The Garden Route: A Walk with Elephants

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This is the third stop on my mom’s and my trip along the Garden Route last spring. If you missed the first installment in Gansbaii and the second in Oudtshoorn, go back and check them out first.


After we were sufficiently ostriched out, we continued our drive: heading back to the coast and up to Plettenberg Bay. When we booked Hog Hollow Country Lodge based on the recommendation of a local tourism official, I didn’t expect much due to the name alone. Names are deceiving, it turns out. We checked in our cottage to find one of the most comfortable rooms I’ve stayed in to date.

photo courtesy of Hog Hollow’s website

It even had a wrap-around porch with a hammock—and a huge, comfy beanbag!

(next time I’ll take a tripod!)

As usual, my major regret is that we didn’t get to stay longer. We had allotted just one night in Plett with so many daytime activities, we’d hardly be staying in the room but to sleep. Included in guests’ stay is a communal-style dinner, in which you get to meet the fellow guests, who hail from all over the world. It’s here that we met Vanessa and Simon, two lovely Brits who I now keep in touch with via Facebook and Twitter, and I think it’s safe to say my mom was charmed pantsless by the darling duo. (Vanessa, she still talks about you anytime the topic of South Africa arises!)

there I am working (always working) studiously in the background

The next morning, after a breakfast out on the sunny patio with, you guessed it, Vanessa and Simon, we headed down the road in search of elephants.

There are several elephant parks scattered throughout South Africa in which they rescue and rehab injured elephants and keep the gentle giants well cared for and protected.

Initially, we had planned on visiting the Knysna Elephant Park about an hour away, but upon checking into Hog Hollow, we found there was actually another, Elephant Sanctuary at Plettenberg Bay, just five minutes up the road from where we were staying. So we saved ourselves the extra driving and went there instead.

After we got a brief tutorial on the life cycle of elephants, a few from the group were selected to “walk” the elephants to a shaded grove.

Here, we got up close and personal with them, observing their trunks, mouths, everything. If I were the elephants, I would have felt mighty violated!

Then, it was time to “walk” the elephants back to their resting places. Mom went first, while I took photographer duties. Isn’t she precious (and short)?

Next, it was my turn. Now if you’ve never held an elephant’s trunk, let me be frank. It’s pretty darn disgusting. Elephants’ trunks emit an alarming amount of mucus, which feels like a paste bonding your hand to their snout. After 20 feet or so walking hand-in-hand with the elephant, I’d had more than enough. I was ready to head to the ladies’ room and wash off the elephant juice!

We left the elephants in their field, but not before giving them treats for such fine behavior. Some guests also opted to ride them, but it was an additional $85 so I decided to hold off until I inevitably make it to Thailand, where I imagine it’s much cheaper (and pretty much necessary to that “authentic” Thai experience, heh).

We said good-bye to the elephants, then headed back down the road for a monkey encounter of a different kind…

A Walk with Elephants in South Africa from Camels & Chocolate on Vimeo.

Have you ever “held hands” with an elephant? If so, what was your impression?


Getting There: My mom flew Delta direct from Atlanta to Johannesburg. I flew Emirates (not advised) from San Francisco to Jo’burg via Dubai. South African Airways seems to have the most frequent and affordable flights from most U.S. hubs like Washington D.C. and New York City. The majority of those flights have very brief layovers in Senegal to refuel, but are otherwise direct.

Once you arrive in South Africa, it’s best to start your Garden Route drive in Cape Town and end in George, where you can catch a cheap South African Airlink flight back to either Cape Town or Jo’burg. You’ll see nearly all of the route that way and then not have to drive it all the way back to where you started.

Where to Stay: There are several little B&B-like places (called guesthouses) and bigger lodges scattered along the Garden Route. We settled on a mid-sized lodge in Plettenberg Bay called Hog Hollow that has 16 well-appointed, comfortable suites with modern amenities (free Wi-Fi, but no TV), and a larger villa for big families or groups traveling together. The lodge also has a number of dining rooms and shared areas, a sprawling outdoor deck, and a gorgeous pool with cushioned lounge chairs.

Communal dining in the lodge’s Main House is the ritual—it’s so much fun, and the food is divine—but private dining is also available. (Though you’re truly missing out if you don’t join in on the group dining experience.)

What it Costs: Our plane tickets were around $1400 each round-trip from Atlanta (Mom) and San Francisco (me). South African Air flights ran around $200 cheaper than that on average. Accommodation at small guesthouses runs anywhere from $60 to $100 a night for two people. Lodging at Hog Hollow is $200 a night per person, including a full, sumptuous breakfast, and worth every penny. Most attractions we visited cost $15 a person. The most expensive part of our trip, airfare aside, was the rental car, which ran around $150 a day. Then again, Hertz screwed us over and charged us twice, refusing to refund any of the money, so let this be a lesson: Don’t pre-pay, and don’t book your car through Hertz.

  • February 13, 2011

    Elephant paste! Is that like Gorilla Glue?

  • February 13, 2011

    Too much cuteness for me to handle in 1 post. Swoon!

  • February 13, 2011

    I’ve fed an elephant once and I wasn’t quite expecting the tongue to be as rough as it was. Also,the elephant ride that I got to go on at The Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India in the wee hours of the morning was an interesting experience.

    • February 14, 2011

      Interesting good? Or interesting interesting…as in you wouldn’t do it again?

      I had forgotten we also felt the elephant’s tongue! Everything on that guy was like straight-up sandpaper!

      • February 14, 2011

        Exactly(to the sandpaper description)!

        I would do it again if I could. It was all about spotting rhino’s and other wildlife through the tall wild grass and slush as opposed to the jeep ride on the main road through the park. It was also really cute to see how the mother elephants would protect and guide the baby elephants along the way. I know that the main attraction there are the rhino’s but I found myself falling in love with the elephants all over again(both domesticated and wild).

  • February 13, 2011

    It is also hard when they hug you with their trunks. Believe it or not they are covered with kinky, hard hairs. It is not the most pleasant sensation. Well, everything for the elephants.

    • February 14, 2011

      I don’t think I got the (dis?)pleasure of being hugged by the elephant. I want my money back! =)

  • February 14, 2011

    Have yet to ride, touch or feed an elephant, and I live in SA! Might ride one when I’m in Bali. Can’t wait!

    • February 14, 2011

      The good news is that you can do it anytime (or I guess anytime you’re in the vicinity of an elephant sanctuary) =) Those of us trying to see the whole massive country in just two-and-a-half weeks must tackle all the tourist endeavors at once, ha.

  • February 14, 2011

    You have a fabulous, Southern belle smile, despite the mucus. A touch of rictus in there, but nothing that would let anyone know there was something hideous and mucal happening down below. Well done!

    • February 14, 2011

      Hahaha, thank you, Theodora. My mom had a camera pointed on me from the time I emerged into this world and, as a result, taught me how to smile even through the more uncomfortable (read: mucus-y) situations!

  • February 14, 2011

    I found all the guest houses I stayed in very nice. Although I saw elephants I didn’t get close enough to touch or glue my hand to their sticky snout.

  • February 14, 2011

    I am obsessed with elephants. Your pictures are making me drool. Looks AMAZING!

  • February 15, 2011

    I know that it’s not likely the elephant would step on your feet, but seeing your flip flops next to those huge feet made my toes curl up!

    Also, these photos and posts make me really want to take a big trip like this with my mom. We haven’t done that since I was a kid, and I’d like the adult experience.

    • February 15, 2011

      Haha, I know, right? Alas, those were really the only shoes I had with me! Luckily, the elephants were very polite =)

      And I highly recommend everyone take a similar trip with their mom–best part of the whole thing!

  • February 15, 2011

    Cute! Would love to do something like this… hey, lady, your Twitter share button is set up as @addtoany, just a head’s up!

  • February 15, 2011

    Once you have been chased by an enraged elephant cow like I have in Tanzania (fortunately in a vehicle and not on foot) you will think twice about walking hand in hand with them.

    • February 15, 2011

      Haha, you are probably right! A South African I met in Rwanda also told me about how she and her husband were camping in their Land Rover outside one of the parks and were nearly stampeded by elephants. I think my only up-close encounters will be in contained sanctuaries with trained professionals!

  • February 15, 2011

    That first photo with the elephant on the right gave me chills, nice work.

  • February 17, 2011

    My favourite thing about getting up close to an elephant was feeling their feet. It’s like gel-padded! Only then did I understand why elephants can walk so silently through the bush.

  • February 18, 2011

    Elephants!! Aren’t they such divine creatures! What a great experience. And that room you had – amaze!

  • February 28, 2011

    I went there too! It is an awesome sanctuary! I was really worried because a lot of elephant sanctuaries with interactions are very unethical and treat the animals horribly, but they do such a great job here! Careful in Thailand many rides there will not be treating the elephants well!

  • March 2, 2011

    I wasn’t so brave near an elephant in Thailand! I looked really scared and so did the elephant!

  • June 4, 2014

    I stumbled upon all of the customer households We stayed throughout comfortable. While We observed elephants We didn’t find in close proximity enough to the touch or glue my personal side thus to their sticky snout.

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