Its 6.30 in the morning of October 25, I am staring out the window of our van with my eyes fixated and staring in awe towards an another seemingly anonymous tree. However, the creature lying in the tree shaded from the morning sunshine is no ordinary sight by any means. My attention is captured and I’m struck with awe at the sight of a leopard, one of nature’s most fearsome predators gazing out across the open savannah… on probably what is, for this amazing creature, just another normal day in Kruger National Park.
This is an article about my most incredible adventure to South Africa this time last year which took me to Johannesburg, the Kruger National Park and its surrounding highlands in the province of Mpumalanga.
On first glance it would be reasonable to think that more adventurous travel such as an African safari would be out of reach for a person with my level of disability. However, this was made possible thanks to an amazing tour operator called Endeavour Safaris (“Endeavour”) which specialises in disability travel. Mike Hill from Endeavour wrote an article for Horizons in April, but recent reminiscing of the time I had last year, prompted me to publish this article.
Apart from being very long, the British Airways flight to Johannesburg went smoothly. On landing at the airport late in the night and waiting in the plane to be lifted out, I was greeted by the most cheerful airport passenger assistance staff, who were more than happy to lift me out of the plane and into my own wheelchair. However, my wheelchair did annoyingly have a small amount of damage to the armrest, which although had no effect on the utility of the wheelchair, was still rather irritating. There was no point making a big deal out of it in Johannesburg as the repairs would need to be done back home. However, I did report it to the helpful British Airways representative who informed how to go about recovering the cost of repairs when I got back home.
We were met by our guide at the airport, Andy from Endeavour, who took us to our nearby hotel for the night. The next day we travelled by road in a wheelchair accessible van that we were to use for the entire tour across spectacular countryside to a guest house near a town called Sabie that was about 40km from the entrance to the Kruger National Park. The Bohm Zeederberg guest house was fantastic in terms of its beautifully stunning location and was run by the incredibly hospitable Zeederberg family.
The family had adapted their guesthouse by placing ramps around the grounds and a further ramp in the bathroom to make it “roll-in”. The lodge was used for the next couple of days to explore the surrounding highlands, where we saw the Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window, Lisbon Falls and Bourke’s Luck Potholes. Each site a spectacular and awe-inspiring feature in what can only be described as an awe-inspiring part of the world.
After two nights in the highlands, we proceeded to the Kruger National Park. We were to stay in a camp within the Kruger, which had guest rooms that were wheelchair accessible and had roll-in showers. In the Kruger, each day we would go on two driving tours lasting three hours each at 5am and 3pm. Yes, 5am in the morning!
Andy, our guide, was really experienced, and seemed to intuitively know where to find the wildlife. No easy feat, considering the Kruger National Park is about the size of Belgium! Over the several days in the park, we saw lions, leopards, buffalos, elephants, rhinos and a plethora of beautiful creatures that roamed free across the vast and wild expanse. Seeing these animals in the flesh and sometimes within metres of our van was simply breath-taking.
However, notwithstanding the brilliance of the wildlife and the experience of being there, it did require a level of physical endurance that was a little testing. The heat in the middle of the day was could be pulverising. One day, the temperature rose to 42 – 43 Celsius, which I found very tough to handle as air conditioning was not always available in all parts of the camp! But for me, this is what adventure travel was about and being outside of my comfort zone added to the experience.
The final stage of the tour was to spend some time in Johannesburg (that was much cooler temperature-wise!!), which included a tour of Soweto, an epicentre of the fight against apartheid.
Our tour of Soweto covered the key sights such as the Apartheid Museum and the cultural district. Soweto was a moving place. Monuments to those who had lost their lives in the struggle against apartheid were numerous. Extreme poverty and wealth were side by side, but at the same time, the city was colourful, vibrant, had a fantastic buzz and was home to very hospitable people. Being in Soweto also allowed me to taste food of a more traditional Southern African nature, which for a foodie like me, was just a great experience. Over lunch, our guide tried to teach some words of the Zulu language (which I have long since forgotten!).
We finished the tour by driving past the stadium used for the football World Cup final and the Johannesburg commercial centre. Unfortunately, Johannesburg can be a little risky for the uninitiated due to some areas of the city having a high crime rate. Therefore, evenings were spent in the hotel! On the final day, I met up with a friend who I knew from university, before heading back to the airport for the long trip back.
My time in South Africa was incredible. Prior to travelling there, I would have thought that Africa was inaccessible for someone in a wheelchair. But Endeavour Safaris made this possible. Their guides were very helpful, the hotels were wheelchair accessible and their van was specially adapted for a wheelchair passenger. South Africa was a brilliant adventure and I cannot recommend enough anyone else taking up a similar challenge to explore a wonderful part of the world!
By Srin Madipalli