On our first full day in South Africa we went on safari. In the morning we went to Addo Elephant National Park, and in the afternoon we went on an optional extra trip to Schotia National Park, both of which are near Port Elizabeth.
Addo Elephant National Park started life as an elephant reserve, with a grand total of 11 elephants. It is now home to over 600 elephants, and numerous other large animals, all living on the gorgeous African landscape.
Excitement was high as we drove into the park in the morning, as the plan was to spend the morning there, driving around in our minibus, not I guess the most practical vehicle for a safari drive, but it got us around. Our excitement was quickly rewarded as within moments we saw a family of warthogs, a mother and 3 piglets feeding and walking around. This was quickly followed by a watering hole, at which a number of zebras were having a drink.
Then, on the horizon, we saw them – our first elephants of the day, and they were heading our way! Well, to the watering hole really, but as we were parked nearby they were heading our way. It was a herd, a family I think of elephants of all sizes, including at least one small elephant and several bigger, older elephants. It was truly amazing to see them, even to someone like me who has seen wild elephants before. After a few minutes they had had their fill, and wandered off.
We also continued our way too, driving round soaking in the breath-taking views, and looking for more animals. We saw more warthogs, zebras, herons, and elands which are a type of antelope. Most of the time we were told we had to stay in the vehicle, getting out was strictly forbidden for obvious safety reasons. There is one location where we allowed out of the minibus, and we all took the opportunity to get out, and admire the scenery.
Another elephant highlight was at another watering hole we found. At this watering hole there was another family, having great fun playing in the water. All except one young male who clearly didn’t want to get in the water. He was being chased round the water’s edge by an older female who was making it quite clear he had to get in the water, but he was not interested! I’m not sure he ever did get in, as we all got distracted by the sight of 2 small elephants who needed help to get out. The bank of watering hole was perhaps a little too high for them to manage easily, and it was very wet and muddy, and the poor babies were struggling to get out, slipping and sliding as they tried to clamber out. They weren’t in danger of drowning, but they definitely needed help. Elephants are known for their strong family ties and support of the younger ones, and we definitely saw that side of their nature that morning. With lots of support and encouragement, both the younger elephants got out.
Lunch was eaten at the visitors centre, and gave us a chance to chat and get to know each other, and gossip about the mornings sightings.
After lunch, we went to Schotia Private Game Reserve, which actually is next door to Addo Elephant National Park.
This was an organised game drive, on safari jeeps, which are far more practical for a safari drive. There was also a good customer experience here, with a plan for a tea break and dinner, and blankets and ponchos for when it got cold in the evening.
Antelope, especially impala and wildebeest were first to be seen here, grazing peacefully on the grass. They were followed by more elephants, wandering around and drinking at watering holes. We saw ostriches and more zebras and warthogs. None of the animals seemed particularly bothered by us, they all looked up as the jeep drove by, but few really moved away in fear. Schotia also has 2 resident crocodiles, who we did see, but only a distance.
One highlight was the 2 or 3 hippos we saw. They were in the water, and having a very lazy afternoon. We had a bit of a wait, but eventually we were rewarded with that classic view of a hippo yawning.
After a break for hot drinks and the toilets we hit the trail again, this time on the hunt for the park’s 3 resident lions. There used to be more lions but after they killed 17 zebras in one night, most of them were relocated to other parks somewhere else. This of course is a major difference between Schotia and somewhere like the Maasai Mara – there is no animal relocation there as far as I’m aware and the animals are left alone to live or die, and hunt as they need or want. Anyway, after a few minutes we found the lions. There are 2 males, and a female who is not related to the males. They were behaving as typical lions do, relaxing and taking it easy. That said, the older male definitely kept his eye on us! It was amazing to see them, and as ever I had to remember not try and cuddle them!
From there, in the gathering dusk and with lengthening shadows we went for a final drive around. The last animals we saw were 2 buffalo, but in the growing dark it was difficult to get good photos.
Dinner was eaten in the park’s lapa, which is circular building built of reed with a thatched roof, and open in the middle. Dinner was a typical South African dinner, of 2 meats with 2 carbs and lots of vegies, followed by a typical South African dessert of malva, which is vaguely like treacle sponge and delicious.
A final treat was the drive back to the car park. By this time, it was dark, and somewhat chilly driving the open jeep, but wrapped up in blankets and fleecy ponchos, we were able to enjoy an outstanding view of the stars including the milky way. A fantastic end to the day.