Elephants, lions, warthogs and… what the hell is that?

There are some days I’ll remember for the rest of my life, such as the Raiders winning the ’94 Grand Final, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to add today to that list. I dodged wild elephants and lions in the splendid Addo Elephant National Park, just north of Port Elizabeth in South Africa, and it was an extraordinary experience. The beauty and grace of the animals, as well as the striking scenery, ensures the memories of my safari will be burnt into my brain forever.

I’m driving around the country in a car so small Quentin Kenihan would laugh at it, so I wasn’t sure if taking it into Addo was a good idea. I wasn’t heading into a manicured game park, where the animals are kept in pens, but into a living and breathing conservation area where nature rules. My converns were immediately alleviated, however, because the roads throughout Addo are well maintained and well signposted, and the only danger I had was running off the road while staring, mouth agape, at some new wonder. Well, at least that’s what I thought.

Driving in from the south, I didn’t see much of interest for the first 20 minutes. A few gibbons swung past my windscreen, then a couple of warthogs darted into the bush. It was alright, but not what I’d come for. I drove quietly through the scrub, looking into the bushes for the slightest sign of a critter, but nothing. Then I turned a corner and a monster was in front of me. A masive elephant stormed towards me, blocking out the blazing sun, its trunk and ears a frenzy of flesh. I tried to back up, but it kept coming closer, jinking at the last moment and shaking my car as it raced past and disappeared amongst the trees. I just sat there, bewildered, my heart beating.

I finally got the car rolling again and crossed into a wide, open plain filled with dozens of antelope and zebra. They grazed on the succulent grass as the sunlight shimmered off their elegant bodies. It was an incredibly tranquil scene, and I sat mesmerised by the beauty of it, with no other cars or people in sight. It felt like I’d been transported to another time, before people came along and destroyed such serenity.

The seven hours I spent cruising through Addo took me past buffalo, giant dung beetles, birds, and countless elephants, warthogs and other critters. It came to the point where taking a corner and having to dodge some immense creature barely raised an eyebrow. As the sun burnt out and sank towards the horizon, there was still one animal that I wanted to see before I left the park forever – the lion. There’s plenty of the ferocious beasts in Addo, but they’re rarely spotted during the day. Today, however, they decided to turn up and say hello.

I spotted them a kilometre away, not because I have good eyes (and we all know why), but because of the half-dozen cars stopped by some thick bushes. I cruised down and wedged my tiny car amongst a couple of massive 4WDs and waited. The bushes shook, then a flash of yellow passed through the scrub, then two majestic lions climbed out of the vegetation and sat down next to my car. They were magnificent, and I watched in awe as they went about their lives.

In one spectacular day, I saw three of the big five game animals – the African lion, the African elephant, and the Cape Buffalo – in their natural environment. The fact I saw them by myself, without a tour guide or anyone else with me, made the experience even more special. I was never interested in going on a safari in the past because I assumed it would be like going to the zoo, but traversing Addo by myself was better than I could have possibly imagined. And the fact my car didn’t get squashed by a giant elephant made it even better.

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