With my teeth I tear open a bag of muesli. It’s early, very early. The bag gives in and opens up. “Maybe it’s too early”, I muse to myself. Helga crawls out of the rooftoptent, a sleeping bag tucked around her. We have a quick breakfast before packing everything up. Everything got wet because of the rain last night. When we went to bed the whole sky was clear and hundreds of stars shone bright. But the wind brought a vast amount of clouds above us while we were sleeping and unceremoniously dropped its contents. We woke and from the tent we could see lightning finding its way to the ground while thunder kept us from our sleep for a while.
We fold up the tent while it is still wet and put everything in its place. The sun manages to get through the clouds when we get in to our car and we head west.
One of the largest national park in South Africa, Addo Elephant National Park has expanded to conserve a wide range of biodiversity, landscapes, fauna and flora. Stretching from the semi-arid karoo area in the north around Darlington Dam, over the rugged Zuurberg Mountains, through the Sundays River Valley and south to the coast between Sundays River mouth and Bushman’s river mouth, Addo covers about 180 000 hectares (444 700 acres) and includes the Bird and St Croix Island groups.
The original elephant section of the park was proclaimed in 1931, when only eleven elephants remained in the area. Today this finely-tuned ecosystem is sanctuary to over 600 elephant, lion, buffalo, black rhino, spotted hyena, leopard, a variety of antelope and zebra species, as well as the unique Addo flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively in Addo. The park can exclusively claim to be the only national park in the world to conserve the “Big 7” – the Big 5 as well as the southern right whale and great white shark off the Algoa Bay coast.Plans are currently afoot to include the proposed proclamation of a 120 000 ha (296 500 acre) Marine Protected Area which includes islands that are home to the world’s largest breeding populations of Cape gannets and second largest breeding population of African penguins.
Light-yellow coloured sand tracks lead us through the park. The sun rises slowly into the sky while we drive along looking around us for wildlife. We’re in luck. We’re caught of guard by one closer than we expected. A leopard turtoise slowly, but confidently crosses our path while he chews on a green sapling which managed to grow through the sand on the track. We drive around it like a large rock in the savannah.
The sandy track leads us past something we came to see: We drive on while the big male elephant barely seems to notice us. The creases in his skin are noticeable, his ears are frayed and his trunk scans the ground, probably looking for water or food.
The next time we are eye to eye with an elephant is when we drive on a path with a lot of bushes on the sides. The whole way we try to look sideways and through the vegetation, but only the enormous piles of dung give the impression that animals live here. Every once in a while there are small clearings on the side of the road which we eagerly look in to. We both look into the fourth clearing or so when our gaze is being met. A male elephant, three meters from the road, partly hidden, turns his head to our car. I brake and we’re standing still immediately. I’m not so sure this was the best idea. His trunk is waving towards us and glides like a garden hose on the loose past our car. Our windows are open and we both hold our breath.
The moment is broken when an even larger male elephant comes towards us aiming for the one who was exploring our car with its trunk. He turns around quickly and we can feel the car move. He puts his heavy feet in front of one another and makes his way fast into the bushes again. The other elephant is not that interested in us. He walks straight up to us, looks into the car, turns around and walks in the opposite direction as we are heading.
I let my camera fall into my lap and feel the excitement through my body. What an experience!
We lean out of our windows while scanning the horizon hoping for the luck we had earlier. And luck we have! At the end of the day, we have seen:
Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Red Hartebeest, Warthog, Common Duiker, Eland, Burchells Zebra, Kudu, Black backed Jackal, Cape Grysbok, Flightless Dungbeetle, Ostrich, Secretary Bird, Leopard Turtoise.