Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gorah Elephant Camp: May/June 2010

Thereafter we headed down the N2 to Gorah Elephant Camp, which is the only private concession situated in the middle of the famous Addo Elephant National Park, home to the densest population of elephants on earth. Upon entering the gate we didn’t see too much, so Janice started asking where the elephants were. I prevailed upon her to be patient, I was sure we would see some sooner or later. When we came to the historic Gorah Manor House, there were about fifty elephants in the front of the lodge, some at the waterhole and the rest out on the open plain a couple of hundred metres away.

We checked in and were shown to our “tent” I have used the exclamation marks for tent, because this is not one’s idea of a normal tent. This had a 4-poster double bed, his and her basins, shower, bath, fluffy towels, sherry, overhead fan, lights, four (not two) hot water bottles in the bed at night and all other modern conveniences that one could wish for. This was not a “tent”, this was a suite.

The food at Gorah was superb and no meal was enjoyed in the same room twice. Soft candle lit ‘secret’ corners with warm fires and paraffin lanterns put a soft layer of romance on the entire house in winter while the mood was set for a sumptuous five course meal. Estate wines and a choice of international beverages completed the dining experience, and decadent desserts teased my senses. Breakfasts and lunches were enjoyed on one or the other of the verandahs, depending on the weather.

The afternoon game drive, as with all game drives here, brought forth many elephants, buffalo, kudu, hartebeest, zebra, warthog and on one morning, five lions. Unfortunately they were a bit too far for a decent photo. The mornings were cold and invariably the area around the lodge had a thick blanket of mist in the early morning until the sun had burned this off, so breakfast was enjoyed before going out on a game drive. Addo is one of those places where an early morning game drive would not be too rewarding – most animals here seem to only get moving once the sun had warmed the earth.

During the course of our fist night here, some hyenas had killed a kudu cow on the verandah leading into the Manor House en route to breakfast. It was considered bad form to leave the carcass here so that people had to step over this to get to breakfast, with blood and entrails making footing decidedly unsafe, so the carcass was moved to the open area about 500 metres from the lodge. Now breakfast was enjoyed with the carcass a mere speck on the plains, and some animal activity in evidence. This turned out to be Black-backed jackal, so after breakfast we made our way to the site for some photos. The jackals were more interested in the abundance of meat and took little notice of us. Of the hyenas there was no sight – these are the shy type, not the brazen hyenas of Kruger Park or Hluhluwe uMfolozi! Another interesting sighting was of a colony of termites coming out of the ground (what we know as “flying ants”). This caused a frenzy of feeding from various bird species, with about seven or eight different bird species enjoying this bounty.

Late one afternoon a lone jackal, obviously with a massive thirst from too much kudu, came to the waterhole in front of the lodge. After he had drunk his fill, he settled down for the evening. We were in the Manor House, when I heard an elephant trumpeting. I went out for a look, and twelve elephants at the waterhole had spotted the jackal. The younger ones were trying to intimidate the jackal, claiming the waterhole as their own. They were trumpeting at him, mock charging and in general just being difficult. This jackal was made of stern stuff, he would not budge, save to face up to the elephants. One of the younger ones then splashed water with its trunk at the jackal, but he stood his ground. The result, Jackal – 1, Elephant – 0. The elephants moved off, and the jackal stayed for the night. The next morning he was still there, when he was intimidated by a hyena. Again he stood his ground and the hyena eventually moved off without any blood being spilt.

There is no fence around Gorah, and when I was photographing our tent, I had the feeling that something was not right. Looking around, I came face to face with a buffalo (not really face to face, he was about thirty metres away), but I did the only thing I could do, I retired to the safety of my tent with supreme alacrity. The buffalo moved on, and then a lone elephant bull wandered past my tent, not in the least concerned with being fifteen metres from a human armed with a camera and with every intention to photograph him.

Gorah is an excellent destination and I would have no hesitation in recommending this to clients as a wild-life destination. Here I suspect one would be more than satisfied if you didn’t go on a game drive, as the activity around the waterhole in front of the lodge has more than enough to offer. The accommodation, staff, food and general ambience are second to none. They have an incredible road network for their sole use, and I doubt that we traveled more than one kilometer on any of Addo’s public roads. This means that one is not disturbed by the general public, and you can enjoy private sightings for a long as you wish. My only qualm, and please bear in mind that it is a personal preference, is that there is no electricity here. Lights are provided by candles, lamps and solar energy, which tends to be a bit dim if one wants to read in the tent. Who knows, the romanticism of candles may far outweigh this little gripe of mine, depending on your personal tastes.

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