Much Ad(d)o about Elephants

Wow – Addo Elephant National Park was fantastic! After spending Wednesday afternoon, all day Thursday (from 5.30am when the gates opened) and most of Friday looking at the wildlife, we’ve continued our route east towards Durban.

Overview: 5.5 days, 1247 km (225 km of which were spent looking at the wildlife in Addo Elephant National Park, the remaining 1022 km on our journey from Addo east to Scottsburgh)

We entered Addo Elephant National Park at the southern gate (Matyholweni), and spent Wednesday afternoon making our way slowly north to the main camp.

We’d barely been on the campsite for five minutes when a loud cry went up from the pitch behind ours. Mark stuck his head out. “It’s monkeys”, he said, ” and they’ve pinched something”.

We stepped outside and sure enough, there was a monkey sat playing with a flower right by the back corner of our van:

This one clearly wasn’t the one being shouted at, though. The culprit was soon spotted in a nearby tree in possession of our neighbours’ entire biscuit supply! Oh for a monkey’s manual dexterity:

Needless to say, we saw lots and lots of elephants. There were majestic big elephants:

Then there were the troublesome adolescents – from the moment they appeared, these two were clearly going to be a problem:

One of them did end up having a real paddy at the car right behind us. It did seem to be heading towards one of those “elephant overturns car” episodes, but thankfully the elephant thought better of it at the last minute and ran off to cause trouble elsewhere….

Then you have the cute toddlers and the even cuter baby elephants.

Once one or two of the baby elephants had decided to jump into this water hole, the rest of the little ‘uns just had to follow.

“Room for a little ‘un?”:

One thing that was super cute was the way the toddler elephants would try to help the smaller baby elephants.

“Don’t Worry, I’ve got you”:

We did, of course, see lots of other wildlife at Addo….. Here’s a small selection….

A sleeping lion:

Kudu, eland, and zebra:

Buffalo, warthog, and hyena:

Secretary bird, hare, and huuge tortoise (I claim bonus points here for a single photo of the hare and the tortoise – the hare is on the path behind the tortoise):

A jackal tidying up a carcass:

and finally, a yellow mongoose:

Friday night was spent at a place called Cannon Rocks, about an hour’s drive from Addo. The place itself turned out to be a narrow strip of expensive- and empty-looking properties stretched out along the ocean. The beachfront ones wouldn’t have looked out of place in Malibu! Like other places we’ve stayed so far, the caravan park turned out to be almost completely empty. It had washing machines – so we took the opportunity. This part of South Africa’s coast is known as the “Sunshine Coast”. Needless to say, it rained. Thankfully, the tumble driers worked well….

On Saturday, we had quite a long drive, punctuated by a stop at a large shopping mall for a restock of food. Our destination for the day was Morgan’s Bay, about an hour east of East London (which looked nothing at all like the other East London, before you ask….). There wasn’t a lot there, but the camp site – in a secluded nature reserve – was fabulous:

There was more travelling on Sunday, but through very different surroundings. We noticed that from East London, everything suddenly started to look very African. We followed the main N2 road as it looped inland, and things started to look very very poor.

This is what was formerly known as the Transkei, and is one of the poorest parts of South Africa. To be honest, the “housing” we passed on Sunday was so meagre that it didn’t quite seem right to be snapping photos of it as we drove along…..

Basically, it was a flat-ish landscape with individual homes quite spaced out – so much so that we couldn’t really work out where one village ended and the next started (not that the villages seemed to have a village centre as we’d know it or any community facilities as such). We passed Mvezo, where Nelson Mandela was born, and Qunu, on the other side of the main road, where he grew up. We didn’t see any signs of businesses or any other potential employers for tens of kilometres; as Mark drove, I looked up and conveyed the dismal economic statistics…… The main signs of activity were the ladies of a certain age heading off to church in their Sunday best – and very impressive finery it was too. Many of the services / gathering seemed to be happening in marquees……

The worst part was driving through the capital of the area, Mthatha. No photos were taken – we were conspicuous enough as it was…. Now, I’ve been to quite a few messy places around the world but I have never seen anywhere with anything approaching that quantity of rubbish in the streets. At one point, I was starting to think the 4 wheel drive might come in handy!

From Mthatha, we headed back down to the coast to a place called Port St Johns to find a camp site for Sunday night. This area is South Africa’s “Wild Coast”. Yes, it’s wild and unspoiled, but apparently a large part that is due to the fact that land ownership has never been sorted out properly in this region, as a result of which planned / desired coastal developments have a habit of not happening.

Port St Johns had been highly recommended to us by a British guy we’d met on the day we picked up the NAVI-SOK. He’d lived in South Africa for a number of years and apparently used to go on holiday to Port St Johns regularly. He did tell us that it was really African and that we’d see a big difference from the very European area around Cape Town.

When we got there, we discovered that Port St Johns itself is a bit of a dump. He hadn’t mentioned that bit! Having said that, there was lots of holiday accommodation around, ranging from backpackers’ places to quite plush looking lodges, so it must indeed be a popular destination. A lot of the accommodation is inland, along the river banks and away from the town itself. We found a camp site in a lovely spot:

Our camp site was an OK stop-off for a night, but I can’t say that I’d recommend Port St Johns as a destination for an entire holiday.

We continued eastwards today (Monday). The landscape along the coastal strip is certainly more rugged than it was further inland, and as we headed east, the housing thinned out and the quality of it definitely improved:

The towns we passed through were still looking really African, but now they had much more vibrancy about them. Perhaps the economy’s a bit better here, or perhaps it was because we were seeing it on a Monday rather than a Sunday, so people were busy doing stuff rather than just hanging around? These photos were taken in a small place called Flagstaff:

We really enjoyed all the hustle and bustle and seeing what people were doing.

Then something strange happened….. We crossed a bridge, passed a “Welcome to Kwazulu Natal” sign, and everything went European again! The last 100km of our drive today was along a coastal strip full of hotels, restaurants of every nationality, and residential housing. This is quite obviously where white people live and holiday….

We reached our camp site at Scottsburgh, which is only about 50km from Durban, to find that rather than the empty camp sites we’ve become used to, this place is very much like the Costa del Sol in the winter months:

It’s wall-to-wall encampments; a lot of people have clearly set themselves up for the season. They’re even offering special monthly deals for pensioners…… Luckily, we’re only staying the one night!

Tomorrow’s plan is to skirt round Durban and start exploring Zululand proper…..


  1. Hi fellow Dossers
    Love your photos from the elephant park.
    Was it expensive to enter?
    How busy was it? Other vehicles
    You seem to be staying on campsites every night, why?
    Looking forward to your ongoing journey.
    Thanks to both of you for sharing your adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi John,
      The national parks in South Africa operate dual pricing – international visitors pay much more than South African nationals / residents. Addo charges international visitors 307 rand per person per day (so it would have cost just over £100 for the two of us for three days). Having said that, we got into Addo for free having paid 3830 rand (just north of £200) for a couple’s Wild Card, which gets us free entry to all the national parks for a year. It’ll definitely be worth our while having the Wild Card once we factor in Kruger etc…..

      The park was pretty quiet. We haven’t yet fully sussed out the South African holiday pattern, but everywhere just seems empty. Having said that, it’s clearly been manic until mid January when the kids went back to school. You can still see marks on all the pitches on some camp sites where tents have been crammed in over the Xmas / New Year period. The thing we haven’t worked out yet is where all the South Africans without kids are…. after all, UK camp sites don’t suddenly empty in early September – when the kids go back to school, the pensioners and dossers take up the slack….

      There doesn’t seem to be any wild camping in South Africa, and we haven’t yet come across any full-time or near full-time South African dossers to extract more info from. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more!

      Jo & Mark


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