Guest blog by Mara V. Connolly
I arrived at Addo Elephant Park, South Africa’s 3rd largest national park on Christmas day right at opening at 7am by myself in a borrowed car. The park is unique, encompassing 5 of the 9 environmental biomes that South Africa. The section of park I was entering is home to the bulk of the 550 strong elephant population, lions, spotted hyenas, zebra, kudu, black rhino, buffalo, and much more. I was beside myself that you could actually drive yourself through such a park, amidst predators and animals big enough to topple your car. I was about 2ks into the park taking a photo of a black headed crane when the borrowed car stalled. Interesting. The car never restarted and I quickly ascertained that I was dead in the water. The park map had the park manager’s number who cheerfully answered my Christmas wish call for help! He came along within about 30 minutes and promised to send a couple guys to help me and sternly told me to wait IN MY CAR.
As I sat by myself waiting, I saw a massive Kudu cross the road in front me, a gorgeous bird of prey I later learned was a chanting goshawk, and 3 wart hogs chasing each other around a bush. Several people asked if I was ok as I waved them off because nearly everyone thought I’d spotted something REALLY good to sit idle for so long. Two wonderful brothers stopped and checked every fuse (they were electricians) and spark plug in the car ruling out a hoard of nasty reasons the car might’ve died. As they had their heads under the hood and I dutifully stood watch, a Swedish tourist drove by asking us if we knew there had been lions spotted in the very spot we were early in the morning. I later found out there was a lion kill only 100 yards from where I spent two hours!
Nothing we tried revived the car so the two awesome park workers were working on tying a rope to my car when a herd of elephant came over the hill right toward us. The moment was one that crossed all culture and language. 6 adult elephants and 9 baby elephants paraded within a 100 yards of us. We all stood mesmerized by the beauty of the scene. After the elephants were out of sight, I got a tow out of the park and promptly signed myself up for guided game drives. The gift of the car dying was that someone else drove me around all afternoon leaving me fully attentive to taking photos.
I had an EPIC Christmas day seeing over 400 elephant, and a variety of other creatures. To put the day into perspective, I spent the next day on an even longer game drive and only saw about 30 elephants. We did see two lions at a distance the second day which is a special treat as there are only 11 lions in the park.
The other gift I received for now being on foot and having time on my hands that I wouldn’t have had if I’d driven the park was finding two “hides” where you are sequestered in a nearly hidden structure that allows you close viewing of a bird nesting area and a watering hole for elephants. I happened to arrive at the elephant hide just as the herd of elephant that likely passed me in the car arrived to drink and frolic in the water. Being at ground level so close to the herd was amazing as you heard all the sounds from grunts to calls to the sucking of water to simply hearing them walk. The experience was special as you literally felt as if you were in the situation, witnessing the creatures first hand.
The last gift I received for the car dying was that my accommodation changed as my friend could only find one hotel who would agree to picking me up from Addo. What great fortune as the Zuurberg Mountain Inn also runs game drives and one of the guides picked me up and let me join the end of their drive back up to the top of a mountain above Addo. An epic way to end an epic day.
Mara V. Connolly is a professional photographer, coach, facilitator, resume writer, and leader. Her life purpose is to be radiant illumination igniting passionate possibilities. You can read more blog posts from Mara at http://maravconnolly.com.