Addo Elephant Park to Tsitsikamma

Spider Monkey

The Wild Coast along the south eastern edge of South Africa was one of our favorite places we had visited so far, so luckily we love safaris and were excited to self drive in Addo Elephant Park. Addo is the third largest national park in South Africa and sits on the southern coast of the country, east of the Garden Route and west of the Wild Coast. The park claims online to be home to the big five – elephants, rhinos, lions, cape buffalo, and leopards – however most locals and employees will tell you upon arrival that there are no leopards in the park.

Since we left Hogsback a bit late we were going straight to our hostel for the evening and would start our game drive in the morning. The GPS app we were using, one that works without internet called Maps.me, routed us down a dirt road, which led us to a gate where a guard asked us to fill in a sheet with our info, and our car was recorded on video entering a stretch of Addo where regular traffic was allowed to drive through at no cost. We were told we had five minutes to reach our exit point, as this helped cut down on potential poaching, as did the security cameras and armed guards, so we took off in our tiny Toyota Etios, determined not to get in trouble for staying in the park longer than authorized.

While flying down the rutted dirt road we saw elephants roaming to our left, and had to brake a time or two for warthogs that liked to run across the road. I started to sweat a bit when we passed the five minute mark and there was no exit gate in sight, when 10 minutes had gone by I realized that the time limit must not be enforced because a formula one driver probably couldn’t make it through there in that time frame. After 15 minutes had gone by we finally reached the exit gate, checked out, and headed on toward our hostel, the Aardvark Guesthouse. Shortly before reaching the hostel we hit a rough patch on a dirt road. I thought I picked the best route around the large ruts in the road, but unfortunately I drove our rental car right into a meter deep pothole. Luckily we had enough momentum to carry us over it after a hard hit to the bottom of our car, and we arrived in one piece.

Warthog Addo
One of the warthogs just off the road while driving through the park.

The Aardvark Guesthouse has all kinds of accommodations, from en-suite private rooms to traditional rondavels to safari tents. We decided we missed camping a bit and chose the nice, large safari tents that could sleep five people and settled in for the night. The next morning we hit the road at 7am to start our game drive in Addo. The park entrance was a 10 minute drive from our hostel, where we paid our 232 rand each ($14 USD when we were there), fueled up at the gas station, and headed into the park.

addo elephant park

A large herd of cape buffalo awaited us shortly after entering, wallowing in a pool of mud and looking less than happy to see a car so close to them. As we drove on we noticed that the park was full of thick vegetation, making it hard to see much unless it was in one of the few clearings, or directly on the road. We tried to see a few lions near Domkrag Dam that another car told us about, but after spending a good amount of time searching where they said, we gave up and continued further into the park. Journeying on we spent a good amount of time driving without spotting much, however once we made it to the famous Hapoor Dam our luck seemed to get better very quickly.

Cape Buffalo Addo
One of the many cape buffalo that were muddying themselves up on the side of the road.

In a clearing just before the dam there were loads of zebras, hartebeests, a jackal, and other assorted wildlife, not to mention tons of elephants getting a drink nearby. It was as if every animal in the park had converged on the dam and it’s surrounding areas just then, less any predators.

Hartebeest Addo
One of the many hartebeests in Addo hanging out a meter from our car.
Zebra Addo
A herd of zebra didn’t have a care in the world as they grazed on some of the park’s green grass.
Jackal Addo
Most of the jackals we had seen were very skittish and ran when we got near, but this one didn’t mind us one bit.

The highlight of our drive was definitely the dozens of elephants drinking and playing in the water, seemingly oblivious to the people watching them nearby. After a bit they emerged from the water and seemed to notice the cars parked watching them and they suddenly became a bit shy and decided to huddle up in a big group and then leave into the high brush and trees nearby.

Harpoor Dam
Harpoor Dam is a popular place for elephants to go to drink and play in the water.
Elephants Harpoor Dam
The elephants grew shy as soon as they noticed us and decided it was time to go.

With the exception of a few monkeys, more warthogs than we had ever seen, and some zebras, the remaining few hours of our drive were without any big game. That meant Addo was the first park we had been to on the continent without seeing any lions and despite the great encounter with the elephants, it was the least bio-diverse viewing experience we had of any park. With wildlife safaris the park only plays a part in what you will and won’t see, and luck plays almost an equal part, so we were likely unlucky that day as the park is famous for it’s great wildlife. Even with our lack of luck, the drive was definitely worth it as any safari tends to be interesting and fun for us.

Vervet Addo
There weren’t many vervets in Addo, but the extremely common monkey in Africa is always cute.

jeffreys bay

After leaving Addo Elephant Park we headed back to the coast to stay in a great hostel, Island Vibe, in Jeffreys Bay. Dorm beds at Island Vibe ran $11, or we decided to rent a room for four, which is relatively common through hostels in South Africa, for the same amount per person. The big beach house the room was in is set right on the beach with beautiful views of the waves coming in and a nice, large communal kitchen where we cooked dinner.

Island Vibe Jeffrey's Bay
Island Vibe in Jeffreys Bay is a surfer’s paradise. By day it’s set right on the beach near great waves, at night there’s a bar with a foosball table, beer pong, and a pool table.

The bar just up the outdoor stairway was complete with a beer pong table (with house rules that I didn’t care for but beer pong in SA is a treat anyway), pool table, and foosball table. In the day you can sit at one of their picnic tables outside and look out over the bay, at night it becomes a bit of a party spot. That night a couple from our overland truck that we had been on from Egypt to Mozambique came by and we had a good time catching up in the fun bar.

bloukrans bridge bungee

We were excited to work on our surfing skills the next morning, but unfortunately a storm came in so we decided to change our plans and head straight to the world’s highest bridge bungee jump an hour away at Bloukrans Bridge. Bloukrans Bridge stands at 216 meters, or 709 feet, and was the world’s highest bungee until 2007, but is still the highest from a bridge. The weather in the area, which is near Tsitsikamma, was much better when we got there and I was excited to jump.

 

Bloukran's Bridge
The Guinness certificate showing that Bloukran’s Bridge was the highest commercial bungee in the world and is the highest from a bridge.

Sissy decided not to jump as her mind was on her upcoming decision to try skydiving, so her friend Miri and I paid our 890 rand each ($60 USD or so at the time) and harnessed up. I had been bungee jumping before in Costa Rica and wasn’t really a fan as the platform was rusty and looked like it may fall off the bridge, there was no backup in case your feet came out of the ankle harness, and it was very shoddily ran, so I wasn’t overly confident this time around, but as we were taken to the bridge I started to feel a bit better about the whole ordeal. The bridge is well constructed, you walk on the underside of it on a walkway made of metal grates where you can see exactly how far down the bottom is, and every part of the operation seems new and well maintained. We were in full harnesses, not just around our ankles, and a backup rope was attached to the waist harness in case anything happened to the ankle one.

We were told that our jump order was determined by our weight and there was no deviation from the order we were given, which was a bummer since I was anxious to go first to get the jump over with. Miri was lucky being the smallest of the group and was the first to go, I was put a few people back in the group of 13 of us. As we got ready to jump a DJ started playing music through a nice sound system on the bottom of the bridge, and the employees broke out dancing from time to time as they prepped the ropes. Miri was hauled to the edge of the bridge, looked into a video camera that was mounted a face level and fed back to the restaurant that overlooked the bridge, and then jumped off the edge when the countdown got to zero.

Once my turn came I was ushered to the edge of the bridge since my feet were bound together, one employee under each arm. They started the countdown from five and I stared straight ahead, not willing to look down from the dizzying height I was standing at. As they reached one I jumped off the bridge and fell around 160 meters (you wouldn’t want to go the entire 216 meters obviously) toward the earth. While the fall may have only lasted five seconds or so, it was a great rush and the scenery was beautiful surrounding the bridge. As the blood rushed to my head while I hung upside down I saw the beautiful Bloukrans River emptying into the Indian Ocean before the employee sent to bring me up reached me.

Bloukran's Bungee
The initial step off the bridge was scary, but it was all over in a few seconds.
Bloukran's Bridge
I look a bit small hanging from the massive bridge. The red arrow points at the tiny speck that is me.

storms river

The adrenaline rush was still in me when we jumped in the car and took off to our home for the night, Tube n’ Axe in Storms River Village. We grabbed another four person room in the hostel for about the same price as a dorm bed would’ve been and headed to their “downtown” area for some dinner. The town has a population of roughly 1,600 so when we went to the information center to see about a map for hiking in the area the next day, we found that it is in the local pizza restaurant, which was one of two open restaurants in town. The other, across the street, was a retro American diner, with pictures of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe decorating the walls.

We opted for the pizza/information place and were rewarded with some really good pizza made by the one lady working as the cook, waitress, bus girl, and information person. The next day we went on a hike in Tsitsikamma National Park, skipping the highly advertised “Black Water Tubing” for a free hike in a nice forest. The map we got from the information center was unfortunately a bit different than the actual trail, as trails shown on the map weren’t very apparent (or existent?) and others were in places the map didn’t show. We were warned that the paths weren’t well maintained or marked, so after an hour long meander in a nice looking forest and a few dozen spiders in my face, we reached some of the famed black water, and turned to head back.

Storm's River
The river we came upon was full of truly black water. Apparently decaying vegetation leeches into the water, causing it to turn black, which looks pretty cool.

Monkeyland

We heard about a nearby monkey conservancy and decided we’d check it out after the hike, so we packed up and headed to the nearby Monkeyland. Neither of us can stand going to zoos and typically wouldn’t want to see animals in captivity, however Monkeyland takes monkeys, typically that were kept as pets and could no longer be handled, and puts them in their massive forest which is fenced off, keeping them inside in a free roaming environment. They have 15 species of primates and 550 or so individuals inside. When we entered the sanctuary we were greeted by a half dozen monkeys climbing around on the fence near the entrance. We paid our 190 rand each, or $13 then, and were led on the start of our “Monkey Safari” by a knowledgeable local guide.

Monkeyland
One of the many capuchins that greeted us in Monkeyland.

We were led through a gate into a natural forest, not man made or planted, but a dense, humid forest and we immediately were viciously attacked by swarms of mosquitos. We had been warned and put on a natural mosquito repellent that was provided, but we were cursing ourselves for not bringing our 50% DEET spray along. Once inside the gate we were immediately surrounded by monkeys, mostly playing, some just curious and checking us out. The lone spectacled langur in Monkeyland walked past us nonchalantly and hopped up in a tree nearby.

Spectacled Langur
The only spectacled langur in the conservancy was a rescued pet. The species is from Asia and was imported before being abandoned as adult monkeys don’t make good pets.
Baby Vervet
A baby vervet yawned just inside the gate as it’s mother watched over it.

Shortly down the path our guide told us to come near a tree where a pair of spider monkeys were playing. He told us they were a mother and son and the only two of their kind inside Monkeyland. The conservancy doesn’t capture any animals, so unless more spider monkeys need rescuing, they will continue to be the only two inside. The son was very playful and after playing around with his tail, a branch, and posing for a picture for me, he decided to grab Miri and a vervet tried to take Sissy’s bracelet at the same time.

Spider Monkey
The playful spider monkey seemed happy the entire time, especially while he was harassing Miri.
Spider Monkey
He wasn’t camera shy either, he was posing for his close up.
Vervets
Vervets are adorable but they tend to be thieves. For months they had been trying to steal our food in campsites and now one wanted Sissy’s bracelet.

Walking further we came across multiple groups of ringtail lemurs, which are native to Madagascar and always look a bit surprised no matter what they seem to be doing. The lemurs were climbing trees, eating nuts, and running around, it seemed the only thing they weren’t doing was sitting still.

Ringtail Lemur
A lemur paused for a second before taking off again.
Ringtail Lemur
More typically the dozens of lemurs were climbing, jumping, or eating.
Ringtail Lemur
They jumped from tree to tree a lot.

We got lucky and found the only two animals in Monkeyland that didn’t have tails, which were a pair of gibbons. Gibbons aren’t monkeys, but apes, and are typically monogamous, however they occasionally divorce or replace their mate with another.

Gibbon
One of the two gibbons looking thoughtful. Gibbons are also from Asia and these two were also rescued pets.

There’s a long rope bridge in the sanctuary that you walk across before heading toward the exit, and on the way to the bridge tons of capuchins took an interest in us, jumping nearby and getting as close as they dared to us before running off again. The game went on with them for a while and every so often I’d look back and see a capuchin a meter or so behind me.

Capuchin
One of the many capuchins on a bridge leading to the rope bridge.
Capuchins
Some of them preferred to keep their distance, which still wasn’t far, even though they had a massive forest to roam.

After over an hour in Monkeyland and dozens of mosquito bites to show for it, our “safari” was at an end. We saw almost every species in the sanctuary and found it to be very different from any zoo or captive facility we had been to. We grabbed some lunch at the restaurant on site which let us watch more monkeys getting up to some mischief just outside before we had to drive on to our next stop on the coast, Sedgefield!