By far my favourite SANParks property, Addo Elephant National Park deserves to be top of your list too. By Sally Sivewright

While I was studying in Port Elizabeth I tried to spend any free moments, moments not spent peering down a microscope or scribbling a report, exploring the wonders of Addo Elephant National Park. I was also lucky enough to spend time in the park, behind the scenes, assisting post grads with the field component of their research. There are so many aspects that I love about this magical place, but here are five reasons for a start.

Elephants-Addo-Sally Sivewright

There are over 600 African elephants inhabiting Addo, a vast transformation from the initial 11 that were protected by the inception of the park. Pictures by Sally Sivewright

Dung beetle-Addo-Sally Sivewright

Dung beetles have right of way!

1. Expect the unexpected

Every visit offers something new, be it an experience or sighting. On one occasion when leaving the park, I happened upon a hunting black-headed heron. Almost instantly its neck started the characteristic wobble of stalking mode and a few seconds later it unleashed a clinical and unforgiving strike at its prey. I was expecting a small snake, lizard or something equally skinny but was taken completely by surprise when it emerged out of the undergrowth with a large brown vlei rat in its bill.

A lion sighting with no one else around? It happens in Addo. I once spent over an hour and a half marvelling at two of the majestic male lions inhabiting the park, a snoring Roy and Nomad on Gorah Loop, with mine the only vehicle present. It is still one of my most special memories.

Black headed heron-Addo-Sally Sivewright

A black-headed heron scoffing a species of vlei rat.

Kalahari lion-Addo-Sally Sivewright

Six Kalahari lions were released into the park in 2003.

2. A sensory experience

Spending time in the park is an awakening for your senses. I love to find a quiet spot: the breath-taking views of the Alexandria dune fields, the formidable roar of the lion, the call of the jackal through the heavy mist or the sweet smell of the fynbos. The feeling of euphoria when finally spotting your coveted species, be it the mighty elephant or the ambling dung beetle, the touch of the rough bark of the old trees shading the rest camps or the smell of the thicket after rain.

Alexandria dune-Addo-Sally Sivewright

Alexandria dune fields in the distance.

Black backed jackal-Addo-Sally Sivewright

A black-backed jackal

3. Wildlife

The animals, of course, are one of the principal reasons I find myself returning to the park time after time. As you summit that steep hill from the Matyholweni Gate, the first animal encountered will invariably be a warthog. It doesn’t matter how many times I spot this peculiar looking beast in the park, I am still just as stoked as the very first time that I encountered one. Addo boasts not only the Big Five but the Big Seven, with the inclusion of both the great white shark and the southern right whale in their marine section. One of Addo’s less advertised jewels is its rich birdlife, with more than 800 species present within the park’s boundaries.

Warthog-Addo-Sally Sivewright

The common warthog, a species prolific in the park.

African buffalo-Addo-Sally Sivewright

African buffalo traipse out of the thicket in the mid-afternoon for a drink and a wallow.

4. The backdrop

A highlight is being able to transition from the ocean – represented by the Alexandria dune field and the Bird and St Croix Island Groups – to the dusty Karoo by traversing the rolling and rugged Zuurberg Mountains. I find being able to shift between five South African biomes in one park remarkable.

Zebra-Addo-Sally Sivewright

Plains zebra

Kudu-Addo-Sally Sivewright

The face of SANParks, the greater kudu

5. Home is where the heart is

Addo is a place to escape to. My special retreat. I always return from Addo feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle the mountainous heap of paperwork crowding my desk. When it all gets too much, I point the Bantam Addo-ward for a much needed break. Still, I haven’t seen it all. I haven’t even scratched the surface. Not even a little bit!

About the writer

Sally Sivewright, a recent BSc graduate with a double major in zoology and botany from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in the Eastern Cape, is no stranger to the Addo Elephant National Park. With key focuses on conservation biology, animal behaviour and rehabilitation, she hopes, through her love for nature and wildlife, to bridge the gap between the scientific and global communities.

Follow more of Sally’s wild adventures on her blog, Scientist in Limbo.