World Elephant Day, on August 12, was established to highlight the fight to protect threatened elephant populations across the globe. At Travel Africa we believe that tourism is a valuable component of this battle: the more visitors in an area (within reason!), the harder it is for poachers to operate and the greater the value of the animals to local communities and the environment. But where’s the best place to see these wonderful creatures? Of course elephants are a great draw to most natural areas across East Africa, and it’s equally important to visit those reserves, but here we’ve highlighted just 10 top spots for watching tuskers in the south. Words and pictures by Villiers Steyn and Tabby Mittins
1 Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa
Addo enables visitors travelling along the popular Garden Route the chance to see elephants without having to drive all the way up to the lowveld or to one of South Africa’s neighbouring countries. The elephants here are some of the most relaxed in Africa, untroubled by excited onlookers.
Our tip: Addo’s tuskers gather at the man-made waterholes when hot, so see them at midday.
2 Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
During the winter months, visitors have the unique opportunity to photograph drinking and bathing elephants from an underground bunker-style hide. Sometimes they come so close you get splashed!
Our tip: The hide is most productive from June to October.
3 Kruger National Park, South Africa
Kruger is one of the few parks that offers visitors a reasonable chance of spotting elephants throughout the year, not only during the dry season. It also has an extensive road network, allowing you to enjoy elephant sightings in a variety of habitats, from sandy riverbeds and large riverine forests to mopane thickets and open plains.
Our tip: Pop in at the Letaba Rest Camp Elephant Museum.
4 Elephant Sands, Botswana
This privately owned, relatively unknown game farm approximately 50 kilometres north of Nata is the perfect overnight stop for elephant lovers between May and November. Here you can stand within spitting distance of extremely relaxed elephants that flock to the camp’s custom-made elephant trough, which provides fresh drinking water for migrating herds between Hwange and Chobe national parks.
Our tip: No point doing this in half measures. You’re definitely going to want to stay an extra night or two here!
5 Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Mana Pools borders the mighty Zambezi River and must be one of the wildest, most pristine safari destinations in southern Africa. The park has become famous for its resourceful elephants that stand on their hind legs to reach the tasty pods of ana trees (Faidherbia albida).
Our tip: The park is best explored on foot, so make sure you book a guided walking safari.
6 Chobe National Park, Botswana
With a population of over 50,000 at certain times of the year, Chobe is elephant Mecca. Here all the action takes place along the Chobe River, where visitors have the option of watching elephant herds from land or from the water (in boats), and to see them drink, bath and even swim in the cool waters.
Our tip: If you can, avoid the South African school holidays and European summer holidays, because Chobe can become rather crowded during these times.
7 Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe
The elephants in Gonarezhou, which forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, are slowly warming up to the presence of humans after the civil war in neighbouring Mozambique that ended two decades ago. Watching small groups of large bulls ambling down to drink from the Runde River below the iconic Chilojo Cliffs ranks as one of our favourite natural experiences.
Our tip: Hlaro exclusive campsite on the bank of the Runde River offers a fantastic view of the Chilojo Cliffs.
8 Etosha National Park, Namibia
Etosha is the stronghold for Namibia’s elephant population. In the dry season (June to October), you don’t even have to leave camp to watch pachyderms streaming in to quench their thirst – Okaukuejo has an amphitheatre-like viewing area surrounding a flood-lit waterhole.
Our tip: Okaukuejo is extremely popular, so make sure you book well in advance.
9 Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Hwange is home to one of Africa’s largest elephant populations and it’s not uncommon to see up to a thousand of these giants in one day, especially during the late winter months (September and October) when one massive herd after another congregates at certain waterholes.
Our tip: The two best waterholes to visit are Nyamandhlovu and Masuma.
10 Tembe National Elephant Park, South Africa
Tembe is home to some of the largest elephants you’re ever likely to see. One bull, named Isilo, is believed to be one of the biggest tuskers in South Africa, with tusks so long they nearly touch the ground.
Our tip: Head for Mahlasela Hide near the entrance gate at around 10am, and wait for the big tuskers to come down for a drink as the temperature rises.