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See the biggest African Penguin colony and explore the coastal forests in this secret section of Addo Elephant National Park.

You may not know it, but Addo Elephant National Park extends right down to the ocean and currently protects some important islands in Algoa Bay, namely St Croix and Bird Island. The latter has one of the largest colonies of Cape gannets in the world, and St Croix is home to the largest breeding colony of the precious African penguin (6500 breeding pairs, at last count).

African Penguins Addo

A pair of penguins stand on St Croix island, which used to be a whaling station.

Conservation Manager, John Adendorff, says, ‘To me, African Penguins are more threatened than rhino are at this stage. Because they’re not a key species or a high profile one that people really know about, or care about, penguins are on the sidelines. Their numbers have dwindled alarmingly and every ten years or so, their numbers halve. If it goes on at that rate, in the next twenty or thirty years there won’t be penguins around.’ Addo is responsible for the protection of about 50 percent of the total African Penguin population.

Sightings of dolphins are frequent close to St Croix island in Algoa Bay.

A charter boat trip gets you close to these comical creatures and there’s also a good chance of seeing dolphins in the protected waters around St Croix too (on my trip I saw a megapod of nearly 400).

I ask Lloyd Edwards, the owner of Raggy Charters about his clients. ‘Locals don’t even know that we have the largest penguin colony right here,’ he says. This strongly echoes a sentiment by Dr Tony Ribbink, head of the Sustainable Seas Trust, in our recent story on SA’s Hope Spots. ‘What’s amazing about Algoa Bay is that, according to tour operators, more people outside of Port Elizabeth know about the incredible natural riches the area has to offer than locals do.’

Well, it’s time you all knew.

 

Plan your marine adventure in Addo

Day one: Sundays River Mouth to Matyholweni

Sundays River Addo

White dunes and the blue sea at the Sundays River Mouth in Colchester about 25 minutes away from Port Elizabeth.

Spend the day between towering dunes and the sea at Sundays River Mouth. It’s popular with local fishermen, but you can also kayak along the river before it meets the sea or stroll along the beach. From the beach it’s a short drive back to Addo. You can spend an easy afternoon driving the loops in the southern section of Addo’s Main Game Area before turning in for the night. Day visitors need to pay to enter the beach at the Pearson Park Resort. From R65 for two.

Stay here: Matyholweni Camp is closest to Port Elizabeth, and it’s an easy 43km drive to get to PE harbour. Gate times (07:00 to 18:30) are not a hindrance because visitors staying at Matyholweni Camp can still exit the park before it officially opens the next day, provided they inform reception. From R1490 for two.

 

Day two: Matyholweni to Woody Cape

Woody Cape

Umsintsi Cottage has gorgeous views of the forest in the Woody Cape section of Addo.

Leave early to join a Raggy Charters trip to St Croix, which usually meets at about 08:30 at the Algoa Bay Yacht Club at the harbour. The oldest marine eco-tour in Algoa Bay, Raggy Charters knows the waters intimately and is involved in important African penguin research. You can see the dunes at the Sundays River Mouth from the sea and chances are good you’ll spot dolphins. On my trip we also saw a young hammerhead shark in the water, and African black oystercatchers too. Back on land, stay for lunch at the yacht club and then head off to the Woody Cape Section of Addo (a 90-minute drive). South Africans get special rates of R850 per person for the three-hour boat trip to St Croix.

Bottlenose dolphins rest in the sheltered area around St Croix island.

From the reception at the Woody Cape Section of Addo, it’s 15-minute drive to Woody Cape Backpackers to check out the beach. Try get to here and see the Alexandria Dune field for sunset. Take your Wild Card or proof of conservation fee to get onto the beach, a short 10-minute walk away from the backpacker parking lot.

Stay here: Umsintsi Cottage is the latest place to stay in the park. It sleeps two and looks over the gorgeous Alexandria forests. It used to be a forestry lookout station. Now, the upper deck now forms the bedroom with an en-suite bathroom, while the kitchen is below. From R900 for two.

 

 

This story first appeared in the May 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

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