Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa

The original elephant sector of the Addo Elephant National Park, proclaimed in 1931, covered 12,000 ha, when only 11 elephants remained in the area. Since 2000, the park has undergone a process of expansion and new land purchase has been made possible by funds from the government and overseas donors. Today the park covers 292,000 ha and is the third largest conservation area in South Africa. The park now encompasses five neighbouring game reserves and wilderness areas and stretches from the Indian Ocean to the Little Karoo and incorporates five different habitat biospheres.

At the coast is a belt of coastal dunefields and forest. The 200-m Alexandria Dunefield, the largest active dunefields in the world after the Namib Desert, now falls within the park and the 120,000-ha marine reserve adjoining Addo includes many islands that are home to the largest population of African gannets and the second largest population of penguins. With the reintroduction of lion in 2003, it is now possible to see the Big Seven - elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, leopard, whale and great white shark - in a malaria-free environment. This expansion of the park is one of the most exciting and ambitious conservation projects ever undertaken, and Addo, now home to the densest population of elephant on earth, has become a highlight of the Eastern Cape.

Today this finely tuned ecosystem is sanctuary to a breeding herd of over 450 elephants, 400 Cape buffalo, 48 black rhino, hippo, cheetah, leopard, lion, spotted hyena, a variety of antelope species, as well as the flightless dung beetle - unique to the park and found wherever there's elephant dung. Over 185 species of bird have been recorded here. The relative flatness of the bush and the large number of elephant mean that they are easily seen. To add to this, there are a couple of waterholes which can be accessed by car. Visitors will often see several herds drinking at one time - this can mean watching over 100 elephant - a magnificent experience. Although you'll see them at any time of year, one of the best times to visit is in January and February, when many of the females will have recently calved.

Getting to Addo Elephant National Park

Most visitors head for the area where the elephants are found, which is south of the main camp at the main park entrance, 72 km from Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth). It can be reached by taking the R335, which is well signposted off the N2 from Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) to Grahamstown. A new access road into the park has been constructed that feeds off the N2 highway near Colchester, and goes through
the new Matyholweni Gate and Camp in the new southern block of the park before joining
up with the existing network of tourist roads in the park.

To get there from Nelson
Mandela Bay, take the N2 highway towards Grahamstown, and after 40 km where the road
crosses the Sundays River Bridge, turn left at the 'Camp Matyholweni' sign. Follow this road for about 3 km until you enter Matyholweni Gate at Camp Matyholweni. Follow the southern access road inside the park for 36 km to Addo's main camp. Coming from the Grahamstown direction, either take this new southern route, or from the N2 turn on to the N10 towards Cradock/Cookhouse, 80 km east of Grahamstown. Then, after 22 km, take
the R342 to the left when you get to the intersection with Paterson on your right, which leads
into the park and continues on to the main camp.

Within the park there is a network of good gravel roads if you are in your own car or you can book day and night drives, game
walks, and horse rides through reception. Booking ahead is essential. The coastal section and
Alexandria Dunefield is south of the N2, and there are access points to the beach
off the R72.
The northern section is best visited from the
Darlington Lake Lodge

Best time to visit Addo Elephant National Park

The weather here is usually warm and dry, and visits to the park are enjoyable all year round.

Park information; There is a swimming pool and tennis court at the main camp and a hide at a game-viewing waterhole that is floodlit at night. The park's other hide tends to be busier as it is near the restaurant, but it overlooks a small dam and is good for birdwatching. Note that in the elephant-watching area it is illegal to leave your vehicle anywhere other than at signposted climb-out points.

Alexandria Trail

On the coast to the south of Alexandria between the Bushman's River and the Sundays River mouths is the part of the park that is dunes and coastal forest. There are many easy trails passing along the beach and into the forest. The longest hike, for which permits are necessary, is the Alexandria Trail. It is 36 km long and is a marked two-day circular track - be warned that the markers can be blown over in strong wind and get buried in the sand.

The trail starts at the Woody Cape offices of the park, near the town of Alexandria. Turn right out of the park entrance towards Paterson. At the Paterson intersection, turn right towards Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth). Once you reach the N2, take the R72 to Port Alfred. Just before entering the town of Alexandria, take the gravel road to the right, marked with the park signboard. 

There is no large game here but this is the habitat of the hairy-footed gerbil which is endemic to this area. The forests are good for birdwatching and along the coast it is possible to see dolphins and the Damara tern. The first day takes you from the base camp at Langebos through forest down to the coastal dunefield which extends for 120 km up the coast. The hiking can be tough along the windy dunes but worth it for the fine isolated beaches. One night is spent in the hut at Woody Cape. In the morning the trail then heads back across farmland in the Langevlakte Valley and back to Langebos.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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