One of the highlights of our road trip in South Africa was Addo Elephant National Park. We decided to pass on Kruger Park, the largest and most well known of the wildlife refuges in South Africa, primarily because we wanted to avoid the malaria zone with the kids. We burned a bunch of time trying to find an organized safari to go to. We went to all the usual suspect web sites like go2africa.com and found the packaged safari thing didn't work for us, as we initially suspected. Neither Ameen nor I have ever been interested in organized group tours, for multiple reasons, but mostly because we don't like having a rigid predetermined travel schedule. We also love chatting with folks we meet on the way and asking them where the best places they've been. So we chatted with well traveled locals in Cape Town who assured us that our rental car in Addo and Mountain Zebra parks would fill our game viewing fix. They were right, Addo's an amazing park, and not obnoxiously overpriced like all the tours and game parks we researched.
In the 120,000+ hectare park, I felt like I was in Jurassic Park, the movie. The main rest camp is surrounded by large electrified fencing, inside of which are humans, outside of which lie many very large beasts including but not limited to: elephants, lions, hyenas, rhinos, zebras, wart hogs, and lots of cool African deer-like creatures. Some of the oddest areas were the "picnic" spots deep in the gaming area. One we considered entering was wrapped in multiple layers of 8 foot tall fencing topped off with layers of electrified wires. Multiple dents about the size of an elephant head could be seen. Next to a skinny gate were a few more warning signs. It felt like voluntarily entering a massive jail cell. Needless to say, we chose to picnic in the car.
The sign next to Ameen reads: "Beware of Lions, Alight from Vehicle at Own Risk." Instinctively and laughing, we hopped out of the car to shoot this photo. Once out of the vehicle, we were quickly overcome with paranoia. Ameen was looking for lions over her shoulder, I was looking behind us. The bush is very thick, so you can't visually be certain there are no predators for more than a few feet. We rushed the photo (hence the lack of focus) and quickly hopped back into our car. A few minutes later we drove by this not so lucky critter.
There are a number of sneaky areas called hides, where you can hang out and watch the animals undetected. The hides are usually located near a watering hole. Its an amazing way to spend a few hours.
By far the most fascinating part of the park for us, was watching the elephants in their natural habitat. Back home, we have a rather nice zoo, but it is a zoo, and it lies in a cramped urban setting. The elephants there have such a depressed look in their eyes. To see elephants living in the wild, albeit managed, but with vast space and their family structures intact was a real treat. Elephants are such social animals; we observed for hours how the adults treat the children, the teen interactions with each other, the assistance elephants gave to one another, and the discipline ( a baby was pestering her mother, and the mother slapped her trunk into the baby launching it off into the water).