Tembe Elephant Park Safari Guide
Tembe Elephant Park hosts all the Big Five, but above all it is a place for elephant lovers. This is one of the few places in South Africa, indeed anywhere on the continent, where you are still likely to see legendarily big tuskers.
The park’s only lodge offers relatively affordable all-inclusive packages and is owned by the local community. There is a limit to how many self-drive visitors are allowed to come into the park; only 4x4 vehicles are permitted.
Pros & Cons
Excellent elephant viewing
Good wildlife viewing with the Big Five present
Good photography shelter for watching elephants drinking
Great birding in rare sand forest habitat
Reasonably priced lodging in the park
Limited number of self-drive day visitors allowed
Only 4x4 vehicles are allowed because of sandy roads
No choice of accommodation in the park; no budget or upmarket options
Wildlife & Animals
Tembe's claim to fame is its population of giant elephant with enormous tusks. Elephants are very common 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.
Wild dog have been re-introduced to Tembe. The gracious nyala is the most common antelope here and the red duiker, a sand forest special, is common but shy. The park is also home to the largest South African population of the tiny suni antelope. It is one if the few places in the country where the pretty samango monkey is regularly seen.
Tembe Elephant Park has over 340 bird species recorded and is a birder’s paradise. The extensive checklist is due to the variety of habitats, such as sand forest, scrub and acacia woodland. Some tropical birds are at the most southerly point of their range, including African broadbill and Rudd’s apalis. The guides are knowledgeable, and most birders will walk away with several lifers under their belt. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
Best Time to Visit
Wildlife viewing is best during the drier winter months of May to September. Foliage is abundant within the park, but as conditions become drier, it recedes, and animals cluster on the banks of available water sources. The hide located at the waterhole is particularly busy with animal activity at this time. Elephants reliably come to drink and bath in the heat of the day, between 11am and 3pm.
May to September – Dry Season
Wildlife viewing is at its best as foliage recedes and animals cluster at water sources
Though never very busy, it should be quieter during the low season
Rain is unusual, and skies are bright and sunny
Evening and morning game drives in open vehicles may get cold
There is a lot of dust in the air
October to April – Wet Season
Abundant greenery and lovely landscapes
Animals are being born
Birding is at its best, and the migratory birds are present
It is not prime time for animal viewing – the Dry season is better
Heat and humidity is high
Weather & Climate
Due to its locale in the southern hemisphere, Tembe Elephant Park experiences winter and summer at opposite times to Europe and North America. The park lies in an area of summer rainfall and the Wet season months (October to April) tend to be hot and humid. Winter (May to September) is the dry time of the year, and although the daytime is pleasantly warm, it cools off at night.
Dry Season – May to September – Winter
There is little rain during the winter, but there could be an occasional shower due to the proximity of the park to the coast. Compared to the summer months, the heat is less oppressive, and skies are usually clear.
May – Less rain occurs at the end of the summer and humidity lessens. Average temperatures are a rather cool 15°C/59°F in the morning and a warm 27°C/81°F in the afternoon.
June, July & August – Afternoon temperatures average around 25°C/77°F, decreasing to about 12°C/54°F at night. It will feel even colder with the chilly breeze experienced while riding in an open vehicle, so make sure to pack warm clothing.
September – Springtime is experienced in September. Daytime temperatures average 28°C/82°F. Mornings are less chilly than previous months, with temperatures around 15°C/59°F. Rains begin with a few occasional thunderstorms.
Wet Season – October to April – Summer
It is wet, humid and hot during the summer months. It seldom rains all day, but heavy thunderstorms occur regularly.
October & November – Afternoon storms are commonplace, and it sometimes rains all day. Average temperatures range from 18°C/64°F in the morning to 29°C/84°F in the afternoon.
December, January & February – This is a time of intense heat and humidity. Most days experience afternoon rains. Although peak temperatures are often much higher, averages range around 31°C/88°F in the afternoon and 21°C/70°F in the morning.
March & April – Temperatures of around 30°C/86°F are the norm. Humidity lessens with the decrease in rainfall. Mornings are still warm at around 19°C/66°F.
Tembe Elephant Park is located about 410km/255mi north of Durban, 550km southeast of Johannesburg, and 300km south of southern Kruger. The drive from Durban or Southern Kruger takes around five hours, while from Johannesburg it takes almost seven hours.
There is only one camp in the park, and it offers fully inclusive packages. With a 4x4, you can drive to the lodge and leave your car for the duration of your stay. Non-4x4 vehicles can safely be left at the entrance gate. A limited number of 4x4 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.