 600 or so elephants, but also the hundreds of thousands of other animals that have been allowed to come back, or have been actively introduced. There are now Black Rhino present, Cape buffalo, zebra, and eland as well as a plethora of predators including leopard, wild dog, lions and cheetah.
Its everything one would expect from an African Bush safari destination…But that’s just the heart; the core; of what has become one of the continent’s most ambitious multi biome conservation projects ever; a Mega Park comprising some 164000 hectares of land covering five different terrestrial habitats. And it doesn’t stop there either, for beyond the shifting sands and crashing coastal waves there is a further 120000 hectares of marine reserve where one can find charismatic islanders such as gannets, seals and penguins.
In short, Addo is an incredible swath of conservation land and sea which begins in the north amongst the endless open spaces of the Great Nama Karoo, and ends deep in the Indian Ocean where dolphins do their thing. And in between? Well, loads of stuff really; mountains, rivers, plains, hills, lakes, gorges, forests, sand dunes and beaches.
In fact, it’s the only national park on earth where you can go and see the big seven “Elephants, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard, Rhinoceros, Southern Right Whale and Great White Sharks as well…yikes!”
My family and I went to Addo initially for the elephants, but what we discovered was a fascinating and expansive landscape deserving of world heritage status. The pachyderms were just a delightful little side show really…
We ambled upon the backs of horses amongst elephants and other big game, and we explored the mountain passes in our sturdy 4×4.
There were rhino dwelling over there on the other side of those hills, and although rarely seen, their presence made the simple act of taking a pee behind a bush quite an exciting experience. One can’t help but jump involuntarily at the slightest of sounds.
And so, with splashed shoes, I slowly drove our car in 2nd gear amongst soaring mountains and across rivers where hippos are known to wallow. It was so idyllic that I felt compelled to leap from the car, swing my wife in circles and burst into a Von Trap Family song…But I didn’t because there are rhinos out there. Hiding. Waiting.
The wildlife spectacles at Addo, from tuxedoed penguins to leggy Ostriches, are all quite wonderful and certainly exceptionally varied for an African Game Park, but it’s the accommodation options that really make the place stand out from the pack.
There are secluded tented bush camps, caravan parks and campgrounds as well as comfortable huts, traditional tribal round houses, bush cottages, and luxury tents all of which are available at reasonable prices- And if you wanna go posh, there are four contractually run five star lodges too… all fluffy beds, foot massages, whirlpools and Pims with pith helmets.
And so we stayed in Addo for more than a week- exploring the various sectors and thrilling ourselves with wonderful African Wildlife encounters. We hiked and we drove, we swam and we rode, and we took boat trips and night time safaris where giggling hyenas went nibbling on prey….And then, for nostalgia’s sake, on our very last day we went back to the waterhole to watch the elephant’s wallow and bath.
That’s when I noticed the distant big bull elephant in the rear view mirror again; ears flapping, trunk outstretched, feet pounding like pistons on steam roller.
“Lemonade darling?” asked my wife “It’s very juicy; no pips. And I made it fresh this morning…”
Everything you need to know about Addo can be found at www.sanparks.org/parks/addo/
Accommodation bookings inside the park are essential (visit their webpage)
There are numerous accommodation options outside of the park www.greateraddo.com\
For a taste of five star luxury there are four concession lodges within the park boundaries- all of which operate guided tours and other activities.
Intsomi is in the southern forested section close to the dunes www.intsomi.co.za
Darlington Lake lodge is in the Northern Arid Karoo www.darlington.co.za
Riverbend Lodge is at the foot of the mountains www.riverbend.za.com
Gorah Elephant Camp for colonial Pith Helmeted luxury www.gorah.com