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Travel South Africa in a Wheelchair - Forward Magzine, Feb 2010

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Scott Rains travels KwaZuluNatal with Access2Africa Safaris

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Travel South Africa in a Wheelchair - Forward Magzine, Feb 2010

  1. 1. Travellers Stories South Africa (Forward Feb 2010) The following article has been taken from the SIA Members’ magazine, forward and retains the original layout of the magazine. Where possible we have removed advertisements and other material not relevant to the content but we apologise that in some cases this has not been possible.
  2. 2. 24 Visiting the It’s not like I am a celestial navigator. I couldn’t find my way home from the corner pub by looking at the stars even if all I had to drink was Stone’s Ginger Beer. Set me sailing out on the ocean at night by the stars – well, I’ve never been sailing at night so I’m not certain – but I imagine you would never hear from me until I drifted up on a forsaken beach somewhere. So I kept the shades closed on the 15-hour flight from the east coast of the US to Johannesburg and I didn’t see the night sky until I was safely tucked away in a wheelchair-accessible hut at Hilltop Camp inside Hluluwe Game Reserve – but that’s jumping too far ahead in the story. Jennae Bezuidenhout of Access 2 Africa Safaris is an enterprising woman. She is the reason I was able to make this trip. She and her husband J. J. live in the area of Kwazulu Natal Province South
  3. 3. I travel a lot – more than most other tetraplegics that I know. Even so,when I first look up at the sky on every trip to the southern hemisphere I am temporarily disoriented. Elephant Coast Africa known as the Elephant Coast. Surrounded by about 400 game reserves, animal rehabilitation centres, sporting, leisure, and vacation destinations she lives and breathes travel industry in a corner of the country north of Durban. Since her husband’s paralysis she has taken what she has learned from her personal and business environments and woven them into something unique. She has become a provider of – and an evangelist for – safaris that include travellers with mobility impairments and other disabilities. Arriving on a connecting flight of one more hour in the air, I met my smiling tall blonde South African hostess and the other specialist in Inclusive Tourism who would be part of this 11-day tour. Monica Guy is a sparklingly intelligent young British travel writer. She came with a pedigree including having written the first campus accessibility guide for Cambridge University, a prolific collection of online and print tour guide writing, forward february 2010 and experience as part of the team that travels with Dr Stephen Hawking. Introduced to our driver Aubrey who would accompany us throughout the tour we used the tailgate lift to enter the van provided by Budget rentals and began the journey. Jennae’s wisdom was apparent from the start. Rather than rushing off to ‘relax’ in the bush we spent some time settling into a City Lodge in Durban. We ambled through the adjacent Gateway Mall purchasing the odds and ends that inevitably get forgotten when packing for a month-long trip. Well-provisioned – and impressed by the indoor climbing rock and standing wave surf facility in the mall – we took a day trip to North Beach and Shake Marine World. Shake is the largest marine theme park in Africa and includes the fifth largest aquarium in the world. 25 The park’s Zulu themes are immediately apparent. So is the good integration of accessible paths of travel. Unifying design themes were noticeable while passing through shops lining the first several blocks beyond the entrance. I was captivated by my first exposure to what I later came to know as ‘wiremen’. These are sculptures made of wire (sometimes beaded) and then illuminated. The snorkelling pond was closed and the surf a little too vigorous so we watched the water world rather than entered it. The park’s aquarium is housed in what looks like a beached shipwreck. Charming – and easily wheelchair accessible via the same series of long ramps used by all visitors. From Durban our trip took us to nearby Kloof and a stay at the remarkable Macaranga Lodge and Spa built in the 30-acre continued overleaf
  4. 4. 26 grounds of a botanical garden. The owners have augmented the beauty with a collection of Shone stone sculptures. From regal to playful these works of art set throughout the grounds are only part of the personal touch. Each room has original artwork collected by the owners. One half of the rooms are wheelchair friendly. Even the pool can be rolled into in a wheelchair. Macarena is a rare find among high-end lodgings. The overland portion of our adventure began with the drive to Hluluwe Game Reserve. I transferred to one of the narrow jump seats and gained a view out of the side window. The hut at Hluluwe was spacious and convenient. Situated at a distance from the restaurant and forward february 2010 its imposing view, the hut was a quiet retreat in an already relaxing environment. A side trip to Ilala Weaver’s Co-op store was a feast for someone with a strong desire to support local craftspeople and indigenous arts. The business model is fair trade with works purchased from local artisans who are in turn compensated fairly. In turn they have the guaranteed income that allows them to mature in their art form. The results were obvious on every shelf. If there are any regrets about my trip it is that I did not have a few hundred more dollars on hand to purchase the beadwork, wood carvings, and Zulu baskets that so captivated me. But the heart of the trip were the game drives! It would be tedious to read in print the long list of all the animals we saw. Of course the ‘big guys’ were there: giraffe, Cape buffalo, rhino, and wildebeest. So were colourful birds, tiny steenbok, humorous wart hogs, moody hyenas, and majestic leopards. Just driving from one place to another was an adventure of ‘firsts’! Tour Guide, Dave Davies, of the nearby Hluluwe backpacker’s lodge was superb. Later, our nights in the accessible hut at Bonamanzi Game Reserve were very enjoyable. We had more food than we could eat and a permanent show of inpala and wart wogs grazing on the lawn. A whole new set of skills and senses are awakened in the bush. The ranger amazed us by spotting a chameleon no larger than my index finger clinging to a bush during a night drive – pitch black with only a lamp to see by. Before returning to Durban and another delightful stay at Macaranga Lodge we had two other adventures. We got a warm welcome at Dumazulu Cultural Village. We watched the athletic Zulu dancers. Then I sang a capella with them (in Zulu!) wearing an animal skin hat with a tail flopping behind. It reminded me of the raccoon-skin caps we used to call ‘Daniel Boone’ hats. We also headed to St Lucia and its World Heritage estuary network. Literally risking life and limb to get from the inaccessible dock to an Advantage Tours cruise I was immediately rewarded when we came upon a fish eagle, a colony of brilliant yellow weaver birds, and a family of hippos. I was later impressed to see Advantage Tours’ new wheelchair-friendly boat waiting on land for permission to launch. South Africa’s Elephant Coast is an under-explored tourist gem. With the slower pace, professionals like Jennae and her Access 2 Africa Safaris can offer close personalised service. The area’s ‘hidden secret’ identity is about to change however. The new Durban airport with direct inbound international flights will go online in time for the 2010 World Cup. There is a story that circulates around the Rains’ family. It surfaced as we did some digging into our genealogy recently. continued from previous page
  5. 5. 27 It generally starts with the lines, “The Rains came over the mountain (the Cumberland Gap during the westward expansion in the US) with Daniel Boone.” Maybe it’s just a rationalisation for my wanderlust. Still, I sense a kinship of spirit with Daniel Boone who is reported to have said, in answer to the question, “Have you ever been lost?” – “No, but I was once a might confused for a few days.” I recommend taking a chance on a few confused nights under South African skies. Get lost if you are so inclined. If you run into one of those cool Zulu ‘Daniel Boone’ hats, send me one, ok? Scott Rains forward february 2010 Find out more Access2africasafaris Website: www.access2africasafaris.co.za Email: info@access2africasafaris.co.za Tour Guide: Dave Davies, Hluluwe Backpacker’s Lodge 0027 35 5620357 Email: info@hluhluwebackpackers@lantic.net

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