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My Wheelchair Accessible South African Safari
By: Sandra Williams | November 4th 2018, 6:53 pm
Sandra Williams

Sandra, a resident of Australia, traveled in September 2018 with Access2africa Safaris.

Access2africa Safaris specializes in wheelchair friendly and accessible tours, safaris and travel for people with disabilities including people who are deaf and blind.    All venues are especially selected for their suitability. Our tours specialize in KwazuluNatal from Durban, Africas exciting seaside playground and tropical paradise in the sun. Durban is the gateway to the Midland Meander, Dolphin Coast and The Elephant Coast.   Please contact jennae@vodamail.co.za or  info@access2africasafaris.com or by phone at +27725854127.

WHAT: 10-day Safari in South Africa

LOCATION: Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Game Reserve and Isimangaliso Wetland Park.

cheetah-group2

Contagious Inspiration

Is it possible?  A South African Safari that’s wheelchair accessible?

On the Spinal Life Peer Support website, I came across some photos from a lady, Alma, about her trip to South Africa. She had enjoyed an accessible wheelchair friendly Safari with Access2Africa Safaris.

I was very impressed.

That was 2 years ago and I thought if Alma can do it, so can I. I booked my trip and then sorted out the details.

Access2Africa Safaris

Access2Africa Safaris is a well-organized operator who specializes in accessible safaris in South Africa for guests with mobility, vision or hearing challenges. All are welcome, including friends and families.

I can honestly say it was the best and the most organized holiday I have ever been on.

They picked me up at the airport at the beginning and then returned me to the airport when it is time to depart.

Their staff were lovely, and we were all very well cared for.

Their fleet of accessible and wheelchair friendly vehicles was great, all air conditioned, and equipped with ramps. There was plenty of room for us all. If I preferred a front seat, one of the guides would pick me up and whisk me into the front seat. Wow!

One young lady, who is a wheelchair user, wanted to put her feet in the Indian Ocean at a special viewpoint at the Isimangaliso Wetland Park. Her guide lifted her up and carried her down to the water’s edge.  She was so excited and thrilled! Wheeled people seldom get to enjoy such pleasures as we tend to become bogged!

Days 1-3: 30 Acres of Landscape, New Friends and Sharks

We started off at a magnificent Lodge in Durban where we stayed 3 nights.  We had the run of 30 acres of beautiful landscaped grounds where we could unwind and get over our jetlag.

There were 21 of us, 5 in wheelchairs.  I found my new friends delightful to be with and enjoyed talking with people who did not judge me because I was sitting down!

We had a fun outing before we left Durban. There is a wonderful aquarium made from an old ship and we could see fish, sharks, and more from all sides of the vessel.  You could even go swimming with the sharks!

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A huge bonus at this Durban Beachfront was the lovely accessible beach mat and beach wheelchairs that go up to the sea and water.

There was a bit of shopping time allotted and some of us managed a bargain or two.

Days 4-6: Enter the Nature Reserve. Wildlife Everywhere.

The next day we headed to the Hluhluwe/ Umfolozi Game Park and Nature Reserve.

This is South Africa’s second largest Big Five Game Reserve and is based in Isimangalsio Wetland Park, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.

Upon arrival I was blown away by plenty of wildlife sightings.  The photography (for you photographers) was excellent.

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Our accessible lodge was on a high hill with the chalets spread along the top. These had beautiful expansive views down into the valley.

We all spent many hours exploring the game park.

Elephant Encounter

One early morning we were in the open park vehicle and quietly parked near a hidden herd of elephants.

Our field guide said the elephants were in fact there, even though we could not see any of them.

Soon there was the sound of breaking branches and movement.

Eventually one female elephant slowly emerged from the undergrowth and wandered off, soon to be followed by several others, one at a time and quietly.

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It was lovely there in the shade, the sounds of unfamiliar birds, and the scent of unknown plants, combined with the gentle stillness.  It belied the animals concealed in this magnificent reserve.

Slowly the matriarch elephant emerged.

She was twice the size of the previous elephants.  She gave us a long look, decided we were not dangerous (thank goodness) and wandered off with her herd.

Backyard (Literally) Wildlife

When I returned to my thatched villa that day (with a wheelchair friendly bathroom!) there were 5 Nyala grazing on my entry way!

When I ventured inside, I could see there were two buffalos, just snoozing on the hill opposite my room, allowing themselves to be carefully groomed by little birds.

Bliss!

Early Morning Accessible Safari

We all went for an early morning accessible open safari game drive on the big open air trucks.

Although the temperature was cooler so early in the morning, we were all very excited to see more of nature’s beauty.

We saw more herds of elephant, rhinos, buffalos and buck of all descriptions.

What more could we want!

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Day 7: Elephant Feeding & Beautiful Cheetahs

After 3 beautiful days and many hours of observing the animals there, we left and headed east.

We visited a school situated in a Zulu Rural Region for disabled children from disadvantaged backgrounds which was an eye opener.

Downtime with the Elephants

We also had a fantastic adventure meeting and feeding (yes, feeding) wild elephants. What a magnificent experience.

There were three wild elephants, the biggest one was a tusked bull elephant.  I stroked his trunk, his tusks, and his tongue.  He was beautiful, and all the time we enjoyed scooping pellets into his trunk.

If you were not paying enough attention to the trunk he flicked a little mud in your direction. As I felt his rough skin I wondered if moisturizer would be helpful.

It was a magical day and one I will never forget.

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Cheetah and African Cat Reserve

One of our activities was a visit to a Cheetah and Wild African Cat Reserve, along with caracals and servals.

We could get up close and personal with the cheetahs!

I was the centre of attention for one particular cheetah.  She followed me everywhere and stared in my eyes. Thankfully she was not in the paddock we were aiming for!

I learned later that the cheetahs are fed from a red trolley, and as my scooter was red, I looked to her like the original meals on wheels!

Wild African Cats

There were some bigger cats called caracals, with black ears and a beautiful light tan and cream color. The male of the group sat wonderfully relaxed with his front paws crossed.

The servals were next and were spotted quite like cheetahs, but much smaller.

The pair in one enclosure contained a female who lived in a large tree. Her coloring blended almost perfectly with the tree and I took a little while to find her.  She was fed there too.

The male had a problem with climbing trees; he had fallen out three times, so he enjoyed the whole enclosure. The female was safe and happy in the tree.

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Days 8-10: Safari Boat & Relaxing Coast

Our final stop was a three-night stay in St. Lucia, a beautiful little town on the coast.

We enjoyed a safari boat ride with close sightings of hippos, crocodiles and birds such as Fish Eagles.

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Getting the reclining wheelchair onto the boat was no mean feat (accessibility with ramps is dependent on water levels). But nobody missed out on anything and everyone boarded the boat.

We were delighted and enthralled by the hippos and enjoyed seeing the other wildlife.

The Lake is not very deep, so the baby hippos stand on their mothers’ backs until they are big enough to stand in the lake alone!

The weaver birds amazed me with their intricately woven nests and their bright colors. What further delighted me was one evening we got to watch the hippos grazing in the park opposite our accommodation.

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Dave, our guide, moved his van and shined his headlights on them. They were not concerned at all. There are even signs on entering some roads in St Lucia that alert visitors to the hippo’s nocturnal habits.

To summarize my South African Safari…

I did not want to come home!

I had such a good time with new friends, great accommodations, wonderful food, and fabulous service and assistance.

Each room had its own accessible bathroom and a balcony. Spending time in the same place for a few days each time made it much more relaxing and enjoyable as well.

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