A wildlife experience
One of the things I have learned throughout my travels is that not only travelling opens your mind but it also opens door to new leisure, activities and that is what I found at Addo National Park, the third biggest park of South Africa. I got the chance to be a volunteer in a backpackers which organised tours in the Park. This is where I first experienced a safari, of course when I was a child I went to Zoos and back in the time it was great, but after going on a safari, you realise that Zoo is nothing compare to all the wildlife parks. Mainly because in Zoos animals are taken out of their original habitat and are caged in an inappropriate space so you can’t experience their real behaviours.
The location and the Backpackers
Addo Elephant National Park is situated near the small town of Addo in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mountains and game reserves. The closest city is Port Elizabeth which is a 45-minute drive from Addo. In Addo, you can find a petrol station, a small supermarket, two ATM machines and two townships, the rest are mainly Hotels, Guesthouses and hostels. Among these Hostels the Orange Elephant Backpackers where I stayed for 3 months in 2015 and came back in 2017 for a month. It is a former farm transformed into a Backpackers with a capacity of 30 beds and which has a family atmosphere. At the end of the property, there is a bar called the Thirsty Herds Pub where you can meet all the local people around a nice fireplace just outside the bar. They have recently started to brew their own beer “the Elephant Ale”. At the bar, you can also eat pizzas based on the concept of “build your own pizza”, which means that you can choose your base and then you add all the ingredients you want on the top.
The main purpose of volunteering is to work in exchange for free food and free accommodation. The work is really easy, it consists of receptionist work: welcoming the guest, show them the property, giving them information about the park and at night time, socialising with them at the bar. The shifts at reception are shared between the number of volunteers who are staying there. So it is mainly divided into 3 shifts: an early shift from 7 am to 11 am, then a middle shift from 11 am to 3 pm and a late shift from 3 pm to 7 pm. The rest of the time is free. But some nights when it gets busy at the bar, the volunteers can also help at the kitchen.
Meeting the wildlife
Being a volunteer gives you a lot of advantages and at Addo one of them was to get a huge discount on entrance fee at the park. So usually the tour starts at 9 am and finishes at 5 pm. The guide also stays at the backpackers, which is very convenient as he can meet the guests in advance and tell them what to expect. The safari begins at 10 am because you first have to deal with all the paperwork and entrance tickets and this can take long! As it is a full day tour, the guide usually drives around 4hours in the morning in the north part of the park, then take a break for lunch at around 1 pm and I have to say that lunch time is very appreciated by the guests. Indeed, the guide cooks a Braai, a typical South African meal which consists of a barbeque. Here, he braais boerewors which are typical spicy sausages from South Africa and it goes with salad, the most popular salad is the potato salad which consists of potatoes and mayonnaise! You will also get a bun to eat it as a sandwich. Then after lunch, the time left in the park is around 2hours and a half, that the guide mainly spends in the south part of the park before going back to the backpackers.
Africa and South Africa is known to be a host of the Big Five which is composed of the Elephant, the Lion, the Leopard, the Rhino and the Buffalo. And Addo, also hosts the Big Five but to be honest, the Leopards have not been seen in a while, the rangers even lost their tracks as the batteries of their trackers have been flat for quite a while now. About the rhino, it is a different story, he has rarely been seen but if the rangers happen to see him, they won’t be able to tell anyone about the rhino as the rhino is being protected from the poachers. Whereas for the rest of the Big Five, you can be sure to see at least the Elephants because as the name of the park suggests “Addo Elephant National Park”, is mainly about Elephants. But you will also see a lot of buffalos, as for the lions, they are seen quite often but you can still consider yourself very lucky if you see them. I had been very lucky when I was there; we had the chance to drive next to two Lions male with minimum speed while they were walking along the road! Among the animals living in the park, you can see Zebras, Kudus (a kind of antelope), Warthogs, Tortoises, a lot of Birds, Eagles, Monkeys …
I guess most of the people have heard about Kruger and not about Addo, but I would recommend going there if you want to do a safari. It is, for sure, smaller than Kruger, but it does not get very crowded (except on Sundays which is family day at the park) and you will have a lot of space to watch the animals. In addition to that, the park also gets a marine section with the two other animals that compose the Big Seven: the southern right whale and the great white shark. So if you are a wildlife lover do not hesitate to go there but a full day in the park won’t be enough (I went 4 times in a month and I still want to go back)!