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Tembe Elephant National Park

The largest African elephants in the world, along with the rhino, buffalo, leopard, hippo and antelope species in a 300km² park on the South Africa / Mozambique border, about four and a half hours from Durban. Excellent birding opportunities exist and scuba diving on the nearby Tongoland reefs.

Situated in Maputaland, the north-eastern region of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, adjoining the Mozambique border, Tembe Elephant Park is home to the province’s biggest African elephant herd and its only indigenous elephants.

Tembe’s African elephants used to be South Africa’s last remaining free-ranging herd, at one time moving seasonally between Mozambique and Maputaland. In recent years they have sought refuge in the dense sand forests of Tembe to escape the depredations of border conflicts and landmines, and their continuous harassment by ivory poachers.

The magnificent African elephants, more than 140 in number, from massive fully grown adults to juveniles, are Tembe’s main attraction and make for spectacular viewing. The larger adults are physically the biggest in South Africa and signs of their presence are everywhere, clearly evident through the broken branches and foliage left behind from their voracious foraging.

Tembe’s mosaic of sand forest, woodland, grassland, and swampland, comprises an ideal habitat for highly visible elephant spotting, enabling them to be observed at close-quarters from game-drive vehicles or from the discreetly-located hides which overlook their watering holes.

Major Attraction: Wild dog have been re-introduced to Tembe, and they are regularly encountered. The small red duiker, a sand forest special, is common but shy and is usually seen crossing the road and then disappearing into the forest. The park is also home to the largest South African population of the tiny Suni antelope.

Wildlife: Tembe’s claim to fame is its population of a giant elephant with enormous tusks. Elephants are abundant in the park, and the other Big Five animals are present as well. However, checking off the Big Five is not the focus here, and you will probably leave without seeing all of them. The gracious nyala antelope is common and is particularly striking in the dappled light of the sand forest.

 Getting there:  Tembe Elephant Park is located about 460km/285mi north of Durban. The drive takes around 5½ hours. There is only one camp in the park, and it offers fully inclusive packages. With a 4×4, you can drive to the lodge and leave your car for the duration of your stay. Non-4×4 vehicles can safely be left at the entrance gate. A limited number of 4×4 self-drive visitors are allowed as day visitors in the park (note that there are very few accommodation options nearby).

O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airport (CPT) in Cape Town are the primary points of arrival in South Africa. King Shaka International Airport (DUR) in Durban is another option, from where you could rent a vehicle.

Where to stay:  Guests are accommodated in 14 comfortably furnished chalets:

  • The twelve Standard Chalets are single units, with 2 beds en-suite
  • The two Family Chalets are double units with 4 beds, both en-suite

The chalets are orientated in such a way as to create cool shady interiors and covered verandas that provide respite from the African sun. Local materials and construction methods have been used to minimize the impact on the ecological processes of the environment