This weekend adventure costs just R1902 per person for two including a 4X4 trail, conservation fees and three nights’ accommodation in an uncrowded section of Addo Elephant National Park.
The Kabouga Section is far bigger than the Addo Main Game Area and, in my opinion, far more beautiful. There are creased valleys and mountain slopes, rugged roads and soft pink clouds that flood over the hilltops during a good sunset. If I were a secretive leopard, this would be the perfect place to take sanctuary.
Kabouga Section ranger Nosipho Tyagana reckons the Bedrogfontein 4X4 route that crosses over to the Darlington Section is ‘out of this world. There’s loads of variety in one drive and you cross four of the five biomes.’ Kabouga is the least-known section of the park. ‘We are not that famous because we don’t offer things like game drives. We get a lot of birders and a number of locals will come for day visits.’ Much of Kabouga isn’t fenced and there are communities living on nearly every boundary.
Interesting developments are planned, and soon this magnificent scenery will see elephant too. Conservation Manager John Adendorff explains: ‘SANParks has this ivory fund. A couple of years ago they sold ivory and we use this money solely for elephant management – be it radio collars or range expansion. We want to use the kitty for our next phase; there’s about 26000 hectares of Kabouga we want to fence in.
What people don’t realise about Addo is that its absolute beauty does not lie in Addo itself. You come for the elephants and the vegetation looks very similar. It’s all thicket. It’s not the most beautiful place, but it will challenge any place in the country if you go into the mountains. Places like the Bedrogfontein area, where Smuts and the Boers had their last skirmish with the English … I guess time has stood still there. There’s an old Buick with wooden spokes just lying in the bush and it dates back 90 years ago. You go down the [4X4] trail and find an old wagon on the trail and you wonder, what’s behind it? There’s some intrigue there. There are also some old graves – some people say they are linked to that skirmish, but these graves are perfectly located in a particular pattern and face a particular direction so, you know, it could even be old Bushman graves.’
It’s not linked via public roads, but Kabouga stretches across to the Zuurberg mountains too, an area that has been protected since 1896 as an important water catchment area. In 1985 it was proclaimed a national park and then integrated with Addo in 1994. These are the places to find beauty, adventure and space enough to really feel like you’ve had an escape.
Plan your 4X4 adventure to Addo
Day one: Addo Main Camp to Kabouga
It’s about a 50-minute drive from Addo Main Gate to the Kabouga Gate on the R336. From here it’s gravel all the way and another half hour to Kabouga Guesthouse. On my drive in I spotted ostrich, hartebeest, warthog and jackal. Around the cottage there are two short walking trails. Pack something for sundowners and hike to the lookout point (20 minutes).
Stay here: Kabouga Guesthouse is an old farmhouse in a gorgeous valley. Staying here means you can set off early for the 4×4 trail the next day. It’s off the grid and needs a little love (noted by the park) but is a real rustic paradise. There’s an old reservoir pumped with fresh mountain water to swim in and an awesome braai area. There are two bedrooms with three single beds in each. From R560 for two people, R240 per extra adult (sleeps six). Book at Addo Main Camp. Tel 0422338600.
Day two: Kabouga to Addo Main Camp
The Bedrogfontein 4X4 Trail is the best way to appreciate Addo’s diversity – from thicket to Nama Karoo in just 45km. It can take four to six hours (and an additional two hours to get from Darlington Dam back to Addo Main Camp). The route traverses Anglo-Boer War battle fields, hilly kudu territory and at plains with springbok herds and the odd gemsbok. Unless you take the 4X4 trail (R550 per vehicle), getting to Darlington involves a long drive around the park on gravel roads.
Stay here: Addo Main Camp’s safari tents are some of the only options in the camp that have decks close the fence (and waterhole) with unobstructed views. There are four spacious tents, communal ablutions and kitchen facilities – easily the most affordable place to stay. From R875 for two.
Day three: Addo Main Camp to Narina Bush Camp
Check in for Narina Bush Camp is from 14:00 (at Addo Main Camp) so you have the morning at leisure. Go for an early game drive, organise a hop-on guide and/ or peruse the info centre and stock up on supplies at the park shop. Narina Bush Camp is just 25km (45 minutes’ drive) away but try to get there early to enjoy the mountain pools and explore the trails around the camp. The birding is terrific and spotting a Narina trogon is a possibility.
Stay here: Narina Bush Camp is old-school, which I love, and the four-tent camp is exclusive. There’s a deck overlooking the Narina Pools, where you can swim and spot Eastern Cape red n minnows (see Inside Info, opposite). There’s no big game but expect duiker, mountain reedbuck, bushpig, bushbuck and grysbok. From R1410 for four in peak season, R240 for each extra adult (sleeps eight).
How to have a wild fish foot spa
There are beautiful streams filled with endemic Eastern Cape red fin minnows in the Zuurberg Section. Conservation Manager John Adendor says, ‘Just this last weekend I was with my daughter and we were looking at them underwater with snorkels on. These little sh give you massages – thousands of them nibble your skin. These sh don’t occur anywhere else. They’re under threat from bass and other species that can get into the pools when the water floods high enough, but there are still some pools which have natural barriers that are big enough so bass can’t get across. You put your foot in them and these little fish come. It’s like a spa session.’ Look for them at the pools close to Narina Camp.
Use this map to get around
This story first appeared in the May 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.
From our ultimate guide to Addo, free things to do in your city, a photographic getaway to South Luangwa and getting the best of Nepal; our May issue is guaranteed to inspire.