Addo and Grahamstown

What drew us to Addo was the Addo Elephant National Park, 600-square-miles (1,600 square km) of bushveld in the Sundays River Valley. The park was designated in 1931 to protect the 11 remaining elephants in the area. Today, there are 450 elephants in this park, and we were hoping to see a few of them.

We continued on the N2 from the Garden Route and took the R335 to Addo, a tiny town north of Port Elizabeth. The R335 was paved, but not in the greatest shape. And, there was loads of construction along the way too. But, we finally made it to Addo and Valentine Road, which will take us to the Homestead Bed & Breakfast, our home for the night.

Our trip from Addo to Grahamstown, South Africa

Our trip from Addo to Grahamstown, South Africa.

We buzzed the gate—everything is gated in South Africa—and it mysteriously opened. This place has an estate feel; within its walls are well-kept gardens and immaculate grounds, but outside everything is wild and overgrown. The woman who runs the place is very nice and she checked us in and showed us to our cottage.

It was about time for the sun to set, so we threw our stuff onto our bed and walked over to the sundowner deck beside our room, a small deck that looks over a small pond and the bush to the west. We took a lot of photos of the sunset, here are a few.

We spent about twenty minutes watching the sunset, then headed off to eat. There are few options in this remote area, but one that seems to rise above the rest is the Lenmore. We arrived just before 7 o'clock and were seated outside on a patio beside a large tree—a very nice setting to watch the stars come out tonight.

After some food, wine, and good conversation, we left the restaurant around quarter past ten. We drove back through the dark streets to our walled estate and took in the southern sky. We stargazed for about an hour before hitting the sack.

We woke up this morning refreshed and ready to see some elephants. We were not planning to drive too far today, so we could spend a lot of time in the park. We grabbed breakfast, all by ourselves in this grand estate dining room, then took some photos of the grounds in the daylight, before heading to the park.

After breakfast, we drove into Addo to get some gas and a phone card, then headed to the park. The Addo Elephant National Park is a large, spread out reserve, but we will see the top portion, where the bulk of the elephants live. The game reserves in South Africa are fenced in and once you enter, you're not allowed out of your car. Given that, they do feel wild and the animals have enough space to live naturally.

On our way to the Rooidam waterhole, we first stumbled upon a few ostriches and some warthogs.

We had no idea how many elephants we'd see here and hoped to see at least a few. Once we got to our first waterhole, there was, in fact, one lone elephant, who we watched for about ten minutes before he ambled away.

Once he left the waterhole, we figured we'd try our luck elsewhere in the park, but just as we were getting ready to go, a huge herd of elephants came in from the opposite direction. Clearly, the departure of the lone elephant was motivated by this incoming parade.

It took some time for the entire group to arrive, and once they did, they drank, played with one another, bathed a bit, and ate a little. It was amazing to watch, and we had a front-row seat for the entire spectacle. We watched for about an hour and a half as dozens of elephants frolicked by the water. Here's what we saw:

A group of elephants joins the herd at the waterhole.

Elephants play and flirt with one another with their trunks, and we saw many kids, teens, and adults touching one another with their trunks.

Elephants stay cool by flapping their humongous ears. This acts to cool the skin nearby, and the blood that flows through the ear is cooled by as much as ten degrees, keeping their temperature down. Coating themselves in dust also helps to insulate their skin from the sun.

The little ones are pretty nimble on their feet, but getting up can be a struggle.

After they were finished drinking and romping around the waterhole, they decided it was time to move on. The problem was that we were all in their way. The herd took to forming a wall, with the larger members up front. Then, they stared at us for what seemed like an eternity as they slowly inched their way toward us, getting closer and closer.

Suddenly, one elephant charged another, and the one under attack was backing up toward our car at a furious pace. I imagined an elephant's ass crushing the front of the car and I quickly jammed the key in the ignition and moved us away from the elephants. Other cars followed suit, and the elephants were happy once again.

The huge herd crossed the road where we were parked in order to snack on the bush. After a brief nosh, they were off to roam the bush until their next encounter with another waterhole later in the day.

Once the elephants left, we also left to explore other parts of the park. There are other animals here besides elephants. One, the kudu, is a large antelope with corkscrewed antlers and a few white strips on its side. We saw many of these all over the country.

The other, more endangered, species is the flightless dung beetle. Not only are you forbidden to run them over, but running over dung, where they lay their eggs, is also forbidden. I wondered how I would see a beetle crossing the road, but once I saw one, it was unmistakeable. First, they are large, very large. They move slowly and stand out on the road, so it's hard to miss them. Rare to have an insect on an endangered species list.

We drove south in the park to the Hapoor Dam, another waterhole. To our delight, there were a few more elephants here too.

Also present were the little families of warthogs, nibbling the grass.

Once again, as our attention was diverted to the waterhole, several elephants snuck up on us from the other direction, passing right beside the car. It's remarkable how quiet these massive creatures are. The largest elephants weigh in around 20,000 pounds (9,000 kg), but they are nearly silent when they walk. The groups ended up passing in front of and behind our car on their way to the waterhole. I must say, this left me with a feeling of exhilaration and complete terror all at the same time.

This group did not seem as happy as the last group we saw earlier this morning. Here, there was a mixture of males hanging out together, and some females and young ones. This large male gave himself a bath, then set out for the bush. Along the way, he showed off his manliness for all to see. The elephant's penis can reach six feet and has the ability to grab onto things and move like the elephant's trunk—two facts that make every other mammal envious.

Along the way, we saw many other animals, including more ostriches and dung beetles, a couple of bushbucks, some vervet monkeys, and several leopard tortoises. After the Hapoor Dam, we decided to grab some lunch at the restaurant in the park.

We ate a quick lunch (I had the calamari wrap), and picked up a lemon twist (a drink) for the guy at the gate who asked us to pick one up. We drove to the Gorah Loop, which passed through a few clearings and by a couple waterholes. The entire loop is about 10 km, but it's not paved, so it takes some time, particularly when we're on the lookout for wildlife. We saw more kudu, some eland, and Jackie thought she saw a cobra, but it turns out it was only a stick. Near the end of the loop, I spotted something in the distance, something we needed our telephoto lenses in order to see. Jackie and I could not agree if it was the meerkat or the yellow mongoose. I believe it was the mongoose, Jackie thinks it was the meerkat.

The Addo park brochure had a wildlife checklist, which Jackie embraced wholeheartedly. She faithfully marked the list and referred back to it throughout our trip. Here is the list in all its glory, a brief list of wildlife visible in Addo.

Addo Wildlife Checklist

The Addo Elephant National Park wildlife checklist.

It was a little after 4 o'clock now, so we decided to head to Grahamstown, where we booked a room for the night. It's not too far away, but we want to get in before it's dark.

We headed east out of the park on the R342 and Jackie spotted her first zebra. It was pretty far from the road, so there was no chance for me to see it. I did acknowledge that there was a four-legged creature off in the distance, but I could not look through her 300-mm lens to see the stripes.

After crossing the N10, R342 passed through Paterson and its surrounding townships, where Jackie took some photos. But, a kilometer after passing through the town the pavement ran out. While the road cut a corner, I decided we would make better time on the N10, plus, I was tired of driving on dirt roads all day in the park. So, we turned back and took the N10 to Ncanara, where the road meets the N2.

Mountains outside Grahamstown, South Africa

Mountains outside Grahamstown, South Africa.

It was a quick drive to Grahamstown over the green-covered mountains and hills along the N2. Grahamstown is home to Rhodes University, so it's unmistakably a college town. We arranged to stay at a B&B called 137 High Street. We checked in and chatted with the two girls running the place. They advised us about restaurants and the dodgy parts of town to avoid.

We walked toward the large church at the center of town. By now, the sun was down and twilight was quickly coming to an end. We snapped some photos from Church Square, then we began looking for a place to eat dinner.

We headed to New Street and the famous Rat and Parrot bar and restaurant. They have a spacious, covered balcony on the second floor. There were a few tables occupied when we arrived. The trio at the table beside us were talking about video games the entire time—oh yes, we are in a college town. Within an hour, the balcony filled up with college kids drinking mass quantities of beer and acting like, well, college kids.

Jackie and I felt a little out of place, sharing our beef lasagna and salad while the conversation around us revolved around scoring chicks, and getting drunk. We walked home and fell fast asleep. Tomorrow is a long driving day.