To get a clear understanding of how awesome this place is, one has to travel back to 1931. It was then that Addo was proclaimed as a protected area for the 16 elephants that remained there – showing that South Africa has always loved her elephants. Today it’s a world-famous mega park and elephant numbers have swelled to over 600 – easily one of the most dense elephant populations in Africa.
From just 2500ha in the beginning, Addo Elephant National Park is now 180 000ha in size, stretching from Darlington Dam in the Karoo in the north, across to the Zuurberg Mountains in the south, to the coast where it includes the famous St Croix and Bird Island groups.
The park is also home to land-based animals such as buffaloes, lions, leopards and rhinos, as well as sea-dwelling animals like Great White sharks and Southern Right whales. This means that Addo is one of the few reserves in the world that has all of the Big Seven!
In Addo, you’ll also find 1000-year-old cycads, hillsides covered in pastel-coloured proteas, primeval impenetrable thicket, bizarre-looking spiny noorsveld, and wide-open plains where antelopes graze.
The park's main gate is about an hour's drive from Port Elizabeth, easily accessible by road and air. From the city, follow the N2 highway towards Grahamstown and take the Addo Elephant National Park turn-off.
Self-drive is best though various tour companies also operate in the area. All roads are accessible to normal sedan cars. A 4x4 vehicle is only necessary if visitors are taking the 4x4 route within the park.
Port Elizabeth is only an hour's drive away and this delightful coastal city boasts some fine beaches, excellent dining and shopping, and some exquisite architecture.
There is a 4x4 eco-trail over the Zuurberg Mountains. You can also enjoy various guided horse trails through the park.
SANParks central reservations
Tel: +27 12 428 9111
Addo Elephant National Park reception
Tel: +27 42 233 8600
The park offers a wide range of accommodation, from camping and self-catering chalets to luxury lodges. There are also many private game lodges in the greater Addo area.
Addo is a pleasure to visit throughout the year. Summers are fairly hot, and winter evenings are icy; spring and autumn are just about perfect.
Addo Elephant National Park can be enjoyed as a day trip, but you could easily spend a few days in the park for the full experience.
Lions and spotted hyenas were reintroduced into the park in 2003 to help control antelope numbers which include Kudu, Red Hartebeest and Eland.
The rare flightless dung beetles of Addo are a more unusual attraction. Always busy rolling perfect balls from elephant dung, the park is full of signs warning visitors to avoid harming these unique creatures.
The marine section of the park includes the St Croix Island group, with Brenton and Jahleel, which is home to a huge number of different bird species. St Croix is also home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world. These waddling wonder birds are endangered and the population in the bay has sadly declined 70% in the last seven years. The colony went from a high of 60 000 individuals down to the current number of 22 000, roughly half of the entire world’s population.
Bird Island also has a population of breeding African penguins but the main species found on this island is the Cape gannet. There are around 250 000 birds on this island (it’s not called Bird Island for nothing), and it is the largest “gannetry” on the planet. The Bird Island group also has a small islet named Black Rocks, which has 6000 Cape fur seals breeding on it.
Rare Roseate terns come to Bird Island to breed in winter, Siberian falcons breed in the coastal dunes nearby, and Caspian and Arctic terns stop off on the island during long-haul flights. So there really is quite a hive of animal activity found here – it is nature in its purest form.
To top it all off, both islands have a rich cultural and natural history as they have been utilised for food and supplies since the first Portuguese explorers rounded the Cape in 1488.
Addo is just a short drive from Port Elizabeth, the largest city in the Eastern Cape, where visitors can pick from a range of accommodation and adventure activities, including 4x4, horse and hiking trails.
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