Addo roadblocks, big butts and all

Don’t you just hate a road block? A lady or gent in uniform with a reflector jacket walking around your car and then asking you for your license. Or the “in thing” lately, the burning tires and throwing stones type roadblock. Or the pothole in the road roadblock where you have to wait for cars from the other side to pass before you can drive around it. Then there are the roadblocks you encounter on the roads in the old Transkei part of rural Eastern Cape. They type manned by cows, goats, donkey’s and baster brakke. One roadblock I really don’t mind though is the one you are likely to encounter in Addo Elephant National Park.

Strange how it is possible to sit in a roadblock like this for ages (I sat in one for over an hour once) and you just don’t mind doing so. Even more so if you start humming… “I like big butts and I cannot lie, You other brothers can’t deny…” with the voice of Donkey from Shrek singing it in your head.

Mamma elephant in the lead

A group of elephants is called a herd and is usually made up of females and youngsters. As soon as a young bull reaches sexual maturity he gets nudged out and joins other bulls in a bachelor herd of some sorts. Each herd is basically a family group led by a matriarch, an older and more experienced female, and is made up of her sisters, daughters and their calves.

The matriarch needs to be a lady of wisdom, strong connections and confidence as she has to guide her family group and they look at her for guidance to find water or food sources when there is drought. They also rely on the matriarch’s wisdom and experience to find the safest solution when they are faced with danger. 

One of the things you notice when visiting a park like Addo Elephant National Park is how the matriarch takes the lead and the rest of the family group follows behind her when they are on the move, especially on their way to water. You can always spot her as she is usually the biggest female in the group and often not scared to stand up to pushy bulls.

When the matriarch elephant dies, her position is usually taken by the closest relative to her, typically her oldest daughter. 

Waterhole gatherings

The best places to watch elephants in the Addo Elephant National Parks are at the waterholes, most notably Hapoor, Domkrag, Gwarrie Pan, the Woodlands loop dam and Marion Bree. This is often where you see the biggest groups together as well as the most activity and interaction. So that it is possible to sit at a waterhole for literally hours observing and photographing them. Not that most people do. They enjoy the sighting and move on to see what else there is to spot.

As Addo doesn’t have rivers with natural flowing water, man made dams have been created that are fed by bore hole water. They are all close to the road to allow unobstructed viewing of the animals while they spend time by the water.

Elephants drink up to 200 liters of water a day and also need to cool down bathing and throwing the water over their backs. Because of this they spend a lot of time at the waterholes, especially in summer and you’re probably most likely to have a sighting there during the hotter part of the day.

As elephants are very destructive feeders, along with the fact that they spend so much time by the water, the vegetation around the waterholes are often very much thinned out. The park has a policy where the water supply to the waterholes are often rotated so that the elephants have to move around to other waterholes and give the vegetation a bit of a break.

Relaxing after a mud bath

Ellies love to cover themselves in water and mud. You will often see that they arrive at the waterholes in Addo, have a drink and and then start to spray water over their backs or roll around in the water and mud. I have to correct myself though. They don’t literally spray themselves, but rather throw the water from their trunks with a swinging motion.

Why do they do it though? The elephant’s skin may look think and rough, but it is quite sensitive in fact. They have very few hair and sweat glands and find it hard to cool off in the harsh African temperatures. The mud not only cools them down, but it also provides a protective layer on their body to shield them from insect bites and sunburn.

Something else you often see is that an elephant would stand around lifting one leg slightly while putting their weight on the other three legs. I read somewhere that it is to relax their legs one at a time as they always stand and don’t really lie down.

I have also read that they don’t just hear airborne sounds over distances by holding their ears out, but that they listen to the ground. They pick up low-frequency rumbles caused by other animals up to 20 miles away via their feet. They put their weight on the front feet and sometimes lift one foot off the ground “to hear better”.

Domkrag Dam lookout

One of the spots you can get out of your car in Addo Elephant National Park is Domkrag Dam. It was named after a mountain tortoise called Domkrag that used to walk under cars and looked like he was trying to lift them up. Domkrag is the Afrikaans word for jack, as in a jack to lift a car. Other places you are allowed to get out of your car includes Zuurkop, the Spekboom enclosure, Jack’s picnic spot, Algoa Bay lookout and the Ndlovu lookout. At each of these you get out of you car at your own risk and need to stay alert at all times.

Addo warning signs

It is totally against the rules to get out of your vehicle anywhere in the Addo Elephant National Park except for one or two spots. One of those is Domkrag Dam where a new sign has been erected to warn visitors that it is a Big 5 reserve and wild animals do roam freely. Miggie wasn’t really too shocked although she tried her best to look it.

The sign on top of Zuurkop has been there for probably 20 years and I used to stop here often back when I used to be a tourist guide. I’ve even seen a lion sitting right next to the sign, but this time round… Ha! I laughed in the face of danger.

Penguins on St Croix Island

A little while ago I had the fantastic opportunity to go on a cruise on Algoa Bay with Raggy Charters and it felt like we hit the jackpot that day. Whales, dolphins, bait balls, penguins, and the cherry on top, a killer whale.

The cruise was the first opportunity for me to see St Croix Island up close. St Croix Island is home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world. At one stage there were 60 000 individuals on the island, but the population in our bay has dropped down to about 22,000 due to various reasons. The island houses roughly half of the entire world’s population. The African Penguin  (Spheniscus demersus) is only found on the southern African coastline and is also called a  jackass penguin due to it’s loud, donkey-like bray. Their conservation status is listed as Endangered.

St Croix Island along with Bird Island across the Bay were both utilised for food and supplies since the first Portuguese explorers rounded the Cape in 1488.  Both islands were targeted for bird meat by ships passing the bay and it was soon discovered that African penguin eggs were actually a highly tasty treat and became a delicacy. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries egg collecting was so extensive that penguin numbers dropped to a shocking one thousand individuals in 1937. Guano (penguin dung) was also collected from both islands to be used as fertiliser and gun powder until 1955 on St Croix and until as late as 1989 on Bird Island. This was extremely disruptive to the birds but more importantly, it robbed them of important nesting material.  

Today the African Penguin is a protected species

Source – Algoa Bay Hope Spot – NMBT website 

Darlington Dam

A few months ago we spent a weekend on a friend’s farm near Darlington Dam and he took us for a quick drive to see what the dam looked like. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go to the dam wall itself, so my picture is of the runoff below the wall.

Darlington Dam, also referred to as Lake Mentz is located off the main road between Kirkwood and Jansenville and was completed in 1922. The primary reason for the dam being built was to provide an adequate supply of water to especially citrus farmers further down in the Sundays River Valley with irrigation water for their trees.

The story of the land on which the dam is located goes back to 1905 when P.W.F. Weyers settled on Darlington in the fertile Sundays River Valley and planted fruit orchards and vineyards. Later a hotel, post office, shop, smithy, house and several outbuildings were established on the farm, but these all disappeared under waters of Lake Mentz when it was established in 1922.

The original dam was designed to store 142 million m3, but the high sediment yield of the Sundays River meant that sediment delivery into the reservoir basin quickly reduced its capacity. The dam wall was raised by 1.5 m in 1935 and again by 5.8 m in 1951. By 1979 the reservoir had lost a total of 41.47% of its design capacity.

The serious drought of 1966 and 1967 emphasized the necessity to commence work on the Skoenmakers Canal to link the Great Fish River to Darlington Dam in view of an expected increase in irrigation below Darlington Dam and the demand for water in the Port Elizabeth metropolitan area.

In the 1990s the ‘lake’ was renamed the Darlington Dam and today it has been incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park.

Paddling on the Sundays River

The Sundays River Valley and Addo is synonymous with the Addo Elephant National Park and have never really been a holiday destination unless you went to visit the Addo Park.  But this has all changed.  The Addo area is about so much more than just elephants these days.  It has actually developed into a holiday destination all on its own.  Addo and its elephants are still the big attraction, but the area around the park has also turned into an adventure and activity mecca.  Zip lining, ferry cruises, sand boarding, quad biking, horse riding and more.  One of the more, and one that should be on your to do list, is Crisscross Adventures‘ Addo River Safari.  Some time ago, and I’m sorry but I uploaded the photos and never did the post, I got to join a number of journalists on a media trip with Chris Pickles and his team down the Sundays River. 

We got picked up from our guesthouse and transferred to the starting point where we got giver the obligatory safety briefing.  Life jackets got dished out to those who didn’t feel that comfortable on the water and we were paired up for our journey down the Sundays.  My paddling partner was worried about not having paddled before, but Chris reassured us all that paddling experience wasn’t a prerequisite to go on the trip.  Turned out her was right, obviously, as stretches of flat calm pools were narrower channels with faster flowing water.  Never did we see water even hinting at a thought of turning white so this really is for everybody.  Our three hour gentle paddle down the Sundays River was one of beautiful scenery, sightings of birds, flowers, plants and even a water monitor dashing off into the reeds at our approach.

Two thirds along the way we stopped for refreshments and a walk up to a lookout spot over the surrounding valley with the river below while Chris showed us a couple of plants and told us some of the area’s history.  From here we were back in the water for the last stretch down the river to the pickup point.
The river safari really is for anybody who enjoys the outdoors and is keen to do something new.  The canoes are like flight deck ships and won’t capsize.  The only difference though is that these canoes are easier to control and handle than a ship loaded with war planes. Other than being splashed by you and your partner’s paddles, you won’t get wet, but the canoes do have water tight container for you to put your camera in if you want to take one. Photo opportunities there are lots.  Just a pity I was to slow to get my camera out for the water monitor.
Disclosure: I got to go on the Addo River Safari courtesy of Crisscross Adventures.  I received no further remuneration, wasn’t asked to write a positive post and keep full editorial control.

Sunset on the Zuurberg Mountains

An afternoon trip to Addo for an early evening meeting had me arrive in the area an hour or so early.  Problem? Not at all.  Doesn’t matter where you are, if you have a passion for travel and is a Geocacher to boot, there will always be something to see, do or find.  This day was no different.  I decided to take a leisurely drive up the Zuurberg Pass to pick up a Geocache I hadn’t done before plus it’s been a while since I’ve been up the pass and I was keen to see what the road is like these days.  For a start, the road is in excellent condition.  Secondly, I found the cache I was looking for.  Thirdly, and this was the special bonus of the day, I was greeted with this sight on my way back down.  A beautiful sunset over the Zuurberg Mountains.