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by Alison Beere

I grew up in the bush but my kids are city-slickers so we decided to head to Addo Elephant National Park for the kids' first introduction to game parks and "safari" type experiences.

Addo, about 70 km (44 miles) from the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, is situated in South Africa's Eastern Cape province.

As such it was an obvious choice for us - relatively affordable, easily accessible by car from our Cape Town home, and neatly situated at the far end of the Garden Route which is our regular stomping ground.

The park is nevertheless still eight hours' drive from Cape Town, but that gave us an excuse to stop off in Sedgefield and visit one of our grannies on the way! Elephant in road, Addo Elephant park
Face to face with large mammals. © Alison Beere

We drove into the park from the coastal road via the Matyholweni Gate (about 30 minutes beyond Port Elizabeth). There's a fairly long stretch which is just small animals and bush, then you go through the elephant-proof fence and are soon face to face with LARGE mammals!

This is the section of the park around the Addo Main Camp and that is where I recommend you stay as it offers you quick access to the big game areas.

It does book up quickly though, so make reservations as far ahead as you can. If they don't have space, there are many private B & Bs and guest houses nearby, just try to be close to the park's Main Camp entrance.

Kudu bull
Handsome Kudu Bull. © Alison Beere

We had a great three days in the park and really enjoyed our game viewing.

We saw loads of elephants including babies, as well as zebra, kudu, eland, warthog, ostrich and even a lion with his kill!

Addo is a Big Five park but alas we missed out on the buffalo and rhino which our travelling companions saw. Neither party spotted a leopard during our visit.

A word to those with small kids - your children may not be as enthralled as you are! They want everything really close up and as they are not able to use binoculars properly can get quite frustrated if animals are far off.

Our children were aged four and seven at the time and three days was more than enough for them. By the end, only seeing a lion up close every minute would have kept them happy! Elephant and calf drinking
Elephant mother and calf. © Alison Beere

In actual fact, really small kids will have more fun at a zoo, because they just cannot understand how awesome it is to see enormous elephants, or lions, or even warthog families, running free.

We did a self-drive and that's what I recommend with children. You can be completely independent, so if the kids start to act up you won't put anyone out by heading back to camp.

You can also book a "hop-on" guide to accompany you in your own vehicle or arrange official game drives through the Sanparks office at Main Camp.

Night drives can only be done in official vehicles - private vehicles must leave the game area before sunset.

About the Author: Alison Beere is owner and editor of a Cape Town-based website which offers travelers the benefit of her local knowledge about Cape Town Travel and the Garden Route.

Addo Elephant National Park Fact File:

Location: Addo Elephant National Park is situated in the dense valley bushveld of the Sundays River region of the Eastern Cape and is approximately 72 km from Port Elizabeth. It is administered by South African National Parks.

Size: The original Elephant section of the park was proclaimed in 1931, when only 11 elephants remained in the area. Today the park covers an area of 164,000 hectares but there are plans to expand this into a 360,000 hectare mega-park.

Wildlife: 400+ elephants, 300+ Cape buffalo, over 40 endangered black rhino as well as a variety of antelope species. Lion and spotted hyena have also been re-introduced to the park. A species unique to the area is the flightless dung beetle, namely Circellium bacchus.

Accommodation: Main Restcamp, offering a variety of accommodation from spacious guest houses to smaller chalets, cabins and safari tents; Mathyolweni Rest Camp, offering two cottages; Narina Bush Camp, offering four dome tents. There are in addition a handful of Addo Concession Lodges situated in different locations within the park. These private lodges offer more luxurious accommodation and are priced accordingly.

Health: Addo Elephant National Park is in a malaria-free area.

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