Top Tips for visiting Addo Elephant National Park !

TIPS ON VISITING ADDO’S MAIN GAME VIEWING AREA, which forms just a part of the Greater Addo Region, all the way to the ocean including Bird Island.

We’re incredibly fortunate to live only half an hour away from Addo’s MATYHOLWENI GATE. As a result, we spend a fair amount of time in the park, often popping in for just a few hours. As with any game reserve, different times of the day are good for spotting different kinds of wildlife. Lion/hyena/bat eared foxes/rhino for instance are mostly mobile very early and very late in the day. Great elephant sightings,  on the other hand, are best in the middle of the day especially on HOT days when they stream into the waterholes.

The first TIP has to be that one should visit the park often, or as often as possible as the more time you spend within a park – the more you get to know the lay of the land, get to know the habits of it’s inhabitants and their favourite hangouts.

If this is not possible then second best is to join facebook groups like Addo Elephant National Park – Home Of The Big 7 where folk who are able to visit regularly, post their photos and provide details of sightings etc. These people are also extremely helpful in answering your questions and helping provide the information you need to plan your trip and help ensure that you have the absolute best time in the park.

Addo can be accessed from either the MAIN CAMP via the town of Addo, but even better is that the fairly new MATYHOLWENI GATE is just off the N2 and only half an hours drive from Port Elizabeth. Even if you are checking in to accommodation at main camp, its so much nicer to drive right up through the park than to go via the Motherwell route. You can also do any last minute grocery shopping at the SPAR shop in Colchester which is a 5 minute drive from the southern gate.

LET THEM WALK INTO YOUR SPACE – Addo’s elephant are generally very relaxed, allowing for some wonderful up-close encounters. A good idea is to stop a respectful distance from the elephant and let them walk into your space, should they choose to do so. Reversing away in a panic is not a good idea as the elephant can very quickly see this as a game, doing so can teach them to chase vehicles, which will lead to all sorts of problems…. I love to switch my engine off to hear the incredibly soft spongy footfalls of the elephant as they pass a handbreadth away from our car…sit tight, think happy thoughts, ENJOY the moment and remember to breath 🙂
STEALTH MODE – to stand a chance of seeing some of Addo’s more elusive critters, one has to literally drive along the loops almost at an idle. Once sighted, you have to be quick to snap a pic, often you’re only allowed one click before they scamper off. Otherwise sit tight and enjoy the moment – if you’re really quiet and really lucky, you may even see the rest of the family…
PACK A PICNIC – It pays to make a meal of your stop at a waterhole. You just never know what is going to rock up and what they are going to get up too…. ( Visitor suggestions: scotch eggs, sandwiches, biltong, rolls, sweets for in between, refreshments like water/flasks of tea or coffee/juice, ) JACKS PICNIC SITE is also a really great stop for either just a toilet break and to stretch legs, or for a sit down lunch in the form of a packed picnic or braai. REMEMBER to use restrooms at Main Camp or the southern entrance gate – Matyholweni and at Jacks Picnic Site – as they are the ONLY places you will have a chance to do so.
DUNG BEETLES HAVE RIGHT OF WAY – Addo is the only place where these giant flightless dung beetles occur. It is only BECAUSE of the wonderful clean up job that these beetles do that Addo can house the number of elephant it does. DRIVE CAREFULLY and avoid driving over them as best as possible ! Dung beetles feed on the droppings of large mammals. They either eat fresh dung at the spot where it dropped or roll it into a ball and bury it to eat later. The female uses the dung also for building a brood ball. She moves it away using her powerful hind legs, while the male follows along behind.( typical !! 🙂 ) At a suitable spot, she will bury the ball, with the male on top. They mate under the ground and a single egg is laid within the ball. The female stays with the ball until the juvenile stage of her young is complete. The larva feeds on the dung ball from the inside and spends 3-4 months as a pupa before it emerges as an immature adult.
KEEP YOUR SPECS CLEAN 🙂 – and try not to nod off on some of the longer loops…. surprises like this can come out of nowhere ! Addo is a dinkum wild place – expect the unexpected …..
DON’T PANIC IF YOU SEE ANIMALS BEHAVING BADLY – As distressing as it can be to witness, animals have their own social interactions that we are not privy to. What sometimes seems like harsh treatment to us is either strict discipline within family groups or even simply wildlife at play. Rough play can turn to aggression, sometimes with fatal consequences. Dominance interactions between males of various species can also be quite intense…but its the natural way of things and not our place to interfere….
HIRE A HOP-ON-GUIDE – Besides the Guided Game Drives that our national parks offer – Addo has an option to hire a personal guide. For first time visitors to the park, you might consider hiring a hop-on-guide like Simnikiwe Nogee Nogaya. They can either simply hop in with you they can actually drive your vehicle for you. Click here for details on Addo’s HOP-ON-GUIDES
DON’T GET IN THE WAY – if you can possibly help it 🙂 Wildlife always have right of way – if they are blocking the road or look like they are thinking about crossing the road, rather stop and if necessary move back slowly to give them room. You just never know what else might step out from the bush while you are waiting for the animals to safely move past…a  hungry lion or two ? !! 🙂  ( image with thanks to Jenni Williams )
LOOK UP – while there is so much happening at ground level, remember to look out for delightful fellows like this meercat. Besides the wildlife sightings, Addo’s terrain makes for some spectacular landscape scenes…beautiful rolling valleys and far off blue mountains. The view from Zuurkops lookout point is breathtaking…
IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS …. while elephant and lion are undoubtedly on top of most folks wish list, it’s all the little sightings that add up to making your day an all round great visit. As Pauline May suggests ”Keep track of everything you see – make a list –  you’ll be surprised at how much you really see in a day ”
SIGHTING ETIQUETTE – There is much debate about this. Personally, I love to share sightings with fellow guests. However, there have been times where I’ve sat for hours waiting for far off and mostly unseen sleeping lion, for instance,  to get up and move into sight. As you can imagine, it would be very difficult to move away after 5 minutes to give others a chance. I would say, try your best to be considerate of other visitors. You might also find these BUSH ETIQUETTE tips to be of value.
FRIENDS OF ADDO – the other ‘wildlife’ 🙂 Every two months, members of the facebook page Addo Elephant National Park – Home Of The Big 7 have an ‘Addo Outing’ Many folk from out of town and even out of country, plan their visits to coincide with these outings. – Its open to EVERYONE.
– Most of us meet at the southern MATYHOLWENI Gate at 6:45 am, this gate is only half an hours drive from PE.
– Meet fellow park enthusiasts at the gate.
– Exchange phone numbers so that we can keep in touch while in the park.
– All meet at Jacks Picnic site from 12pm for a braai / picnic, ( fires provided – bring your own eats & drinks )
– Enjoy a fabulous few hours meeting fellow Addo friends, enjoy sharing the days sightings.
– Depart picnic at your leisure to enjoy the rest of the afternoon in the park.

It is such a wonderful way to get to know the people who share Addo’s wonders on facebook and also get to know the park via other regular Addo visitors.

See you there !

July 22
September 23
November 1

EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE WORM – It was years of visiting without hyena sightings before our luck finally turned. Early mornings are usually ones best chance at seeing these beautiful critters. Staying over in Addo’s SPEKBOOM TENTED CAMP is a firm favourite with us. Not only are you serenaded all night long by Hyena in their nearby den ( as well as visiting ellies all night long ) but you are already deep in the park at gate opening time which hugely increases your chances of seeing Addo’s nocturnal wildlife.

BOOKS AND BINOCULARS – ( Thank you Laura Bolton for the use of this fantastic image ) Remember your pair of binoculars and try to have either a bird book on hand or download a bird app to your phone. Even if ‘twitching’ is not really your thing, sighting and identifying just a few birds each trip will enhance and enrich your overall experience. Click on link to Addo’s BIRD LIST. We can also highly recommend Peter Derichs book PETERS GUIDE TO ADDO – our well thumbed copy lives in the cubbyhole 🙂
ADDO IS AT IT’S BEST ON HOT DAYS – I always keep an eye on the weather as there is not much that beats elephant streaming into the waterholes on hot days. They can number in their hundreds, its an unbelievable spectacle ! They come into the waterhole in their family groups, having to wait their turn – as one family leaves the waterhole the line moves closer and the next group move in. There is so much to look at…. youngsters throwing temper tantrums at having to wait – matriachs dishing out some discipline …. trumpeting meet & greets as elephant from different family groups recognise and greet one another – the happy sounds and sights of elephant enjoying the waterhole – people come from all over the world to witness scenes like this and here we have it all right on our doorstep, how lucky are we ? !!
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED – don’t for a minute think that Addo is only good for elephant and lion sightings 🙂 The winter months are your best chance of seeing Addo’s very elusive AARDVARK ! Keep your eye on facebook page Addo Elephant National Park – Home Of The Big 7 for sightings posted by visitors. Even if you cannot get there, at least you can enjoy all that Addo has to offer via other visitors posts.
ENGINES OFF PLEASE – often there are sightings that folk would want to video record, like this just born zebra struggling to its feet… Tour guide Alan Fogarty says : ” Switch your engines off when you have positioned yourselves in a sighting, even in the heat. Many people are videoing their experiences and nothing destroys a sighting more than the rumble of your diesel engine or the soft purr of your straight 6. Turn engine back on when needing to reposition and switch off when comfortable again. This also saves on fuel, cuts down on air and noise pollution, allows you to listen to the birds, the bees and the educated fleas out there. Allows you to hear for example a predator feeding on a carcass, chewing a bone or any number of other sounds that can be heard enhancing ones experience in the bush, cramped as we are in our mobile cages. ” Funny guy, but we get the message right ? 🙂
ADDO ALWAYS DELIVERS ! – Every time we drive back out of the gates of Addo, we agree that no day in Addo is a wasted day. And almost immediately we find ourselves planning our next trip in …

MORE TIPS from fellow Addo Fanatics:
Queenie Grootboom-Khondleka  1) Patience, expect to be surprised. Lady luck being part of Your day is part of the experience. 2) Sunscreen 3) Water and lots of ice to keep drinks cool 4) if You have Passengers remind them to also look down, lots of beautiful little souls crossing the roads 5) Trust Your instincts, if You feel and see that the camera click is annoying the animals it probably is, change to video. 6) Keep wet wipes and a packet in the car with You for Your dirt. 7) A Good positive attitude, nothing worse than encountering sour fellow visitors (lol)

Geoff Applewhite DO NOT LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE – even if you think “at your own risk” suggests otherwise!!!!!

Brett E. Ellis Try to traverse the western sections up to Darlington Lake at least once a year … not only is the drive spectacular but over a period of time one will begin to appreciate the changes that take place on properties that are managed for conservation purposes. I live in George and when I visit MZNP I occasionally try to travel through Addo up to Somerset East and then on the back roads to Cradock … a fantastic drive and I have enjoyed watching the fences come down and new infrastructure going up.

Nikki Jones Recommend to buy the wild card – we use it to death

Brian Koch  I loved to enter the South Gate early. Go water hole to water hole in the south to see who is drinking early. Then Harvey’s to the tree and back. After that I slowly work my way up to Hapoor when it’s hot. Elephants playing in the water is the best. My best advice is to stop and ask politely what people see. Help others and be patient. I take water coffee and snacks.

Pauline May Learn about the differences between buck species and how to tell the difference between a plains zebra and a mountain zebra for example. Look and learn. Sometimes we drive past so quickly that you miss things. Play the animal spotting game on the map. Always take a pen to cross off the sightings.

Cherie Howes Make sure you allow enough time to get to the gate before it’s closed, make sure you know the closing times of the different gates.

Laura Bolton We always try get into the park early, as the gate opens. The bush is a whole different experience first thing in the morning! You get to take in the fresh cold morning air, see the first light catching the dew on the grass and leaves, and all the different animal tracks/activities on the road which tell the story of what happened the night before. You also have a good chance of seeing some of the more shy animals and predators while it is still cool. One of my favorite loops – Ngulube loop, just love the red wall especially when the sun catches it at sunrise/sunset, the different types of trees/vegetation as well as the birdlife! We pack a flask of coffee and rusks for breakfast and then just have “snackage” for the rest of the day (Biltong/nuts/crackers/cheese/fruit/cold meats/rolls) whatever we can eat in the car as well as cooldrinks/water.

Marie Delport When the gate keeper (Main Camp) tells you where to find a certain animal, drop everything and go!

Barry Hyman Bass Domkrag and Zuurkop are also good hop out places to get food and drinks out of the cooler
No toilet facilities there though…

Michael Jeffrey I often use the parking lot at Spekboom when I need to get something out the back of the Hilux…Favourite spot is Carols Rest and we always have popcorn in the car…

Ian Robertson I love to go in early at the Southern gate , do Harvey’s Loop , then breakfast “skottel ” at Jacks. End up with lunch in main camp and a leisurely drive out of the Southern gate again.

Elaine Hagen Ons slaap gewoonlik so 4 nagte die safaritente…beskuit en koffie by Domkrag….dan kies ons n rigting…braai die vorige aand genoeg steak of hoender vir die volgende dag….het agter gekom die wraps werk lekker saam met oorskiet vleis…by C Rest …drink ons cup of soup….by Jacks eet ons rustig….en natuurlik gebruik ons die Toilette…maak dit ok net net…so ry ons ma rustig voort …ek maak so in die ry koffie ….Zuurkop en Hapoor ok al gesit en eet….Wat ons klaar maak is die dag besoekers …hulle oortree die spoedgrens by verre het gesien hoe jaag hulle van punt A tot B ens….die stomme beatles word pap gery …die Addo bly vir my die beste plek ….my as moet eendag by Hapoor gestrooi word….my man se hy spaar solank dit gaan n duur storie wees….hiehie….mooi loop almal…

Michael Case Remember to pack your binoculars, cameras assorted lenses and check that you have charged the camera’s batteries…and have packed them 😉  as well as map and bird book. Always take sunblock with and use it. Sun can burn even when driving around in the car.

Peter Betts If a first timer read up on Addo ..its unique !

Grizel Hart We take a cold picnic lunch to eat at Jacks. A braai takes up too much viewing time. For some reason we always go through the main gate and out the other. If we have visitors we also go to the info section – its a must !
The birds are more active earlier. If we have a good sighting we can sit and watch ellies for ages.  We have no favourite route and tend to go towards where there have been interesting sightings.

Jo-Ann Hoffmann Outram We invested in the Kevin Murray “Scatalog” book-A quick Guide to Southern African animal droppings. It’s added a whole new dimension to our park trips. Trying to identify scat we come across has actually been such fun(in a strange kinda way)
It’s especially great for keeping the family busy when the animals are hiding away 😉

Terrance Waite Addo’s main camp has great gift shop including basic supplies. The Cattle Barron serves light and full meals from breakfast to dinner.

Eugene Tulleken Check on long term weather forecasts before your trip as temperatures can vary from minus 3 degrees C in winter to plus 45 degrees in summer

For further details on Addo – accommodation/rates & fees/ what to do /conservation etc, please click here : SANParks Addo Elephant National Park
or details on accommodation and activities outside of the park but in close proximity to the park, please click on this link for ADDO TOURISM

Click here for link to Addo’s BIRD LIST

11 thoughts on “Top Tips for visiting Addo Elephant National Park !

  • May 25, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Great tips and advice for visiting Addo, thank you !

    • May 25, 2017 at 11:58 am

      Thank you Laura, thanks also for the use of your stunning image !

  • May 25, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Well composed my Friendie…………………….. It feels like i was last there ages ago.

    • May 25, 2017 at 1:32 pm

      Thank you !
      You’ll get there… 😉

  • May 25, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    DRIVE SLOWLY, you see much more that way!

  • May 25, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Tried to get a booking for Addo, but they are full up 🙁 . Your wonderful article is just plain cruelty LOL. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to go.

    • May 25, 2017 at 7:10 pm

      OH NO Louise, did you try SPEKBOOM Camp and MATYHOLWENI Camp ?

        • May 27, 2017 at 7:59 pm

          I had a BRAIN WAVE today while driving around in Addo.
          There is a new camp – NYATI Camp – its not yet listed on sanparks website BUT its OPEN for bookings if you call Addo main camp directly !!!
          Its across the road from main Addo, in the extended greater Addo region. Lions elephant and everything else abound. The beauty of it is that its 7km from main Addo and you have your own easy access to the park. The accomodation prices are the same as IN Addo and they are GORGEOUS !

          CALL THEM asap ! Reception Tel: (during office hours – 07:00 to 19:00): +27 (0)42 233 8600

          • May 29, 2017 at 8:55 am

            O wow! I’ll give them a call. Thanks for the Brainwave 🙂

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