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South Africa

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Article from Wild Magazine Summer 2018/19.

Wild magazine
Addo-Colchester-RomiBoom: The southern section of Addo offers the unique photo opportunity of the big game with the ocean as a backdrop
Discover an alternative Addo with a trio of treats. One night quaint-on-a-budget, one-night comfy-does-it, and one-night break-the-bank. By Romi Boom
Wild Magazine
Addo-Matyholweni-RomiBoom: The thatched cottages at Matyholweni in the southern section of Addo are cosy and comfortable.

The lone giant follows a slithering trail, despite the direct shortcut across the veld to the waterhole in front of Gorah manor house. Slowly, surely, the elephant weaves its way, padded feet leaving their imprint in a winding footpath made by dozens before him.

Visitors to Addo Elephant National Park are familiar with this scene. Find yourself a glugging, slurping and swigging spot, whether at popular Hapoor waterhole or any of the numerous pans and dams, and your entertainment is ready made. Always the elephants appear in no hurry to reach their destination, yet in no time they arrive at the waterside, spraying themselves and wallowing in enjoyment. Their pleasure becomes your delight, no matter how many times you witness the ritual. Drinks are on the house!

I’m in Addo to try out three very different kinds of accommodation: a budget option, a comfortable stay and a break-the-bank indulgence. Gorah Elephant Camp, a 5#000 hectare private concession in the heart of the main game area of Addo Elephant National Park, has luxurious tented suites and a gracious manor house overlooking a waterhole teeming with game. Matyholweni Rest Camp, easily reached through its own entrance near the town of Colchester, just off the N2, has chalets with satellite TV, air-conditioning and a well-equipped kitchenette. Umsintsi Cottage in the Woody Cape section of the park, near the coastal dunefields, offers quaint double-storey lodgings in the far reaches of the Alexandria forest.

Lap of luxury

Wild Magazine
Addo-Gorah: Luxurious Gorah Elephant Camp has 11 stylish tented suites and an elegant manor house for dining and relaxing.

For a romantic safari reminiscent of a bygone era, Gorah, a SANParks’ Golden Kudu with a coveted award for its conservation ethic, gets seven stars. While the original homestead with its period furnishing is elegant and refined, the lavish tented suites are plush beyond compare, with a price tag to match. Think polished silver, white linen, crystal glassware, complimentary drinks chest, a centrepiece jar with decadent butterscotch brittle and nougat treats, 300-count cotton sheets, bespoke vanities, the latest travel and natural history titles.

Many guests, such as honeymoon couple Alicia and Samir from Düsseldorf, forego one of the twice-daily game drives to simply laze on their own private deck and relish the panorama of endless savanna plains. That evening, the young lovers retreat to a candlelit ‘secret’ corner in front of a warm fire. “We have three days of paradise,” says Alicia, “we couldn’t have chosen a better safari. It was a last-minute booking and we got a really good rate.”

To illustrate the story of this legendary Eastern Cape farm, lodge manager Lara du Randt produces a photo album with before and after pictures. The gracious manor house, a National Monument, was built in 1856, enjoyed a heyday, left to ruin, and rose again as one of the most beautiful camps in South Africa. The name hails from a natural spring, the water of which became known as ‘de Goras’, a reliable resource that dates to the indigenous Stone Age tribes who lived here.

Our game drives at Gorah are expertly interpreted by passionate guide Riaan Rall. The bulky nests in the common ghwarrie bush, he explains, are spun by caterpillars. For several months of the year, they feed inside these communal nests of leaves and silk, thereby protecting themselves from birds and other predators. Riaan is on a roll about larvae. He even finds them on the surface of an old kudu horn. A member of the clothes moth family, the horn moth feeds on keratin from the horns and hooves of dead ungulates.

Wild Magazine
Addo-Umsintsi-RomiBoom: The deck at Umsintsi Cottage looks out over the forest in the Woody Cape section of the park.

Bushveld comfort

Wild Magazine
Addo-kudu-RomiBoom: A kudu bull in Addo’s characteristic spekboom thicket.

Our next destination is comfortable and cosy, almost completely hidden amongst Addo’s valley bushveld. The thatched cottages of Matyholweni Rest Camp are cleverly spread out. Matyholweni means “in the bush” in Xhosa and thicket hugs each unit in a tight embrace to enhance privacy. The atmosphere in camp is peaceful until the welcome committee arrives. A pair of confiding southern boubous emerging from the Karoo boer-bean outside our chalet is appreciated, thieving vervet monkeys not. Having been alerted to the mischief-makers at check-in, I am wide awake but cannot stop a lighting-fast fist from stealing a trout sandwich from the plate in front of me.

That afternoon we self-drive the loops of the southern section of the park’s main game area. In no time we tick off four of the big five species. The buffalo especially are prolific. We marvel at a herd reclining in the spekboom like lazy dogs in the afternoon sun. I take some decent lion pictures, then we call it a day. It’s twilight time and the barbeque sans rascals beckons.

If this visit to Addo is to be marked by memorable botanical sightings, the coast coral tree is the crown jewel. The spectacular flagbearer of the forest biome at Woody Cape, its orange-scarlet flowers make a splash among the varied forest species. The coral tree can reach 20#m under favourable conditions and there are some beauties in the reception parking area.

In the forest

Wild Magazine
Addo-Gorah: Luxurious Gorah Elephant Camp has 11 stylish tented suites and an elegant manor house for dining and relaxing.

Finding Umsintsi (Xhosa for coral tree) cottage can be quite a challenge unless you follow directions closely. Across the road from the entrance to the Langebos huts, you will see the “Bush cottage” sign. From there a 1,6#km bush track leads to an odd, alternative-looking hut on six poles, formerly a Forestry Department lookout station for bush fires. Renovated to accommodate two people, it is an Adam and Eve retreat amidst the indigenous forest.

From the upper deck, en-suite bedroom, a 180-degree view across the canopy invites investigation of the short hiking trail among Outeniqua yellowwood, Milkwood and white ironwood. With reduced light levels in the dense foliage, as well as the lure of Knysna turaco and bushbuck, mine was a hush-hush hike. It’s the kind of secret space where loud noise is wont to disturb the fairies. If you’re up to more activity, lace up your boots for the 7#km Tree Dassie route through the Langebos section of the coastal forest.

My trio of Addo experiences could not have been more different, just like the diversity of this amazing park. Whatever your budget or requirements, Addo will deliver in abundance. If you just want to sit and watch that elephant at the waterhole, that’s fine, too. You’ll be in good company.

Trip Planner

Matyholweni Rest Camp If you have a long journey ahead, visitors staying here may exit the park before gates officially open the next day, provided you inform reception.

Umsintsi Cottage Just before the village Alexandria, turn right at the signboard Kaba Valley. Follow the Woody Cape directions on a gravel road.

Gorah Elephant Camp Check out www.gorah.com for special offers.


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