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Stranded Without Car Keys in Addo Elephant National Park

Stranded Without Car Keys in Addo Elephant National Park

What is it with kids and car keys? I have memories of keys being locked inside my parent’s car (with my parents being outside the said car) on quite a few occasions. Every time it stemmed from something to do with my brothers – they had taken the keys to fetch an item, or to sit in the car, or heaven knows what. When Jacob was a baby, we managed to lock him and the keys in the car – there is just way too much stuff to do when you are transporting a tot and the keys can easily get overlooked in all the ruckus.


This weekend it was our turn as parents to experience the dreaded keys-locked-in-the-car scenario. We had been suffering elephant withdrawal, and needed to be near some gentle giants, so a braai lunch in our favourite spot was in order. Plans were to mosey through Addo Elephant National Park’s Matyholweni gate to Jack’s Picnic Site in the middle of the park, have a braai lunch and then wind our way back out the Colchester side and go fishing at the Sundays River estuary. Sounds like a sublime way to spend a Sunday, right?

Jack’s picnic site is right in the middle of the park


For once we actually managed to leave more or less on time and by midday we were well into the park. It was cloudy and wet, so we didn’t see much as the animals were all deep in the bush in seventh heaven playing in the puddles after the long overdue rain. It was the first time we have ever seen nothing at the waterholes, not an ellie in sight. The beetles were in full force though, having been ignited by the soaking downpour. We dodged dung beetles into Jack’s picnic site, just in time to get the very last braai spot – to the relief of our hangry (hungry therefore angry) teens.

The dung beetles were out in full force


With the benefit of hindsight, thank goodness the first thing we did was unpack the cooler boxes and charcoal. While Ralph was lighting the fire, Cian noticed Jacob and Jess (an honorary member of our family a.k.a. the girlfriend) whispering sweet nothings to each other on the back seat of the Kombi. “I’ll lock them in” he thought, and sneaked the keys from next to the braai. VW experts sometime somewhere thought it was a good idea to automate the locking of your car, even when the doors are open. So, if someone pushes the lock button, the car holds it in memory and when the last door is closed, beep-beep, car secure. Cian couldn’t figure out how to lock the car with the people in, and decided to grab a drink in the meantime. He put the keys on the Kombi’s front bench and popped out, followed by Jacob, Jess and Luke (who had been trained very well and remembered to pull the sliding door shut after himself). Beep-beep screamed the Kombi, boasting loudly that it remembered all Cian’s pushes. “NOOOOOO!” screamed Cian as he watched it happen in slo-mo.


That got our attention. “Oh no, oh no, oh no” Cian chanted. It didn’t take long for us to figure out the pickle we were in. Yip, keys inside a locked car and all of us outside said car. In the middle of Addo Elephant Park. A long way from civilisation.

The keys were so close, but so very far

Oh boy, what now?


A1: Locksmith
Q1: How long would it take and how much would it cost to get a locksmith from PE to the middle of Addo on a Sunday?


A2: Smash the smallest window
Q2: How much would it cost to replace a whole window if the little window handle recently set us back R3K to fix?


A3: Break in
Q3: How secure is this darn car? Why is there no way in? Who on earth programmed this stupid vehicle?


A4: Phone a friend
Thank goodness for great friends who answered their phone and agreed to leave their family braai, drive across town to our house, break in by climbing a ladder and contorting through a burglar bar, search for a spare key, drive across the Bay to Addo, pay the entrance fee for their family and take an impromptu game drive all the way to the centre of the park.


Meanwhile, we continued with our braai. Appetites had decreased somewhat and we munched on our lamb chops and corn on the cob in silence, contemplating the loss of our sublime planned Sunday. Lunch over, we packed up and imagined where our rescuers would be now while we counted our blessings (1. Food and drink were outside the car. 2. Ralph’s cellphone was outside the car. 3. Jack’s has great ablutions. 4. The picnic site is surrounded by an electric game fence (imagine if it had happened at one of the lookouts?) 5. The park is open until 6pm.)

A beautiful sunbird watched all the fuss


Yip, looking at the bigger picture, Jack’s Picnic Site is actually not a bad place to be stranded. We whiled away the next four hours by watching the tourists come and go. It was like a real life time-lapse. Us keeping still while people came and went in fast motion. We bird-watched and creature-watched, taking note of all the little things around us.

The picnic site was full of lovely creatures, like this curious little shrike


We checked out each and every braai site, pinpointing which were our favourites. Jacob and Jess practiced their ballroom dancing while I honed my photography skills. We balance-walked on the wooden poles around the green patch of lawn. We studied the day’s sightings on the magnetic board at the ablutions. We sat in silence. We chatted about life. We braaied some more. We read all the campground signs. We threw stones. We paced. We just were.


Whiling away our day in confinement at Jacks picnic site


And eventually, once we were the only ones left at this bustling camp, in rolled our saviours with a spare set of Kombi keys. Beep-beep sang the Kombi as she re-opened her loving arms. Time to come home.

That’s what friends are for


We piled into the car and headed for the exit gate, racing the clock to make it by the 6pm cut-off. Addo rolled out her red carpet, as the national parks tend to do when you are racing time to make the closing deadline. Mammals of every colour skipped around the roads. Hundreds of buffalo loped across the track, giving us filthy looks as they hurried their babies along. Herds of zebra cantered along while Red Hartebees snorted at cheeky warthogs.

Mommy buffalo giving us the death stare


Elephants lined the road, sheltering their tiny babies between their legs. We were unable to hurry past this magnificent display, and quite simply could not help but stop and cut the engine to absorb Africa a lot of times along the way.


We got to see some gentle giants after all!


As we rolled over the finish line at just past 6pm, we all agreed that in the bigger scheme of life, this day was not bad….not bad at all.


  • tami says:

    What an adventure you had but the way it ended makes me think that everything happens for a reason. Imagine if you guys left and went on to fish without seeing any animals? xx

    • Hi Tami. We also think everything happens for a reason and we saw a video of the Sundays River in flood, so it was probably better to have been stranded in Addo. And all worked out ok in the end. Have your kids ever locked the keys in the car?

  • Veerle says:

    Hello! Quite an adventure! We got stranded once on the parking of Legoland (Denmark) after visiting the park. We were traveling with friends towards Norway and they locked their keys in. So we all ended in our car (4 adults), called travel assistance, waited for 4 hours till they got to us. We couldn’t call friends as we were traveling and far from home. It started raining in the meantime, so the car got all damped. That gave funny looks from outsiders too (What’s happening inside there?). Luckily we were allowed to check in late at the overnight hotel 🙂

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