My travel report
Impressions from the Cape – Part 6
Tsitsikamma, Port Elizabeth and Addo Elephant National Park
By Ralph Kratzer
Editor´s note: To remember the first four parts of my travelogue –
The last days of our trip to South Africa had come. From Knysna, the picturesque coastal town on the Indian Ocean and in the heart of the “Garden Route”, we made our way eastward. Our goal was Port Elizabeth, capital of the Eastern Cape province.
En route, the visit of Tstsikamma National Park was on the programme. The park embraces an 80 km (50 mile) strip of superb coastline together with a marine reserve that stretches 5 km (3 miles) offshore. The forest reserve’s indigenous trees include the giant yellow woods, which can grow to over 50 metres; among these is the famous “Big Tree”, estimated to be over 800 years old.
In the late afternoon we reached Port Elizabeth, fifth largest city in South Africa which also carries the nicknames “friendly city” or “windy city”, although it is not more windy there than in other coastal cities. The economic centre of the Eastern Cape (mainly automobile industry) is also known for its many wide white beaches, historical buildings and sophisticated shopping centres.
Near our hotel was another new attraction of the city, the so-called “Sun Boardwalk“, a shopping and entertainment centre with a casino, numerous shops, restaurants and other entertainment options for the whole family. Here my partner Sarah was finally able to enjoy her long-time awaited oysters, of which she had already raved throughout the journey and which – like most food and beverages in South Africa – can be obtained for almost ridiculously low prices.
The park which was founded during the 1930s to preserve the remnants of the Cape elephant, a species that in past times could be encountered in large numbers. They had been reduced to a mere 11 individuals, but with careful action of the responsible park management, their numbers slowly increased to over 450 nowadays.
Of course we wanted to see the “Big Five” of Africa, namely elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino. But animals in the wild and in an area as large as Addo National Park do not come to order in front of the camera lenses. So, after several extensive Jeep-tours, it was in end the “Big Three” elephant, lion and rhino we saw (the latter unfortunately at dusk and at a great distance).
But I was not sad about this because the absolute highlight for me were the lions, which we saw almost within touching distance. Early in the morning we boarded our vehicle. The experienced ranger initially showed us antelopes, wildebeests (gnus), zebras and giraffes. Then he headed for a hill which was completely shrouded in fog. I thought by myself “if there is to see anything at all at this visibility?” But suddenly in the haze two young lionesses appeared. A magical and almost surreal moment. Then a short time later we saw THEM, the “kings of animals”, two handsome male lions. Thankfully the predators obviously had a plentiful breakfast before and did what all cats do when they are well-fed…. they slept. While they sleep they look so peaceful and harmless that you are seduced to get out of the Jeep to cuddle with them. But that is not at all advisable, since the remains of lions´ meals are plentifully found in the surroundings.
After this safari experience, it was time to say goodbye to South Africa. Our friendly park rangers from the Kuzuko Game Lodge arranged a picnic at sunset and almost wistfully we enjoyed for a last time the breathtaking beauty of the landscape.
Epilogue: As mentioned in the first part of my travelogue, we will be back to South Africa in the foreseeable future. But then for a longer time because the country is absolutely fascinating. Of course, in South Africa – like elsewhere in the world – not all is gold that glitters. The difference between rich and poor is huge, the big cities are surrounded by so-called townships, slums for a low-income or penniless black population. Therefore the crime rate in the big cities is also relatively high. But the number of well-educated black South Africans is growing steadily. They have priority in the job award against the white minority (the exact opposite of Apartheid times) and form the new middle and upper class of South Africa. And even in the townships hope comes up as the government is redeeming slowly but steadily Nelson Mandela´s promise that all South African citizens get a decent roof over their heads. Thus you can see in every township new small houses arise next to the hovels which are provided to the poor free of charge.
South Africa is a state in transition and on the way to a better future.
Note: As always in my travelogues you can learn more about an issue mentioned in the article by clicking the bold links.