Our weekend’s are precious, everyone’s weekend is precious, ours was supposed to be spent doing a long list of house DIY that had been neglected for a little too long. We did well on Saturday, blasting through almost half the list which included changing the dishwasher plumbing, weeding the veggie garden and finish putting on the new light switches (the original ones are from the 1970’s and were so sad looking).
Then Sunday rolled around and the kids decided to get up über early, so there we sat at 06:00 on a Sunday chatting and scrolling, and I suddenly remembered it was the last day of SANParks free entry week at selected parks, Addo Elephant National Park is only about 120km away from us and we asked the kids if they’d like to see Elephants. Of course it was a unanimous “yes”, so DIY Sunday and church where abandoned in favour of a family outing to Addo!
Roadtrip packing success.
If you read my last blog post on our trip to Cape Town (here), you’ll recall I had a bit of a disastrous packing episode.
Not this time I tell you! Lunch boxes, juice bottles and snacks galore! There was enough food to feed an army! My hubby on the other hand missed the boat on the clothing/nappy packing (more on this later).
It felt so good, knowing we were on the road by 08:30, snacking away in the car, silently praying that we’d see the elephants we’d promised our kids. Sometimes when you go to Addo and the weather is cool, the elephants hide in the thick bush, and you don’t see any of the 600 in the park. I know right. 600 elephants and you don’t see one?!?! True story, it’s happened often. I have no idea how a three tonne pachyderm hides in Spekboom, but I’ve experienced the zero elephant vibe.
Free stuff means crowds.
Oh my favourite part of these free things is the crowds and crowds of people. I had to just pretend I liked it, cause, literally, thousands of people where descending on the park. The entrance gate queue was about 16 cars long (you have to fill in a long form and receive a free map).
Then we reached the main camp. Jesus, take the wheel. So. Many. People.
We fought to find parking so we could go to the bathroom, view what I called “the cheat sheet”, a map with sightings marked on it. The park has Elephant, Buffalo, Lions and a host of other animals, but we were in for elephants, and elephants only.
Quick stop at the very well stocked shop (the park is mostly self catering accommodation, so the shop has everything from Ice cream to laundry powder) and off we went to find elephants.
As we just got through the entrance gate after queuing for about 20 minutes, my youngest decides this is the perfect time to make a poo.
We had just gotten into the park, the part where it is “illegal to alight from your vehicle” and he poos. So turn around back to the gate, pull over and change his bum in the back of the car. It’s at this point I realised I had just put him in his last nappy.
Now any mother worth her salt would be very scared. The endless possibilities for him being in his last nappy and we’ve only just STARTED the day (facepalm). Husband was then grilled on his ability to count and his ability to work out number of nappies vs time away from home, in the middle of nowhere. Then we decided it’s probably better to get on with day than fight about something neither of us could change.
The hunt is on, so to speak.
We determined our self drive route through the park and started our drive. The kids were excited, more because they were now allowed to roam free in the car with no seat belts than anything else, cause the speed limit is 40km/hr and my husband (a game park virgin) was under strict instructions to drive slow.
Our first sighting was a warthog! Oh the stalwart of game parks everywhere, the funniest looking thing on four legs, and a great way to start our spotting.
We drove and drove and drove. Onward, searching the through the thick bush. I was making my husband stop next to interesting plants and flowers so I could photograph them. My love of gardening is clearly overtaking my love of animals, for now.
We carried on and on and then, over a hill, Hapoor dam was in sight, and there rushing towards the water was a herd of elephants!!!
We were so excited, as were the forty other cars headed in the same direction. From all sides, cars and vans and game viewing vehicles started to arrive, as if on cue. We muscled our way to a spot and after the herd had walked right past us, they stood by the water and drank.
It was pure bliss.
The last time I was in a game park was probably 8 years ago. I grew up spending holidays in game parks, I have my own bird book, my father is a wildlife artist (hence the copious visits to parks around South Africa). This was like sweet water to my soul. Something I hadn’t experienced in years, and here I was, with my family, watching an elephant family drink water, in the wild!!
I will say this though, not every two year old is interested in elephants. They say they are, but my youngest just couldn’t stop fiddling with the car buttons. My eldest sat quietly on hubby’s lap and watched the elephants with interest.
We spent at least 10 minutes watching. The crowd of cars was so overwhelming that we decided to push onto the picnic site to give the boys a chance to stretch their legs.
Sometimes it helps to plan ahead.
We arrived at the picnic site, which on a normal day, might be pleasant and spacious, with the sounds of nature filling in the muted conversations of a picnic lunch in the bush.
It was so crowded, you couldn’t even see the individual picnic benches set under the trees. There were cars as far as you could see. Also a designated area (fenced off) where you can get out your car in safety and walk around, use the bathroom (beautiful btw) and enjoy a picnic. It was so full we decided to just wee, get back in the car and head to the main camp.
Our timing could not have been worse. We arrived back at the main camp to find everyone from the Eastern Cape had decided to have lunch here.
There is, luckily, a fabulous info center and wooden jungle gyms for the kids to play on, away from the crowded restaurant. So the boys played while I went to hunt for lunch.
Upon seeing the wonderful Cattle Barron so full, and knowing my kids wouldn’t survive a long wait for food, I headed to the gift shop to stock up on ice cream and drinks for the road.
At this point I remembered that my hubby had neglected to pack a change of lighter clothes for the boys (not sure what happened to his packing ability this time round) so I thought I’d see if I could find them some souvenir shirts in the gift shop.
Um. Okay. Maybe not.
Nothing souvenir looking under R180. Now I’m pretty sure some of you are like, oh, that’s not too bad. But when you think about this past week being “free entrance” week, the folk who are coming to visit are probably not rolling in disposable income, and like us, are on a budget of sorts. Plus, I won’t pay that for a shirt for them in normal life. The best souvenir I found that fit in with the hundreds of rand spent on food was a fridge magnet. I was glad we had photos as memories. The gift shop is squarely aimed at foreign tourists with the exchange rate firmly in their favour.
We ate ice creams on the viewing deck, overlooking a water hole with elephants drinking, sitting among about a hundred other people. I tell you, some of those folk are organised. Full on lunch packed in big coolers. Blankets and hats. Relaxed and enjoying their time out. It’s inspired me to plan a few trips like this, researched and prepared (properly this time).
We planned to drive to Nanaga and stop there to grab a pie, then ten minutes out the park, the youngest passed out in his seat. Oh well, no Nanaga then, we drove straight home, rationing out sweets to keep us all awake till we could get home.
My take away.
In the end a wonderful, impromptu trip with high reward. We all felt like we’d had a wonderful outing, the boys got to tick off a milestone item (elephants in the wild) and mama bear got her soul refreshed by doing something that fills my tank (going into nature). Hubby was stoked he got to experience a game park for the first time and ALSO saw wild elephants for the very first time!
The entrance fees on a regular day are not that steep for South Africans at R77/adult and R39/child for a day. So it doesn’t end up breaking the bank outside of the “free week” offer. Pack a decent picnic, some sunscreen and plenty of water and you can enjoy an entire day in the park exploring and seeing animals in the wild you would never see anywhere else, right on your doorstep (Eastern Capies).
We will definitely do it again. And I’ll save up for a proper souvenir. 😉