Addo Elephant Park: Bringing the Elephant Back From Extinction

Elephants are arguably the cutest creatures of any safari park. We have extra sympathy towards them knowing the immense suffering their ancestors had to go through in the past. The ones in the Eastern Cape suffered from a horrible endemic and the negative impact of farm settlements. These circumstances almost wiped them out until there were only eleven of them remaining. This was the reason behind the foundation of Addo Elephant Park, which gradually became the third-largest national park in the country, and one of the most visited.

Addo Elephant National Park
Brian Snelson License: CC


The coastal areas of Eastern Cape were extremely rich in wildlife, especially elephants that lived peacefully with the Xhosa clans. Sadly, a smallpox endemic wiped out the majority of the elephants in the 17th century.

In the following centuries, the settlement of German and English farmers made it a living hell for the rest of the elephants. They had to compete for food, land, and water, but we can all guess who won the competition.

When Addo became a protected area in 1931, there were only 11 elephants left. Despite the conflict between the elephants and the farmers, the area continuously expanded and was fenced to prevent the animals from hunters.

Charles Sharp License: CC

The area has since expanded to 1640 square kilometers. The park is surrounded by Zuurberg Mountains that boast several caves. The rock formations here are the product of geologic events dating back to 500 million years ago.

The largest water source is the Domkrag Dam.

Addo encompasses five of the nine South African biomes: Albany Thicket, woodlands, Fynbos, Nama Karoo, and Kuzuko Contractual area.


Although Addo Elephant National Park has diverse wildlife, the highlight of the park is undeniably the elephants with more than 600 members present. The other big animal population belongs to Cape Buffalo with 400 members. These two animals are quite easy to spot at any time of the day.

Buffalo / Addo Elephant Park / South Africa
Michael Mayer License: CC

Big cats were introduced to the park in 2003. Initially, there were only six lions in the park, but this number increased steadily over the years. The shy leopards are much rarer and harder to spot.

Abundant antelope species include red hartebeest, bushbuck, eland, and kudu.

Spotted hyenas come out frequently at night.

The Nama-karoo region is known for the black rhino, buffalo, zebra, gemsbok, and springbok populations.

Kuzuko Lodge_Evening Game Drive – 091
leyla.a License: CC

Sundays River is a perfect spot to see hippos, while the surrounding forest is home to bush pigs, warthogs, dassies, and brown hyena.

The abundance of thickets and open grassland makes Addo an excellent​ bird-watching spot. The bird checklist exceeds 400 species containing those that are endemic to South Africa such as African Penguins and Cape gannets.


Whether you are visiting just for the day or staying overnight, Addo Elephant Park is full of interesting activities.

Last light of the setting sun. An average lion sleeps approximately 20 hours a day. So, it’s not difficult to photograph him while yawning.
Frank Martens License: CC

Guided safari drives can take place up to six times a day. Most of the time, there is a game drive every three hours between 6 pm and 6 am. These drives last 2-3 hours each and include lunch, snacks, and drinks. There are additional drives in the evening, which are ideal for viewing nocturnal animals ranging from aardwolves to porcupines.

In addition to the conventional guided drives, Addo Elephant Park has hop-on / hop-off tours owned by independent tour companies that offer boutique game drives with much fewer people per vehicle. These tours can also provide packages for large groups such as children on a school trip.

Addo Elephant Park also caters to self-drivers. Approximately 120 km of the roads inside the park are tarred, which is feasible for sedans to drive through.

Are you tired of driving? Then, you can track the big five while riding a horse. There are several horse-riding trails in the Nyathi area with tours in the morning and in the afternoon. The morning rides are for beginners, while the afternoon rides are for the more advanced riders. Each horse riding tour takes approximately two hours.

The surrounding Zuurberg Mountains offer numerous hiking trails ranging from 1 to 3 hours. The only exception is the Alexandria hiking trail that is 32 km long and takes two days to complete with huts for overnight stays.

Finally, Addo Elephant Park takes advantage of its proximity to the ocean and offers Eco-Marine tours. During these tours, you get the chance to see the two additional members of the big 7, white shark and southern right whale. You would need to enquire with the tour company Raggy Charters for these tours.

A great white shark
Elias Levy
Licence: CC

Climate & Best Time To Vist

Another advantage of Addo Elephant Park is that the rainfall is more evenly distributed throughout the year, which is unlike the safari parks in the north of the country. So, there is no single best time to visit.

The winter between May and September experiences single-digit night temperatures and minimum rainfall. While the temperature is at 22 degrees during the day, it can drop down to 6 degrees at night.

October is known as the peak month for rainfall, while December to February is the time for the peak temperatures up to 29 degrees. February is another month with a lot of rainy days. Nevertheless, the rains are never disruptive enough to hinder safari activities.

Wildlife can be slightly more visible in winter because animals congregate around the water holes.

Warthogs drinking at a waterhole
Ian Cole Licence: CC

Getting there

Many tourists enter South Africa via either Cape Town or Johannesburg. Although Addo Elephant park is equidistant to both cities, we highly recommend a road trip from Cape Town. This will be an amazing road trip through the scenic Garden Route, a coastal stretch between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth with quaint towns and adventurous activities. Car rental is quite straightforward in both cities, especially because many rental companies offer discounts for trips longer than three days.

Alternatively, you can take a domestic flight to the airport in Port Elizabeth, where you can request a pick up from a private tour company or rent a car for self-driving.

Self-driving in Addo Elephant Park
andrea.juergen Licence: CC

Tips & What You Need To Know

– Addo Elephant Park is outside the malaria zone, so you can visit at any time without hesitation.

– Children under the age of 6 cannot participate in game drives. The minimum age limit for horse-riding is 16, but the staff can make exceptions for teenagers between 10-15, who have enough experience and the accompany of a family member.

– Main Camp is the departure point for all drives. If you want to join sunset or night drives, you should not stay at the campsites outside the park because the gates will be closed after 5 pm.

– Warm clothes are essential all year round. It can get quite chilly at night even in summer.

– Waterholes are the best places for elephant viewing. They also roam around the roads, so you must drive very carefully to avoid hitting them.

Elephants at a waterhole
Karin Soetendaal Licence: CC

– Predators come out most frequently in early morning drives or evening drives.

– You should remember to bring headlamps and torches for overnight stays because the lighting is not sufficient at the campsites.