Thursday 24th - Saturday 26th
We spent the whole night driving, taking it in turns to go 250km each and then swapping over. Eventually the sun came up, the weather cleared and we made it to Addo Elephant Park by 11am. Addo is the third largest National Park in South Africa, currently about 180,000 hectares, but plans are soon to change it into a 264,000 hectare mega park with a 120,000 marine reserve, protecting Islands that are home to the endangered cape gannets and African penguins. So in all it was pretty damn impressive when we turned up there! We checked in, booked ourselves in for a horse ride on Friday morning and drove through the Park to the spekboom campsite that was in a secluded patch of the park with just six tents and a little ablutions block and a private hide overlooking a wallow. On the way we were joking about what would happen if we did not see a single elephant while we were here, but fortunately we came across our first male elephant making his way through some spekboom and sat watching him until he had wondered out of sight. We then came across our first Flightless Addo dung beetle just before we got into the camp and watched him rolling a ball of dung across the tar road, it was so cool!
When we got to the camp we unpacked the car and settled down at the tent, watching some birds trying to sneak up on us while hiding under the blankets to try and take photos of them. Then we decided to have a nap and relax a bit after having driven for so long. I read for a bit before falling asleep and slept soundly until about 2pm when we got up and went out into the park in search of elephants.
We first started heading South but only after a couple minutes of driving we came across a huge male elephant marching down the road tossing his head from side to side and acting like a kid. At this point in time I did not realise how friendly elephants were here compared to places like Kruger. So I panicked a little bit and began reversing away from the bull. After about 50m I stopped and waited but he just kept trundling toward us at quite a pace, so I reversed again, and still this bloody elephant kept chasing us! I eventually reversed past a Land Rover and hid behind him. The elephant at this point just walked straight past the Land Rover, and oh man did I feel like an idiot. Once he had walked off we made our way to Harpoor Dam. There was another, younger elephant bull at the dam having a drink, we watched as he washed himself down and drank water. Eventually he was joined by the elephant that had 'chased' us down the road. The two bull elephants greeted each other and played together while we and just a couple of other cars sat watching them for an hour.
When it was time to get back to the camp we went round the dam and onto the road, but I saw something moving and stopped the car. After looking for a few seconds I said to Ben that there was a Mongoose over there, until I realised that there were actually half a dozen of these things, that were in fact meerkats! They were so cute! I had never seen one in real life, so this was just such a wonderful sighting. The meerkats took it in turns foraging and looking about, seeing as the sun was starting to go down I guess they were heading back to their den so they were gradually getting closer to us until finally they started crossing the road. A few sat one in front of the other in a long line watching for predators, but they took absolutely no interest in us and carried about their business. It started getting late though, and with only fifteen minutes to get back to camp before the gates closed, we had to leave the meerkats behind and go to the camp.
When we were back at the camp Ben and I started a fire in the braai pit, and then I went to get the food for dinner. Because it was thanksgiving and I was spending it with an American, we had a big special dinner and celebrated having made it to Addo despite all the hiccups! It really started getting cold by that point and so we grabbed blankets and e sat outside reading our books until it got so cold that we could see our breathe and decided to call it a night. I could not believe how cold it was down here, I felt like I was back in England! But under my duvet and big fluffy blankets I soon warmed up and went to sleep.
I was so excited when I woke up on Friday morning! I could not believe that we were in Addo, so far from Garonga and enjoying every minute of our time off! We had to leave fairly early to go to the activities reception and book in for the horse riding and check out of the spekboom camp and into the normal camp, but when we got there the horse riding had been cancelled because there were lions near the stables that morning and they didn't want to take the horses that close to the lions. So we decided against booking the horse ride again and instead decided that we would go on this evenings night drive.
So with that all sorted we went off to the big campsite and found a spot to pitch our tent and set up our little camp. I finally got hold of Mark and spoke with him about how placement finding was going, but he said the placement he was thinking of had fallen through so fingers crossed someone I have emailed will take me. Its lovely being out in the middle of nowhere and just enjoying nature, but every now and then it is a pain in the bum when you really need to check your email! Well once that was done we were able to head back out into the park.
We spent the day driving the Northern part of the park. First we went to Domkrag Dam, where you could get out of your car at the top of the hill and watch the elephants below drinking at the dam. There we saw our first herd of females, elephants of all ages scampering around, all with their own quirky personalities shining through. One was playing with some pond weed, she was putting it on her head, then taking it off and flinging it over her back before prancing around to show all the others, and then there was another trying to spray a duck with muddy water. It was amazing watching them all!
They then left the dam and preceded up the hill walking past the car park while taking no notice of everybody. We stayed for a few more minutes taking pictures of the Cape weaver that was sitting next to us before getting back in the car and carrying on our adventure. We drove round to the North Eastern part of the park going up some very big hills and every now and then getting out at the car stops to have a look around. Some of the designated areas were funny, they had these big beware of Lion posters with a picture of one just under it…obviously because people don't know what a lion looks like!
Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent checking out all the hills and valleys around the eastern side, which not only boasted a spectacular view, the game up there was great too! We saw two Red hartebeest males that were chilling out on a nice meadow of grass. One laid down all calm and relaxed while the other stood far back near the trees keeping a watchful eye out. After we had explored enough, we went down to Harpoor Dam to see if the elephants were there drinking. There were the same two males from the day before that were sparring and some more wonderful meerkats down by the dam, so we stayed as late as we could watching them and taking photos there as one meerkat that climbed a bush that we were parked next to, and it was completely oblivious to us, well not completely, it just ignored us while trying to look over the car to make sure there were no predators! Then to top it off, just as we decided to go back to camp a Yellow mongoose ran down the road and started checking out the meerkats. It was awesome, he sat there on the side of the road for a bit, then followed behind as the meerkats left to go home for the night drive.
When Ben and I got back we had just about enough time to freshen up before meeting at the vehicle for the night drive. The head guide - Johan - was really nice and made the drive really interactive, joked around and was generally just a great guide. We picked up loads of tips too! Well we drove around for a bit and went to a couple of dams to see if there was any wildlife about, and for a while we only saw zebra and scrub hare etc. Then after a while of driving all of a sudden the spotlight picked up the back end of a Black rhino!!! I could not believe it! A Black rhino!!! Of all the things we expected to see on the drive this was definitely not one of them, I mean a Black rhino is so rare to find because the guides don't tell guests where they have been spotted due to the poachers that might be undercover, so all Ben and I could do was look on in absolute awe. I was astounded that there was one here because I had not seen a single dung midden when driving around. I voiced this to Ben, and Johan overheard and then said I seemed to know a lot about wildlife and asked what interest I had in it. We then explained we were on our holiday from doing our Field Guide training and Johan and all the other guests were congratulated us on passing our exams.
We watched the Black rhino for a bit longer until eventually he wondered out of sight and then carried on our drive. After another ten minutes though we came across another Black rhino! It was amazing. The South Africans behind us kept going on about seeing Lions and so Johan just turned around and said forget that this is the holy grail of Safari drives so enjoy it. And we did. The rhino munched on some vegetation while I looked on in utter amazement. Ben managed to get a few pictures of it before it walked off into the darkness, at which point I was happ to go back without seeing another single animal.
The last part of the drive was a detour down to one of the dams, where we came across a herd of elephants that were feeding by the side of the road. They took no notice of us, and instead just walked around the huge safari vehicle totally undistrurbed. As we got to the dam a hyena walked out of the darkness and caused the elephants to start trumpeting at it so she walked towards us and then past the vehicle and up the road. We followed her for a long while until eventually we lost her in the scrub, but It had been a wonderful sighting so I didn't mind that it was time to head back to the camp!
When w got back, Ben and I talked to Johan for a bit and thanked him for the wonderful drive, then came back to the camp and made a quick dinner. We then ate around the fire chatting about all the tips we picked up from Johan and what we would do if were guiding. It was quite fun actually seeing that one day we could be guides like that, it's great to see what we can do with our qualifications, and see how excited and appreciative people can be when they have a great guide to show them how wonderful nature can be.
Saturday morning Ben and I woke up early so that we could head off to the South of the park for the day. The drive down took a while, and we had to cross a main road that ran through the park dividing the two sections to get there. But almost as soon as we drove down the mountain to the Southern part of the park, the vegetation changed drastically, boasting cactuses and succulent plants as well as an exquisite view of the sea, that actually as far as the eye can see is part of Addo National Park and is the only National Park to include both land and sea protection and have the Big seven: Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Black Rhino, Buffalo, Great White Shark and the Southern Right Whale. It is the most beautiful park I have ever been too and because there are so fewer tourists there, it means that you can enjoy sightings without people around driving like idiots and scaring the animals away.
So the South of the Park was beautiful, there were huge valleys that we drove between with elephants cascading down the mountain and munching on cactus as they came. All the elephants also seemed to be a bit more orange coloured than the others, but after seeing a herd playing in the mud we soon figured out why. The soil had more clay in here so the mud wallows left all the elephants with an orange tinge to them, there was one cute baby that got stuck in the mud when the rest of the herd started to move away, but with a little whine, mummy came back and helped the little one out. It was so cute!
We then carried on driving and up a mountain pass we went trying to find some antelope when we suddenly emerged onto the top and had the most gorgeous view of the sea. It was simply beautiful and so we watched for a few minutes before continuing on. Early in the afternoon we reached a lookout point, which on the map looked like we would be able to get out etc, but when we got there, there were no signs or anything so we risked it and got out to have a stretch, chow down some lunch and run off into the bush for a much needed pee! The view was lovely and we could see right into the valley where there was the odd elephant walking in the open grassland. Eventually it was time to start heading back so we got back in the car and went a different way back.
Halfway up the road there was the most amazing sighting of a Buzzard I had ever seen. It sat on top of some Spekboom having a scratch and not caring that we were sitting quite happily in the car next to him. Once we had taken our photo's we moved on, only to come across a car that hailed us down to tell us there was a lion a couple of km up the road. We figured if it was just a few km then there was no harm in going to have a look, so off we went in search of the elusive Addo Lions, of which there are only nine in the whole park.
After 3km I said to Ben that they had probably gone into the thick scrub so we decided to stop looking and just drive on. Then all of a sudden Ben spotted something big and gold in the distance with a car parked on the side of the road. We figured it was an antelope, what with it being so lightly coloured, but when we drove closer it turned out it was a magnificent golden lion! He was literally the colour of sunshine and had a gorgeous mane to go with it. First he was drinking out of a waterhole, then he lay down for a while basking in the sun. Finally he got up and lay down near the grass when only a few minutes later a warthog started to make its way to the waterhole. All of a sudden the male lion turned onto his front and crouched down so low that the warthog could not see him over the grass. Ben and I got so excited that we were going to see our first kill but then the warthog suddenly ran away and we could not figure out why. Then the brother of the male lion walked out of the bushes and over to the waterhole where the other male had been and bent down to have a drink. It was lovely seeing them both together and we felt especially lovely because of the nine lions in the park we now had two magnificent golden male lions sitting in front of us. It was great to sit and watch. Once again there were barely any cars at the sighting so the lions were not disturbed in the slightest and we were able to watch them blissfully basking in the sun.
Our journey back to camp was a little less uneventful. We popped over to see the meerkats one last time at Harpoor Dam. As usual the little rascals were scampering around being more than cute, but we had to get back to camp. There was a lovely looking jackal that was standing on the side of the road, and we just had to stop and take a few pictures of him seeing as the jackals back at Garonga are usually so skittish and run away. Then finally on our way out of the park we came across a male elephant that was walking in front of us towards the exit gate. It was kind of sad in a way that the ellie was walking away from us kind of as a goodbye from Addo. I then realized that I really did not want to leave, and for the first time during one of our weeks off I was not ready to go back to Garonga, I just wanted to stay at Addo with Ben and the elephants.
We got back to camp and went to the communal kitchen to make some dinner, then sat in front of a fire that we had made in the braai pit while reminiscing about the holiday. It had been such a wonderful week, and I am so glad that I was able to see so much more of South Africa before I go home. Well soon after dinner we decided to call it a night, we have to leave early to get to Golden Gate, and it is a pretty long journey, around 10 hours, so I definitely needed a good night sleep If I was to avoid falling asleep in the car!