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A Life-Altering Adventure at Addo Elephant Park
Under cloudy skies this morning, Silversea’s intimate Silver Wind glided silently into the port for Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Founded in 1820 to house British settlers, Port Elizabeth is now a part of the much-broader Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, which has an approximate population of over 1.3 million inhabitants.
Today, I would be bypassing Port Elizabeth altogether, opting instead to take part in a Silversea shore excursion to the world-renowned Addo Elephant Park.
I made a conscious effort before even coming on this voyage to take part in as many different Safari excursions as possible. To my mind, the whole point of travelling halfway around the world is to immerse yourself fully in experiences that simply do not exist anywhere else.
As usual, disembarking the Silver Wind this morning was a snap. Complementary bottled water was available at the gangway, and the motorcoaches were waiting inside the terminal building to take us on our respective ship-sponsored tours. Some of the other exciting options available here today included an 8-hour visit to the Big 5 Pumba Game Reserve; a Fly-In Elephant Back Safari; and a 2.5 hour city tour of Port Elizabeth.
The journey to the Addo Elepant National Park took roughly one hour each way, and I took the opportunity to listen to the Lion King soundtrack on my iPod to prepare myself. Addo is the only park in the world that is home to Big 7 Game: the Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Southern Right Whale and the Great White Shark. If “Big 7” sounds like a hunting term, it is: both “Big 7” and “Big Five” (the same as Big 7, but with the removal of the two aquatic mammals) were derived from the days when people would go to hunt “Big Game.”
On the way over, I realized I didn’t have a clue what constituted a safari experience. Would animals come right up to the vehicle, or would I need binoculars to see them? I figured it would be cool; a neat experience worth having and writing about.
It turned out to be a Planet Earth special come to life; all that was missing was narrator David Attenborough’s gravelly voice.
After arriving at Addo Elephant National Park, we all boarded one of three different Safari vehicles that had been waiting specifically for us. These were similar in size to a Hino delivery truck that has had its box removed and replaced with seats that are positioned higher than the driver for better viewing. The tops were covered with canvas (much to my relief!), while sides were open to the elements from about the waist up. The rules were pretty straightforward: no standing when the vehicle is in motion, and no loud noises that could spook the animals.
Now, nature is unpredictable at best, so there are no guarantees as to what, if anything, you will see. But that anticipation – the thrill of the hunt – is almost worth it on its own. And it barely took ten minutes before our 4×4 rolled around a corner to see a single antelope grazing. Then, two emerged. They didn’t seem to mind us, and we certainly didn’t seem to mind them, judging by the whirring of camera shutters that followed.
Ten minutes later, we rounded the corner to discover a partial family of elephants cooling themselves in a small lake in an attempt to beat the stifling heat and humidity. There are no words in the English language to describe what it’s like to sit in a vehicle, watching elephants bathe and swim just 20 feet away.
Then, a few little ones emerged, including a baby elephant who, our driver estimated, could not have been more than 5 months old. This small elephant decided it wanted to go for a swim and rushed into the water. But getting out of the water was another matter, and the little baby elephant tried multiple ties to get out, to no avail. Like any good parents, Mom & Dad sauntered over and used their trunks to push and pull Baby out of the water.
I could say it was amazing. I could say it was life-changing. But neither one of those statements can ever capture what it was like to witness that, in the wild, and not in some zoo with a half-hearted painting of Africa as a backdrop for their elephant enclosure.
Amazingly, our experience got even better: a Zebra darted out in front of our 4×4 and spent some time trotting along just ahead of us, allowing for some beautiful photo opportunities. You can’t get out of the trucks at any time, but that was far from being a problem at our next stop: a clearing with over four dozen elephants.
These elephants were curious about our 4×4 and got jaw-droppingly close to us, to the point where three or four crossed directly in front of our vehicle, while another one passed close behind. The largest elephants were massive, their impressive hulks towering over the truck. You could have heard a pin drop as these magnificent creatures passed close by us, until the little elephant with them let out a mighty roar, presumably to let us know he was not afraid.
In one day, this one experience has outdone, out measured and outperformed every shore excursion I’ve ever taken. It was astonishing, moving, awe-inspiring and everything in between. Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to do this at some point in their lives.
A reader wrote to me today to ask a few questions: was I the youngest onboard, and do I think this cruise would be suitable for those with kids who are 12 years or older?
I am indeed the youngest person onboard, but I don’t think that the average Silversea guest is determined by age. I think interests play more into the equation. Are you well-travelled? Do you like to have fun, but appreciate the finer things in life? If so, Silversea will fit you like a glove.
I’ve seen kids on my past Silversea voyages aboard Silver Spirit and even Silver Explorer, and I think this itinerary aboard Silver Wind lends itself remarkably well to family involvement. The line doesn’t actively cater to young kids, but on my Silver Explorer voyage, the crew went out of their way to ensure the kids were having a ball. My recommendation: if they’re older than, say, 12 years of age and can keep themselves occupied, there’s no better way to see South Africa.
Another question raised was the issue of cost. Certainly, Silversea comes with a higher price tag than mainstream cruise lines, but when did that become a bad thing? A Mercedes costs more than a Ford, and with good reason. Ditto for Tissot versus Timex, Apple versus Acer, and so on. I love mainstream cruises because they’re accessible and offer a good value at a reasonable price. But, especially after today, I cannot emphasize this enough: look at how much you spend on a mainstream cruise, both to book and once onboard. You may find you’ve been able to afford the good life for years without knowing it!
Personally, I’d save for the remainder of my days to be able to experience something even half as special as what I did today. To be able to set out on an overland safari adventure and then return to the warm embrace of the Silver Wind was absolutely stunning. I ate a late lunch poolside (the homemade grilled chicken burger is to die for), and spent an enjoyable few hours writing this article in The Bar on Deck 5, which is quickly becoming my favorite public room here onboard the Silver Wind, followed by another wonderful dinner in La Terrazza on Deck 7.
When I think back on the things I did and saw today, something catches in my throat. How do I begin to put today into words? I can’t. And as today draws to a close, I’m convinced that is one of Silversea’s greatest strengths. Because the more I sail with the line, the more genuinely floored I am with the experiences – both ashore and onboard – that they are able to provide their guests with.
Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Silversea’s elegant Silver Wind continues tomorrow, as we spend a relaxing day onboard as we cruise the Indian Ocean, bound for Maputo, Mozambique!
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