Addo Elephant National Park is located in the Sundays River region of South Africa’s Eastern Cape, 75 km (47 miles) to the north of Port Elizabeth. Addo, the third largest of Africa’s national parks at 1,640 km² (630 miles²), is characterized by tremendous biodiversity. It boasts the Bird and St. Croix Islands, coastline, plains and mountains, and within them thickets, forests, shrubland (“fynbos”) and semi-desert (“nama-karoo”).
Following the heavy hunting of African wildlife in the 1800s, the park was founded in 1931 to safeguard the area’s remaining elephants, which numbered less than 20. Since then, the park has expanded its mandate and conservation efforts beyond its eponymous animal to other facets of the region’s rich biodiversity and history. Today, Addo is home to more than 450 elephants as well as the other four big five game animals—rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. Spotted hyena, antelope and zebra also thrive within its borders, and the southern right whale and the great white shark swim off its coast. Park expansion plans include a proposed marine reserve that would include five of the world’s seven major biomes and work to conserve the Cape gannet and the African penguin.
Those seeking to visit the array of wildlife in this expansive park have their pick of activities, including guided game drives, “hop-on” guides, self-drive game viewing, horse trails, 4x4 trails and hiking. Elephants can often be seen by water holes on hot days, and visitors to the main Addo camp may enjoy a floodlit water hole for elephant-peeping. Swimming, too, is available for overnight guests who care to make like swimming beasts.
Weather varies across the park’s myriad locations, depending on height above sea level and proximity to the coast. The Addo section is semi-arid to arid, with rainfall distributed fairly evenly throughout the year (though peak rain occurs from February to March and October to November). Frost crops up in winter months (June through September).