This is, without a doubt, the domain of the elephant. They are everywhere you go in the Addo Elephant Park and they let you get so close to them without agitation that you can even see the long eyelashes that frame their doe-like eyes in stark detail.
This can be a confusing park to the first time visitor because it’s made up of a number of disjointed sections, a legacy of the fact that the conservation area is being expanded at an uneven rate.
What this means in practise is that you will sometimes need to drive outside the park through settlements and open farmland to get between different sections and the Main Game Viewing Area where most of the wildlife is.
At the moment (2008) the Addo Elephant Park stands at a total size of 164 000ha. Once the future proposed expansion is completed the entire park will form one unit and be the third largest national park in South Africa.
This map will give you a better idea of the dimensions of the park that can be navigated with a normal sedan vehicle and includes the Main Game Viewing Area and Colchester section.
The sections that aren't shown on this map (because they require a 4x4 and/or there is no big game there) is Darlington, Kuzuko, Kabouga, Zuurberg, Nyati and Woody Cape. Click on the icons for details and zoom in by using the controls in the top left hand corner or double clicking in the map area itself.
There are a number of safari companies that organise safaris in the Addo Elephant Park but the best way to visit is to go on a self drive with your own vehicle. This gives you a lot more independance to spend as much time as you want at a sighting and you will see just as much wildlife as when going with a guide.
I've written a detailed 248 page book which will help you plan and guide your own safari in Addo.
The climate in Addo is temperate with rain falling throughout the year but with the highest proportion in the winter months. The average rainfall varies from 250mm in the semi-arid interior regions to over 900mm in the coastal forests.
In terms of wildlife viewing there isn’t really a best time to visit because it's good all year round but during the hotter summer months you will be able to enjoy the spectacle of elephants visiting and bathing in the waterholes more often.
If you are planning on camping then winter might not be the best time because it can get pretty cold at night.
The early period in the area which the park now covers was defined by hunting and agriculture. Between the 1700's and the 1900's, ivory hunters exterminated most of the elephants in the area until by 1931, when the Addo National Park was proclaimed, there were only a total of 11 elephants remaining.
But the park was inadequately fenced and elephants that strayed onto surrounding farmland were killed by the farmers to protect thier crops. In 1954, Graham Armstrong, the park manager at the time developed an elephant proof fence (only one elephant called Hapoor has ever managed to get through the fence) which ultimately saved these gentle giants from extinction in the area.
The first official tourists entered the Addo Elephant Park in 1978 and since then the growth in visitors as well as the number and variety of species found in the park has been remarkable.