To bid farewell to 2017, I took myself off to Addo Elephant National Park. What I saw there will stay with me forever. By Leslie Clemence

As the mom of two teenage girls, one of whom has just completed matric, I was feeling a little frazzled as 2017 drew to a close. So, on the last day of the year, New Year’Eve, I decided that I was going to take myself for a trip to Addo, one of my favourite places.

I set off early to get to the gate by 07:00, and was impressed with the entry system in place. Honorary Rangers brought you the entry forms, and once they had checked them, you went into the office and paid. It worked really well, and considering I was about the 10th car in the queue, I was off in record time. I made sure my windows were down and my radio was off. I was going to see, hear and smell nature.

I drive a little car, a Honda Brio, so was a little disillusioned by the long grass. I was concerned that I would not see very much. But I was wrong. First of all, there were the thistles. And the thistles were so beautiful. And because I love flowers, I enjoyed them.

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Not much further, I came across a dazzle of zebra (ok, so I Googled it because herd just sounded wrong), using a sign as a scratching post. They were unfazed by my presence, and I had a few wonderful photo opportunities.

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About 10 minutes after I left them, I rounded a corner, and about 50m away, walking up the road towards me, was a herd of five elephants. I pulled over and stopped, giving them lots of space.

What an amazing experience – even though I was a little terrified, as my teeny, tiny car only weighs 900kg. They were so close, I could have touched them. As the largest walked past, she paused. I don’t think I will ever forget that moment. My heart stopped. I could see the white ring in her eye, every eyelash, and she looked straight at me. Goosebump stuff. I have to admit, as she walked off, I did exhale a little louder than normal.

By this stage, it was starting to warm up, so there were butterflies all over. It was interesting to see, albeit a bit smelly when you lingered, how many accumulated on the dung. A lovely photo opportunity again. At one point, it was so quiet that I could hear the butterflies’ wings flapping.

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After another wonderful, close encounter with a herd of elephants along the road, I decided to go to Spekboom Hide to see what was there.

Those who know Spekboom Hide will know the walk to get to the viewpoint. As I got closer, not only could I hear the rumble of elephants, but also their splashing. There were more elephants than I’d ever seen at Spekboom before, and only one other person sitting in the hide. I sat and watched, listening as the elephants splashed and squirted water, and the babies rolled in the mud. One would have sworn they were already celebrating New Year’s from the way they were carrying on!

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After that, I wondered if I should just leave – hadn’t I seen all I was going to see? But I decided that no trip to Addo is complete without a trip to Hapoor Dam. And was I glad I decided to go.

As I approached, there was a herd of buffalo on the veld to the left of the dam. And Hapoor was as I’d never seen it before. There were elephants as far as the eye could see. I just sat there for about an hour and watched, listened and smelt nature.

I felt renewed. They say that if you are busy, you should sit for at least a half an hour a day in nature. In the end, I had spent six glorious hours in nature. What an amazing end to 2017!