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Picking the best spots to camp with the elephants (and others) at Addo

ROBIN ROSS-THOMPSON

The Chiels were getting a little restless. Nothing much had been happening in the way of excitement. So we scanned various game reserves on the SANParks website and, bingo, there was a selection of campsites available at Addo Elephant Park in September.

ROBIN-ROSS THOMPSON

And besides, the roof tent was beginning to look unhappy hanging from the rafters in our garage; it needed a leg stretch.

What’s more, we’d yet to try out our new, small, lightweight tent that we would pitch and use as a shelter in rainy or windy weather.

Yup, our glass-fibre Hannibal Safari roof tent is great for sleeping in. It is so easy to put up (2 minutes), and pack up (about 3 minutes), but when it comes to shelter during the day it is not ideal.

Three nights would be enough, we decided, and being just a few hours drive from home we’d have two half days and two full days to enjoy ourselves exploring the park. It worked out perfectly.

The camping area at Addo is divided into two sections, large caravan sites and compact tent sites, and we experienced both.

Tall spekboom hedges are superb windbreaks and we tucked our tent into a sheltered spot.

It was just as well because the wind was strong and soon after cooking the braai on our first night, it started to rain.

No matter, the Natural Instincts 2.4m², 1.5m-high, 4-person tent proved sturdy and dry, and also uncomplicated to pitch or pack away. The two of us were even able to pick it up in one piece and easily carry it to another site for our last night.

So much for the camping side; what about the animals? Being September and it having rained two weeks earlier, spring was in the air. Wild flowers were peeping out, grazing was good and the animals moved away from the thick spekboom bush to feed on new green shoots.

Elephants were in the open everywhere, using their lumbering feet to scrape flowers, weeds and grass into dusty little piles which they picked up with dexterous trunks and lifted into their mouths.

It was also open veld time for kudu in their hundreds, no longer browsing in dense bush, but also taking advantage of the fresh, succulent grazing available. Interestingly, many still had fluffy winter coats that hid the signature vertical white stripes on their sides.

And did you know the horns of mature kudu bulls average 120cm in length, while the longest recorded horn, along the curve, was a whopping 180cm? I didn’t.

Among other game we saw were: a shy black rhino at a dam, desperate to drink, but wary of vehicles waiting to see it happen; plenty of buffalo in small herds, red hartebeest too; eland, warthog, Burchell’s zebra, black-backed jackal and a leopard tortoise.

We took great pleasure sitting beside a hyena den close to Rooidam after being shown a young hyena lying nearby, then pointing it out to passing visitors who were also thrilled to be shown it.

Many were German tourists whose biggest desire was to see lions. “Have you seen any lions?” they’d ask. We hadn’t, but they were there and had been seen by others.

Hapoor dam was another favourite spot to stop and watch mostly elephant grazing and drinking, with many kudu in the background.

Domkrag dam was another with elevated parking and where visitors are permitted to get out of their vehicles and look down at the dam.

Birds were the main attraction there and we saw little grebe, red-knobbed coot, common moorhen, shelduck and blue crane among other common varieties. Further on up Gorah Loop we spotted a pair of Denham’s bustard, an exciting new tick for me.

We stopped off twice at Jack’s picnic site for lunch, enjoying a braai one day. It’s a fenced and protected area of 500ha used to monitor the impact of large herbivores on vegetation outside the area and to compare long-term effects, particularly of what elephants do outside the fence.

All in all, it was an exciting and stimulating trip which we will do again.

lI was contacted by Whitney Schwartz concerning last week’s column about the navy mascot, a common (grey) duiker named Admiral Horatio, where I incorrectly said it had the run of the Port Rex Naval Base. That was the citizen force HQ at the time.

Admiral Horatio was in fact released in the 5ha Signal Hill Naval Base, a Permanent Force Navy Base overlooking the entrance to the harbour.

Chief Petty Officer Whitney Schwartz, as he was then, was in the permanent force stationed there at the time. Thanks Whitney for clearing that up. — robinrosst@gmail.com