Tembe Elephant Park: A TOP Travel Adventure
Mother and baby elephants at Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa

Mother and baby elephants at Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa

My favourite travel adventure of 2012 was at Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa!

This speaks volumes for Tembe considering that it beat out all my other adventures.  Thereseriouslyme serious stiff competition, like diving with sharks – without a cage!

Tembe Elephant is home to the largest elephants in Africa, the tuskers!

In the early 1900s the great tuskers were commonly found throughout the African continent, but now less than 40 remain in all of Africa because they’ve been hunted for their huge ivory tusks. Tembe is home to some of them, including Isilo, the largest elephant tusker in southern Africa!

But there’s more to Tembe than elephants!

(Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the elephants). Tembe is home to the Big 5 and the highly endangered wild dogs (which I didn’t see since they were hanging out in the opposite end of the 300 square meter park).  What I did see though were three lions.

Lions in Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa

The male was off on his own a bit, while the two lionesses appeared bored and uninterested as our safari jeep pulled up.  It’s incredible how interesting lions can be, even when they’re doing absolutely nothing!   Fortunately, one of the lionesses decided that we deserved a little action and starting cleaning the other lioness:

Lionesses cleaning in Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa

Apparently this worked up her attitude as she got up and started to stalk…nothing.  At least that’s what I thought at first.  Then I slowly saw it, an antelope almost totally camouflaged in the tall grass.

Lioness hunting in Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa
Lioness hunting an antelope hiding in the grass (it’s the brown thing just left of center).

I was seeing a lioness hunt!

I couldn’t decide whether I wanted her hunt to succeed or not.  Unfortunately for her she didn’t.  She then made her way back and moved onto a much easier target – the three safari jeeps full of slow-moving un-camouflaged tourists.

She stared us down and parked herself less than 5 meters away – never taking her eyes off of us.

One lady in the jeep behind us was so scared that she hid under her jacket on the floor.  I was in complete and total awe.  There was nothing from stopping the lioness from attacking our safari jeep, yet she didn’t.

Having said that, there’s no way I would have been getting out of the jeep to take a bathroom break!

Lioness stalking a safari jeep in Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa

Sometime later, our jeep moved on, our guide whispering something into his radio to another guide.  They had spotted something else and were moving up.  I was annoyed and wanted to stay with the lions.

What could be more incredible than observing lions, seeing a lioness hunt and being stalked by a lioness?

How about a large herd of Tembe’s most famous residents?

Elephant herd, including two newborns in Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa.

I lost track of how many there were, but there were over easily over 20.  As luck would have it I got to see the large herd crossing the road as they moved into the forest for the night.  Incredible!  

And then something even more incredible happened!   I got within 10 meters of not one, but two baby elephants   And get this:  they were only three days old!

Yes, I was THISCLOSE to two-three day old baby elephants…in the wild!:

Two three-day old elephant calves in Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa.
Two three-day old elephant calves in Tembe.

I couldn’t believe all that I had experienced in a mere three hours at Tembe and I still can’t!

Anyone who has ever done a safari knows that there can be periods of long waiting, often hours of just seeing the odd antelope. Our luck in Tembe was incredible!

A herd of elephants got very close to our safari jeeps in Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa.

Visitors to Tembe Elephant Park can sign up for two jeep safari drives daily. Animal enthusiasts craving more can make their way down to the watering hole and a hide where visitors can spend the entire day observing everyone who comes to the watering hole including bird, antelopes…and of course some of Tembe’s 200+elephants!

Be sure to check out the 24 hour web cam of the watering hole in Tembe Elephant Park.  After viewing it for less than 30 seconds I started planning my trip to Tembe!

Elephant at watering hole in Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa.
Elephant at watering hole in Tembe. The webcam is on the watering hole 24/7. I find it highly entertaining.

Despite seeing elephants in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Park in South Africa and lions in Hlane Royal Park in Swaziland, I left Tembe in complete amazement.

Tembe Elephant Park  was truly the most special place that I visited in 2012 and a travel experience that I will never forget.

My only regret is that we stayed for just one night.  That was waaaay to short!  Fortunately I can (almost) transport myself back to Tembe via the web cam.

As I write this I’m listening to hundreds of birds chirping at the Tembe watering hole.  I keep getting distracted though as I keep toggling back and forth in hopes of seeing my good friend Isilo…or a leopard!

Tembe Elephant Park is:

  • located 230km north of iSimangoliso Wetland Park (which I also highly recommend, especially the Hippo Safari and chance to view endangered Samango monkeys)
  • a community-owned full-service game reserve
  • plays an important role in elephant tusker conservation
  • definitely worth staying at least 2-3 nights
  • runs sustainably, with minimal impact to the environment
  • limits the number of guests to achieve sustainability and minimal interference to the wildlife

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About Author

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their hiking, cycling and wildlife vacations in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Munich, Germany. You can find her hiking in the mountains on most weekends.


January 17, 2013
I love following your African safari adventures. It's long been my dream to visit reserves just like this one. Hopefully one day soon! In the meantime, I need to check out the webcam!
January 20, 2013
@Jennifer - Thank you! It was a dream of mine as well and it finally came true last year. Re: webcam, warning, it is highly addictive!
January 17, 2013
Wow, you went really up close! That definitely counts as a major adventure!
January 20, 2013
@Zhu - Agreed, the best one I had all year and that's saying a lot!
January 17, 2013
Now that sounds like a park worth visiting. I love those baby elephants - 10/10 on the cute factor. I hope they end up leading a very long life. Good to actually catch the lions in action. When I was in Tanzania we didn't catch that kind of action; instead we got the full on action of mating. Very cool but not the least bit private with all of our jeeps around. I I'll put this park on the must see list!
January 20, 2013
@Leigh - Agreed and the elephants are very well protected at Tembe. Lion mating must have been interesting, maybe they were exhibitionists :)
January 17, 2013
This comment would have been up about 15 minutes ago, but I've been distracted watching an elephant at the watering hole. Beautiful animals. It must have truly been an amazing experience, although I get the feeling that I would have been hiding under my jacket as well if that lioness looked my way.
January 20, 2013
@Steve - Haha, that watering hole is the cause of a lot of my procrastination :). Re: hiding under your jacket, at least you wouldn't have been the only one.
January 17, 2013
I have to admit overwhelming feelings of jealousy. This is a remarkable experience. I would park out for the day at the waterhole though
January 20, 2013
@Nathalie - That's exactly what we did in between the morning and evening safaris. I just couldn't get enough.
January 17, 2013
Seeing those baby elephants is priceless - I've only seen one at the zoo and she wasn't that young...awesome!
January 20, 2013
@Andrea - Agreed, it was the experience of a lifetime. I've never seen anything like it.
January 17, 2013
Such a great 2012 for you. I wish you a even better 2013. Love the photos.
January 20, 2013
@Laura - Thanks so much!
January 17, 2013
What an incredible experience...although, I might have been a little freaked out driving by the lion...
January 20, 2013
@D.J. - It was a little freaky, especially since she was so close and we knew she was hungry after her failed attempt at the antelope.
January 17, 2013
Yeah, this looks AMAZING! I would love to see lions and elephants up close like that, as long as they don't pay any attention to me!
January 20, 2013
@Ali - The lioness was definitely paying attention to us, but couldn't tell if she had her eye on a particular target or just the whole lot of us.
January 18, 2013
Lovely Laurel! Those elephants are absolutely adorable and it's wonderful that you got to have such good luck and an incredible experience. :)
January 20, 2013
@Cheryl - Thank you, I was soooo lucky that we saw everything that we did in such a short period of time.
January 18, 2013
This sure is an incredible experience, Laurel. I love watching animals in the wild, especially elephants as they're so huge and so light on their hoofs. I guess I expected to hear a herd as it approached but even when it was really close, I heard nothing. That was freaky!
January 20, 2013
@InsideJourneys - Me too, I could watch animals for hours. I was surprised at how quiet they were as well - not what you would expect for such big animals.
January 18, 2013
Amazing, Laurel. I just love going on these adventures with you. What a thrill to see Tembe's beautiful residents -- in action!
January 20, 2013
@Cathy - Thanks so much. I love, love Tembe....just in case it wasn't obvious :)
Sonja @ The {Happy} Travel Bug
January 20, 2013
That's awesome! I LOVE elephants! I see why this was your top one.
January 21, 2013
@Sonja - Me too, especially baby elephants!

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