"Watch out for that dung beetle!" a kombi-load of back-seat drivers shout as yet another of the bottom-feeders crawling around the collossal piles of elephant droppings lives to see another day.
It was the start to a relaxing weekend in the bush. We'd jetted into Port Elizabeth after an hour-long flight from Cape Town and, another hour later, we were getting close-up shots of beetles rolling balls of dung off the road.
As you drive through the park you understand why spekboom is also known as elephant food. There are vast stretches of this succulent all over and most of what I saw bore evidence of being pruned by a few pachyderms in the recent past.
Game drive starts now!
The trip to the cottages where we were staying took us through the park from the south gate all the way up north. And despite the bags in the back and the shopping packets (we were staying in the self-catering CO2 cottages of the Addo rest camp), it felt like we were on a game drive: so-ugly-they’re-cute warthog babies, large antelope and a bull elephant enthralled the overseas-tourists in the group.
The cottages are very comfortable, and besides a nice braai area, there is a balcony ideal for breakfasts as well as DSTV for those who also enjoy watching the game on the sport channels.
Promising each other that we wanted to see the animals take their first drink of the morning at the waterholes, we planned to meet just before dawn to set off. But something happened. It may have been the bush effect.
This is the feeling you get when you're close enough to wild animals to see them from your sleeping quarters, your phone is off, and the routine of life is blessedly interrupted.
Robin learns the Seagull's tricks
We were then joined at our not-so-early breakfast by a red-breasted robin, which showed as much fear as a V&A seagull (a, um, special breed if there ever was one). Clearly breakfast was something he’d attended before. And while you're not supposed to feed the animals... who can resist the beguiling pose a bird strikes when they want what you've got?
The park, while large, has a limited area in which to drive and we kept to the northern section. Aside from the kilometres of seemingly uninterrupted spekboom there are also open grassy plains, and several times we spotted big game from the viewing points.
Once you're familiar with the park, you can zip down the hill and arrive in close proximity to the game you've spotted very quickly.
The main camp has very good facilities, a restaurant (although the meat couldn’t compare to our braai) and an educational centre about the park and it’s various historic and geological features.
The booking office is also to be found here, and the overseas contingent signed up for a night game drive on which they gazed through frozen eyelashes at a hyena, an elephant bull and some other critters of the African night.
Horse ride on the wild side
The horse ride was a lot more fun.
An experienced guide took us on the 'novice' ride, especially after one of our party asked for the fattest, laziest horse in the stable. On horseback we managed to get very close to herds of buck and the informative commentary on their characteristics made the game ride a real pleasure.
Walking a horse slowly towards a herd of Eland weighing about half a ton each (bulls can grow to 900kg) is surreal, and far better than watching them from the safety of a car. But I suspect that even Moonbeam underneath me would have found 6th gear if the bull decided we'd got too close.
Addo may have been just hours away from my front door, but it felt like a different planet when watching herds of large animals slowly lumber along, or watching a white rhino wallow in the water hole.