I previously posted about Ironman South Africa last April. Well, naturally you don’t go all the way to South Africa for a sporting event and then go back home. Nope – safari time!
There are a number of parks and reserves in and around Port Elizabeth, South Africa. To be honest, you don’t even have to go far beyond town to see natural beauty! The main road heading south and west of Port Elizabeth gives a fantastic overlook of the sea, and the waves crashing on the rocky coastline.
Head just a bit further and you’ll reach Cape Recife. For a small fee, you can drive in – be sure to stop by the sea bird rehabilitation center, where you’ll see penguins and other birds.
A bit farther on you’ll reach the end of the cape, a wild beach with sand dunes and marine birds. Be sure and keep an eye out along the way as well, for birds and other wildlife. Bring binoculars and/or a long lens to spot birds sunning themselves on the spectacular rocks just off the cape.
Then, head out of town to Addo Elephant Park, one of South Africa’s 19 national parks. It’s a few hours to the northeast, on the Sunday River. To fully appreciate the self-drive park, it’s best to stay overnight and enter the park first thing in the morning. We stayed at the park lodges just inside the south entrance. The north end of the park appears to be more popular and has a restaurant. But we were here to see wildlife, not other people! The good news about the lodge in the south is that you’re just a few hundred yards outside the park and can drive straight in when the park opens at 6. This can be the best time to catch a glimpse of some of the rarer animals – like this spotted genet (disappeared too quickly to get a photo!). As the sun rises, all sorts of animals will gradually take shape around you. You smell them before you see them!
I should also mention we were warned about the mischievous monkeys at the lodge. Kind of the real reason we stayed there.
Driving around the park at your own pace, you’ll see all sorts of large and small creatures. Herds of wildebeest, Cape buffalo…
The main feature of the park, of course, it its namesake: elephants. You’ll see evidence of them everywhere. You’ll see them alone, and you’ll see them in large groups. We watched them for quite some time, splashing and playing and bathing in a muddy watering hole.
For us, one of the most exciting moments was when we spotted (pun intended) an animal we’ve never seen in all of our travels in southern africa: the spotted hyena!
We spotted the lone hyena (they are usually in groups) loping along the road and as we got closer, he crossed the road and faced off against a zebra.
I guess a lone hyena is not usually capable of taking down a zebra, so after a brief staring contest, they both retreated. But then I caught my breath as he turned and came straight at the car. We had the windows down and were taking pictures out the window, and he sniffed at the air a few times and came around to the side to get a closer look. As we quickly rolled up the windows, that is.
Eventually he gave up and headed out for something more his size.
We stayed in Addo a few days – I think two full days is plenty. Then we headed toward the coast, in search of the marine part of the park. We eventually found a visitor’s center after a 10km trek down a dirt road, where a sleepy park administrator explained that it was mostly hikers that come here, but we were welcome to continue down the road and have a look at the sea. We eventually found our way to the Woody Cape Lodge, being remodeled. They let us park (for a fee) and we headed down the trail to see the beach, which required us to climb a wooden trail over the dunes, and on the other side, there were ropes to help us climb down.
Oddly when we parked the sky was almost completely blue. As we came over the top of the dunes, billowing clouds began pouring over the top of the dunes like fog, and the temperature must have dropped ten degrees! We continued on, but the suddenly-gloomy weather made a big difference in the mood on the other side!
All in all, a great trip, however. South Africa is always a great place to go! You can see more photos from South Africa at this Flickr album.