We visited Tembe as a last minute whim, when we realized how close the park was to our driving path. From Kosi Bay, it took us only about an hour to get to the gate. It is a small 300 km2 park that backs up against the border of Mozambique. The park was established in 1983 by the local community to preserve the last free roaming elephant population in South Africa. You can self drive or book guided game drives.
We were attracted to visit Tembe because it is home to some of the last of the great tusker elephants. Tuskers are elephants with tusks that have a combined weight of at least 100 lbs. Africa used to be filled with free roaming elephants with giant tusks, however when the ivory trade developed these large tuskers were selectively killed because of the greater pay off of their tusks. Over time, less and less tuskers were able to procreate and thus the genetic trait of large tusks has been slowly bred out of most of Africa’s elephants.
It is said that less than 25 tuskers now exist in the world! The largest population can be found in the Tsvao Reserve in Kenya. Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park, Kruger and Tembe hold a handful of them. With Tembe being such a small park – it gives you the best chance of finding them.
We got lucky that the first waterhole we stopped at gave us an excellent view of a few of the big boys. Although we didn’t find any of the REALLY big tuskers, we were happy to see some of the “up and coming” tuskers.
The park has named most of the larger elephants and provides photos detailing how to recognize them at the gate. We spotted “Hero” and are pretty sure we also saw “Phyco”.
All of the elephants in the park have noticeably larger tusks than any elephants we have seen elsewhere. It was very special to see these magnificent creatures happily living freely in their natural habitat.
We were really impressed with the park’s game viewing hides – the nicest we have seen anywhere. They are all elevated so you can get perfect views of the all the animals that visit the waterholes. One of the hides also boasts a live webcam so you can watch from anywhere, 24 hours a day! Check out the Tembe Web Cam here!
Tembe is a big five park, meaning they have the 5 most popular animals – lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. They also boast a healthy population of the endangered Suni – a tiny antelope. Our trip was quite short because we needed to cross the border to Mozambique the same day but we would have been happy to spend longer exploring the park!
For places to stay when visiting Tembe – you have a few options. If you wish to stay inside the park there is only one option – Tembe Lodge which is small and can often be full. There are also numerous game lodges outside the park which do game drives as day trips. Or you can stay in Kosi Bay and drive yourself to the park like we did – which I think is the best option!