Highlights – Addo Elephant Park

15 February

We arrived at Matyholweni Gate just after 11am. We checked in but could only go back later to fetch the keys. So, we took a drive into the park, using the main road north. We saw some good general game and a lovely sighting of a warthog family with two little piglets.

We then turned onto Ngulube Loop to make our way back southwards. We came across a herd of elephants, two of which were drinking at the waterhole. We found a good spot and decided to stop for lunch ourselves – wild boar pies (from Nanaga) and biltong.

We still had time to do both Vukani and Mbotyi Loops too. We again saw some warthogs with piglets. This time one piglet was turning round in circles as though chasing its own tail. It was really cute!

We fetched our keys at 2pm and then settled in to cottage 8. While at reception, I discovered that the correct pronounciation for the camp (and gate) is “Macholweni”.

We took a short drive around Vukani Loop just after 5pm. We saw lots of warthogs and some elephants in the distance, but the highlight was two yellow mongoose that we found in the road.

We then headed north on Spekboom (main) road and drove to the plains. There were plenty of elephants to be seen – one in the road and a herd further along. We also watched a really young zebra foal running around and jumping against mom.

Back at camp we had a light supper and then relaxed.

Mammals: Buffalo, bushbuck, eland, elephant, red hartebeest, kudu, yellow mongoose, vervet monkey, warthog, Burchell’s zebra

Birds: Dark-capped bulbul, common buzzard, jackal buzzard, Cape crow, pied crow, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, common fiscal, sombre greenbul, helmeted guineafowl, black-headed heron, hadeda ibis, Cape longclaw, speckled mousebird, ostrich, greater double-collared sunbird, barn swallow

Other: Flightless dung beetle

16 February

We were up early and out of the gate just after 5:30am. It rained lightly, on and off, throughout the morning, but that did not seem to affect the animals in any major way.

We started with a scrub hare before we had even officially left camp.

At Peasland waterhole (which is now a “partial exclusion waterhole” – that is, there is a high fence wire that prevents elephants from accessing the waterhole) we found a young male lion drinking. His tummy was really full. We decided to eat breakfast. While we watched, a second vehicle joined us.

We then saw two spotted hyena walking down the road towards us. They walked past us and the lion just ignored them, continuing his drink (he was obviously thirsty after his big meal). The hyena turned around and then stopped right beside our vehicle. A third one then approached. At this point the lion stood up and walked towards them. They moved out of his way, but stayed close. In fact, the one was so close to our car, that Terry closed the window!

The lion crossed the road and the hyena then went to the waterhole to drink. We followed the lion as he wandered alongside the road. We saw a fourth hyena come out of the bush on the same side as the lion, and then the lion disappeared into a small thicket.

The other hyenas moved to join the last one we had seen, and next thing there were six of them milling around. They were following a lioness that came out of the bush too. The hyena mobbed the lioness, whooping loudly. The lion chased them off. Then suddenly there were 8 hyena and another lion came out of the thicket. Eventually there were three lions and the 8 hyena, but then they all disappeared. The hyena came running out of the bush again, but they had nothing in their jaws, so we assumed that they were unsuccessful in stealing some food from the lions.

While we were watching the hyena run backwards and forwards, a third vehicle came along. One of the lions suddenly charged out of the bush, chasing a hyena. From what we could determine, they obviously had a kill just beyond a small ridge and behind some bushes, and the hyena were trying (unsuccessfully) to make off with it or at least part of it. We decided that we had already had a good sighting and that we should continue on our way.

We encountered the mother zebra with the frisky foal again. It was running around and jumping up against its mom, stopping only to suckle for a short while before continuing with its antics.

We continued along and drove Harvey’s Loop, where we had a couple of sightings of elephants. One of them decided that the road was his territory – he would wander to one side and then move back into the road and then over to the other side. He never really moved off the road, so there was no getting past him! He eventually moved slightly deeper into a tree and was eating, twisting his trunk around a branch, so we passed him carefully on the other side of the road.

Further along, a black rhino came out of the bush. Terry had to put foot when he realized that it was actually charging our car! It looked like it might chase us down the road too, but it then turned sideways and watched us instead, before moving back into the bush.

We drove back on to Spekboom and stopped at Lismore waterhole, where we watched some buffalo (and an idiot in a vehicle, driving in the veld behind them!) We turned around and then made our way southwards via Vukani Loop, and ultimately back to camp.

Once there, we only stopped long enough to take a comfort break. Terry had been monitoring one tyre for a slow leak (hence the stop in Kenton to check the tyres the previous day). While we were out on the drive, he had realized that he couldn’t find the key to the spare tyre. We checked our bags in the cottage, but eventually decided that it must be locked in the safe at Kenton, with our keys from home. There was nothing else for it – we had to go to Kenton to fetch the key (particularly as we were heading north the next day and driving into a more wilderness area). We exited the gate just before 9am and got back to camp just after 11:15am. It was a “pain” but it at least gave us peace of mind.

Lunch was rolls (fetched from Kenton too) with pork schnitzel, ham, cheese and tomato (latter me only). We then spent the afternoon relaxing.

We left for a drive just after 5pm again. There were a lot of cars on the way out, most of them heading south to the gate. In fact, we decided that the park was obviously much busier in summer than in May (which is when we had visited two years previously).

At Peasland, we found five buffaloes and three Cape crows sitting on the telephone lines. Three of the buffalo waded into the waterhole to have a drink.

A little further along, we came across a big herd of red hartebeest.

After turning around, we made our way back along the Vukani Loop followed by Mbotyi Loop. On the latter, we watched two Denham’s bustards on the ground and then taking off into the air. A little further along, there was a pair of secretarybirds on the other side of the road – one on a nest in the tree (we think) and the other on the ground nearby.

Mammals: Buffalo, bushbuck, eland, elephant, scrub hare, red hartebeest, spotted hyena, rock hyrax, kudu, lion, vervet monkey, black rhino, warthog, Burchell’s zebra

Birds: Bokmakierie, southern boubou, dark-capped bulbul, olive bushshrike, Denham’s bustard, common buzzard, yellow-fronted canary, Cape crow, pied crow, Cape turtle dove, red-eyed dove, fork-tailed drongo, common fiscal, sombre greenbul, helmeted guineafowl, black-headed heron, African hoopoe, hadeda ibis, brown-hooded kingfisher, black-shouldered kite, yellow-billed kite, speckled mousebird, ostrich, secretarybird, Cape glossy starling, greater double-collared sunbird, barn swallow, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other: Flightless dung beetle

17 February

We didn’t set any alarm – a birthday reward for Terry! He, though, had a really bad night, so he slept in a little, while I enjoyed a lie in reading my Kindle. We eventually got up just before 7am and showered, finished our packing and ate breakfast. We drove to the gate to hand in our keys and then turned northwards, following Spekboom road in order to head north.

At Peasland, two of the lions were back at the waterhole. We were the third vehicle on the scene this time. The female was collared and she was actually drinking some water. She made her way across the road behind us and then moved back to where we think the kill was. It must have been a big one to last two days. We moved closer to the young male. He then walked towards us and crossed the road, lying down in the shade of a tree.

In the meanwhile, some buffaloes came down to drink. There were also warthog and zebras queuing to drink, but they all seemed wary of the lions being in the area.

We came across the zebra with the frisky foal again, but this time it stayed still long enough for us to get a decent photograph. It was almost like it posed for us!

We crossed the public road and headed into the northern part of the park. A bit before Marion Baree waterhole, we came across a herd of elephants feeding amongst the trees, but at the waterhole there was only doves!

We made a brief stop at Jack’s picnic site to use the facilities and then continued to Mpunzi Loop and Hapoor Dam. Near the dam, we saw some large leopard tortoises and a much smaller angulate tortoise.

We then cut through to the main road and took Mbabala Loop to Zuurkop Lookout. The bush was really dry and a lot of the pans were bone dry. We watched a warthog and its piglet playing for a short while. From the top of Zuurkop we could see elephants in the distance all over the place.

We took the turning to Carol’s Rest, turning onto the cut-through road. We then found some of the elephants that we had been looking down on from the lookout point.

We drove Nzipondo Loop and on to Domkrag Dam where we stopped to look at the birds. We then made our way to Ghwarri pan where there were plenty of elephants drinking. I counted +25 elephants in total, while Terry counted that there were more than 23 cars present! So we didn’t hang around for long.

We then turned back towards Addo Main Camp and made our way to reception, where I checked in for Nyathi. I also booked night drives for the days we were going to be at Addo Main Camp. I then looked around the shop while Terry spoke to his brother. This was the last cellphone reception that we were going to have so everyone was trying to catch him to wish him for his birthday.

We then had lunch at the restaurant. We shared some snails with blue cheese and then both had beef fillet roulade. Dessert (it was his birthday after all) was ice cream and bar one chocolate sauce for Terry and a chocolate fondant for me. It was a lovely meal.

We still had time to kill before we could pick up the remote to get into Nyathi camp, so we walked down towards the waterhole and sat on the bench – in the shade! Later on, I fetched the remote, while Terry bought some ice for us to take with us to Nyathi.

We drove along Nzipondo Loop and then turned off to Nyathi. Once the gate was opened by the security guard at the gate on the other side of the main road, we drove out across the railway lines and the road, entering the private section of the reserve on the other side.

As we drove to Nyathi on the main road (all other roads are off limits as there are private concessions in the area), we encountered a warthog with two tiny piglets and a herd of 10 eland. Further along, we came across another eland; this one was lying down in the grass.

We arrived at camp and made our way to cottage 4. It was really beautiful, both inside and the view from it. We unpacked the car, and then unpacked the cooler boxes and our clothes, etc. Terry had a quick swim in the plunge pool and we sat looking at all the warthogs in the valley below us. There must have been over 50 of them wandering around and grazing.

We set up the birding scope and watched a Cape wagtail at the waterhole. I then had a swim too – it was refreshing. We sat in chairs on the veranda watching a mangy black-backed jackal walking around the waterhole. It was lovely and really relaxing. Terry said that he could easily stay there for a week!

We then lay down to read, still able to enjoy the view. Just after 6:30pm, we moved back outside with drinks to enjoy the sunset. Terry spotted a black rhino making its way up into the bushes in the distance.

Supper was a light assortment of snacks, which we enjoyed while listening to the jackals calling.

Mammals: Baboon, buffalo, eland, elephant, red hartebeest, black-backed jackal, kudu, lion, black rhino, warthog, Burchell’s zebra

Birds: Southern red bishop, southern boubou, brimstone canary, red-knobbed coot, Cape crow, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, yellow-billed duck, common fiscal, fiscal flycatcher, spur-winged goose, pale chanting goshawk, little grebe, sombre greenbul, helmeted guineafowl, black-headed heron, hadeda ibis, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, speckled mousebird, ostrich, South African shelduck, red-winged starling, barn swallow, lesser striped swallow, red-billed teal, Cape wagtail, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other: Flightless dung beetle, terrapin, angulate tortoise, leopard tortoise

18 February

We were awake at 6am, but we just lay in bed enjoying the view. There was no rushing off anywhere as we had both agreed that we were going to have a quiet day in camp enjoying our surroundings.

We enjoyed our breakfast outside on the veranda, and then sat in the chairs (inside, but right at the window) reading and enjoying the view, while watching animals move around in the valley below.

Later on, Terry lit a fire for our braai, while I prepared mealies and braai rolls. He then braai’ed them and lamb chops and sausages. We had a lovely lunch sitting outside enjoying the lovely weather and the magnificent views. Terry then had a quick dip before we made our way inside to relax and read some more.

We again moved outside for drinks in the early evening, staying outside to enjoy our supper of leftover braai. We had had a wonderful relaxing day and knew that we would be coming back to Nyathi again in the future.

Mammals: Baboon, kudu, vervet monkey, warthog, Burchell’s zebra

Birds: Southern boubou, jackal buzzard, Cape crow, Egyptian goose, Cape glossy starling, amethyst sunbird, lesser striped swallow, little swift, Cape white-eye

19 February

We woke up very early, but then dozed until after 6am. We then got up and packed, showered and then settled in on the veranda to enjoy our breakfast. We packed the car, but then sat enjoying our view for the last time. We had to hand the remote back by 10am back at Addo Main Camp reception, so we eventually left the cottage at 9am.

As we left camp we came across a small group of black-backed jackals – it was probably them that we heard at night. As we continued on the road to the gate, we saw buffalo and some really big leopard tortoises. We also came across two female ostriches with 11 chicks. The chicks were quite big already.

We stopped to watch a yellow mongoose and while we were watching it, a second one ran across the road with a small snake in its mouth. It joined the one we had been watching and we noticed that there were now three of them together.

We then saw an ostrich pair with 8 smaller chicks.

We crossed over into main Addo and made our way along Nzipondo Loop to Addo Main Camp reception. There we handed in our remote and checked into the camp.

We then continued our drive doing the bottom leg of the Nzipondo Loop and then moving onto Gorah Loop. We came across a herd of elephants as we drove. We also spent quite a bit of time identifying a Karoo korhaan (L). It was just far enough for us to have to work hard, even with our binoculars.

We drove back to camp to visit the bathrooms and then get lunch at the restaurant. Terry ate chicken parmesan, while I had a grilled chicken and avocado salad. Afterwards, we went back to our bench in the shade and sat there relaxing until it was time to go and pick up the key.

We were in cottage 40. We settled in and then relaxed. Later on, we drove down to reception (we were too far away to walk comfortably in the heat) and paid for our night drive. Back at the cottage, we had a light supper before getting ready for the night drive. Our guide was CK. It was a relatively quiet drive (compared to the ones we had two years ago), but we did see some unusual and interesting sightings: a young puff adder, a baby brown house snake and a large elephant bull in musth – we followed him along the road until he wandered off into the bush. We also saw another elephant at Gwharri Pan, some black-backed jackals and a scrub hare.

Mammals: Buffalo, elephant, scrub hare, red hartebees, black-backed jackal, kudu, yellow mongoose, vervet monkey, warthog, Burchell’s zebra

Birds: Bokmakierie, dark-capped bulbul, common buzzard, Cape crow, Cape turtle dove, red-eyed dove, fork-tailed drongo, yellow-billed duck, common fiscal, Egyptian goose, pale chanting goshawk, black-headed heron, African hoopoe, hadeda ibis, Karoo korhaan (L), crowned lapwing, speckled mousebird, neddicky, ostrich, African pipit, Cape glossy starling, pied starling, red-winged starling, barn swallow, lesser striped swallow, spotted thick-knee, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other: Puff adder, brown house snake, angulate tortoise, leopard tortoise

20 February

We set the alarm so that we could get an early start. We listened to hyenas whooping in the distance while we got ready. We were out of camp just after 5:30am. We drove past Gwharrie Pan and made our way to Hapoor Dam.

We saw a herd of elephants in the distance, walking away from the dam. Otherwise, it was very quiet.

We drove to the main road and then made our way to Mbabala loop, and eventually we saw our first warthog of the day!

We saw a scrub hare out in daylight, not something that you see every day. And then we saw plenty of warthog sightings!

From Zuurkop we could see a herd of buffalo in the distance. We also saw some elephants in the distance. As we made our way down, we got closer to the buffalo herd. There were about 40 of them in total.

We also watched a black-backed jackal hunting in the grass for insects, etc. It was quite lovely to watch it meandering along doing its own thing, totally oblivious to us.

On Nzipondo Loop, we stopped for a white-throated canary. We stopped at Domkrag Dam to look at the birds again, and then we made our way back to camp.

The cottage had not been serviced yet, so I sat outside and read. In fact, we went to lunch just after 12 and we had still seen no one coming to clean the rooms. We could see evidence up near the car that people were in the area. I suppose that is one of the disadvantages of being far out in a big camp.

For lunch I had a Nevada chicken burger and Terry had the chicken parmesan again. We visited the shop to buy sandwiches and yoghurt for the next morning, and then went back to the cottage (which had now been serviced) to relax.

We went to pay for our night drive again, returned to have a light supper and then made our way to the night drive. This time our guide was Mpunzi. We had a very brief sighting of a brown hyena (more a brown butt) disappearing into the bush. Mpunzi later stopped the vehicle and showed us a beetle called a tok-tokkie (it is one of the darkling beetles). He tapped the ground and the beetle responded by tapping its abdomen on the road.

We saw a black rhino and Mpunzi was telling us how they usually run away before they would charge a vehicle. We had to explain to him that this was not the case a few days prior. He thinks the rhino may have got a fright, but we were not convinced. He had to have been there!

We also saw a springhare. Eventually! I was worried that we were going to leave Addo without seeing one.

We came across a herd of elephants. While we were watching them, one walked right up to and past the vehicle. There was some nervous sounding laughter in the vehicle.

We watched a blacksmith lapwing challenging a tok-tokkie. It was quite interesting to see.

Then the night drive got even more interesting. It started with a sighting of three porcupines – a mother and two babies. Then a bull elephant walked right up to the vehicle and continue on past us. It was a night for close elephant encounters. We also watched a black-headed heron hunting – in the dark. And then we came across a big male lion sitting in the road. He got up and then moved into the bush to join his brother. We saw both of them briefly. We were pleased to eventually see them as we had spent the first part of our drive along the fence line looking for them, unsuccessfully.

We made our way back to camp, and to bed.

Mammals: Buffalo, bushbuck, elephant, scrub hare, red hartebeest, brown hyena, black-backed jackal, kudu, lion, small grey mongoose, porcupine, springhare, warthog, Burchell’s zebra

Birds: Southern red bishop, bokmakierie, southern boubou, Cape bulbul, brimstone canary, yellow-fronted canary, white-throated canary, red-knobbed coot, Cape crow, pied crow, Cape turtle dove, Namaqua dove, fork-tailed drongo, yellow-billed duck, common fiscal, Egyptian goose, spur-winged goose, pale chanting goshawk, little grebe, sombre greenbul, black-headed heron, black-shouldered kite, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, common moorhen, speckled mousebird, neddicky, fiery-necked nightjar, Karoo scrub robin, South African shelduck, lesser grey shrike, Cape sparrow, red-winged starling, greater double-collared sunbird, malachite sunbird, barn swallow, Cape teal, red-billed teal, spotted thick-knee

Other: Flightless dung beetle, tok-tokkie beetle, angulate tortoise, leopard tortoise

21 February

Although we didn’t set any alarm, we were awake at about 6am. We had a lie in though and read for a while. We then showered and packed, leaving the cottage not too long after 8am.

We ate our breakfast (bought at the shop the previous day) on the road. We took the main road south towards our ultimate destination – Matyholweni Gate. We made a brief stop at Jack’s picnic site and then continue on our way. As we drove we could see kudu and zebra on a ridge in the distance.

We came across a large herd of elephants that were spread out along the road, on both sides.

We crossed the public road and came to Lismore waterhole, where we found some buffalo drinking. There were elephants close by but they could not get to the waterhole as it was fenced in the same way as Peasland.

As we came to the plains there were elephant in the distance and groups of red hartebees. But the strangest sighting was of a half-eaten hartebees carcass lying on the grass. There were no predators or scavengers in sight.

At Peasland, there were zebra drinking, which gave us a good hint that the lions were no longer in the area.

We stopped a little further to watch two hartebees bulls rutting.

We took Vukani loop and then Mbotyi Loop. On the former, we were fascinated to watch a group of about 20 barn swallows on the road. We also watched a black-headed heron catch an insect.

We reached the gate just after 10:30am and made our way out of the park.

Mammals: Buffalo, elephant, red hartebeest, kudu, vervet monkey, warthog, Burchell’s zebra

Birds: Common buzzard, Cape crow, Cape turtle dove, common fiscal, sombre greenbul, helmeted guineafowl, black-headed heron, speckled mousebird, ostrich, African pipit, red-backed shrike, red-necked spurfowl, Cape glossy starling, barn swallow

Other: Flightless dung beetle