Garden Route – Day 1 (Port Elizabeth)

So begins our epic two week Garden Route trip from Port Elizabeth all the way to Cape Town. This is definitely the part of our trip that took the most planning and research. I was obsessed with reading through my travel book and online reviews to find the best places to eat, sleep and visit the local attractions.

DAY 1 – PORT ELIZABETH

Where: Hippo Backpackers (http://www.thehippo.co.za)

What: Addo Elephant National Park / Schotia Game Reserve full day tour

ITINERARY

9:00 am = Pick up from hostel

10:30 am = Arrival at Addo Elephant Park

1:00 pm = Lunch at Nanaga Farm stall (http://www.nanaga.co.za)

2:00 pm = Arrival at Schotia Private Game Reserve

7:30 pm = Dinner in Schotia’s open air Lapa

10:45 pm = Arrival back at the hostel for the night

Addo Elephant Park was one of the biggest highlights of our whole trip. We saw more elephants than I could’ve ever dreamed of, especially given the short amount of time we actually spent there. One of the main watering holes had nearly dried up and was really just a mud pit when we arrived, so we didn’t get a chance to spot the hoards of Proboscids until we drove to a viewing area where we were able to get out and peep through a wooden hide at a busy watering hole. This is what we saw:

ImageExcept x20 and these family groups would come and go in quick succession, leaving me to guess that we observed over 100 elephants in the short time that we sat watching them. It was unreal! We saw quite a few baby elephants as well which was of course a highlight.

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A surprising find was also the groups of warthogs. I hadn’t really expected to see any, but after spotting them I wasn’t overly surprised since my knowledge of African animals comes from what I’ve seen in movies and thus Pumbaa could not be missed! Lucky for us, there was no shortage in the park, and they all seemed to have little piglets chasing behind them…

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So we spent the morning marvelling over the amazing wildlife (which had been lacking severely during our visit to Kruger) before heading to our next tour destination, Schotia Game Reserve. Schotia is South Africa’s oldest private game reserve in the eastern cape and we were going to be exploring the park on the Tooth and Claw Tour. The first half of the park we passed through was the non-carnivorous section and so we all had the opportunity to ride on the front of the safari jeep:

IMG_1041Dan on the front of the safari jeep, with our knowledgeable guide (Malcom) behind

This was an incredible way to experience a safari drive and I was kicking myself for not having a Go Pro at the time. Here are some of the highlights from this drive:

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A four day old giraffe baby with it’s parents

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A couple of lazy hippopotamuses

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An immense pride of lions (3 separate family groups)

IMG_1161Guinea Fowl Galore!

There were plenty more photos, but if I add them all, this post would never end. We were fortunate to also spot zebras, antelope, wildebeest, rhinos and monkeys too. My favourite moment however has to do with this photo, which will forever serve as a reminder:

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You may be wondering, “Cactus? Who cares?!” but it’s not the cactus that’s important, let me explain. We were driving along this narrow dirt path bordered by a tall barbed wire / electric fence to our left, and a forest of these giant prickly pear cactus plants to the right. We had stopped briefly because Malcolm (our tour guide), was talking about the cactus and the blooms when all of a sudden he stopped talking abruptly. He was listening to something and we were all straining to hear the noise too. None of us could hear anything but Malcolm seemed spooked. He said to us “there’s an elephant in there” and we were all shocked by such claims, but most shocking was how upset he was about it. Instead of being excited for a rare wildlife spotting moment, he was terrified. He explained that being caught in the path of one of their large male elephants (originally from Kruger National Park) was a dangerous situation indeed. He immediately ducked down into the driver’s seat and started it up as quick as he could before slamming on the gas. As the jeep lurched forward, the cactus trees around us started to groan and snap as a giant bull elephant came tearing through the thick bush. The elephant was literally ploughing through giant cactus plants in an effort to get to us! It was exhilarating and terrifying and over in a matter of 15 seconds. We stopped a bit further up the path, but the elephant didn’t actually come all the way through, which is good, yet part of me was disappointed. In all, the experience was very reminiscent of the universal studios Jurassic Park theme ride, and I enjoyed every second of it.

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