We spent Thursday through Saturday at Addo Elephant National Park. We were so excited for our first safari experience. We drove in our own vehicle on Thursday afternoon, and quickly saw kudus and elands – different types of antelope – as well as ostrich and wombats. We were at a lookout on top of a hill when we spotted our first elephant, a huge brown spot moving through the thick brush below. We quickly drove down, trying to watch him as he crossed the road below, but we didn’t intercept him. We drove a few more km and turned into a grassland clearing, where we spotted more than 30 elephants. It was amazing. We pulled over and watched them drink and play at a water hole. The next thing we knew, they were walking towards us and crossing the road. One stopped about 10 feet from us and stared at us for awhile. Alicen was so scared and rolled up the window and exclaimed to Jeff that he was going to charge, but he just looked for a few minutes and then walked on by. We had so much fun watching them. They are Alicen’s favorite!
The elephants at Addo are African elephants, and they were nearly hunted into extinction between 1700 and the early 1900s due to the ivory trade and a conflict with agricultural producers. Other animals experienced similar fates, with the last lion and rhinos in the area being shot in 1879 and 1853, respectively. In 1920 there were only 16 elephants remaining. A government-sponsored hunt to rid the area of elephants had been highly successful, but also generated publicity and sympathy for the elephants, prompting a halt of the killings. In 1925 land was set aside for what would soon become Addo Elephant National Park, and today over 500 elephants reside there. Other native animals, including the lion and rhino, have been reintroduced.
On Friday morning we went kayaking in Sunday River and enjoyed seeing many birds and also some curious monkeys jumping from tree to tree to watch us float by. Our guide’s girlfriend’s great-grandfather (I know, I know, a bit removed, but it’s a good story!) was one of the first rangers in Kruger National Park (where we’re going next week). He is famous for having fought off and survived a lion attack with only a small knife. Jeff’s excited to find the memorial to him in Kruger.
Friday afternoon we did a guided safari in an open-air vehicle. This was amazing but also a bit scary, as there are no windows or sides to protect us from the animals. This fact is important to note, especially considering we saw lions! Jeff was most excited to see lions, and although it is considered extremely rare to see them in the park we were at, our driver had seen them earlier in the day during his morning game drive. We were up at a lookout enjoying drinks and a snack, when he spotted many cars around a waterhole below, and noted that none of the cars were leaving. He said this usually indicated that lions were present, and he encouraged us to quickly do a ‘Ferrari safari’ and get down there. So we jumped in and drove down, and found three lions lounging in the sun by the waterhole! He said they were siblings, two brothers and a sister. They were beautiful, and not at all startled or uncomfortable by the many onlookers. More than once they stared straight at us; it was such a great experience.
Saturday morning we did a guided horseback ride through the part of the park that doesn’t contain lions. Although we’d signed up for the ‘beginner’ horseback ride, we got absolutely no instruction, so it was a little bit of an adventure. After the ride we drove back into Addo to find the elephants again. Alicen really loved watching them and we knew we would not see this many elephants in Kruger. We watched them for over an hour, and Alicen said her official goodbye to them.