by Deborah Davis
Our Journey from Florida to Cape Town started In Johannesburg. Due to an extremely long flight with a required de-boarding and refueling in Dakar, I needed to stretch out and lie down and take a hot bath! The perfect place to do this ended up being the Hotel Inter-Continental Hotel, located right within the Joburg Airport. All we had to do was collect our bags and walk across the airport road to this elegant, modern and upscale hotel for a much needed recharge. A wonderful dinner in the hip dining room, and a beautiful accessible room made this a great start to my introduction to SA!
Early the next morning, we took a flight to Port Elizabeth, a good kick off point for the Scenic Garden Route drive to Cape Town. The Garden Route drive is nothing less than an exceptional experience that provides the window to why South Africa is considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It is approximately 8 hours from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, and every mile is photo worthy. So get you camera ready, you will want to take nonstop pictures along the way!
First stop is for lunch in Jeffrey’s Bay. This Beach is popular with surfers and with a strong push up a steep hill; I was able to dine at the “Kitchen Window” which gave me my first SA dolphin sighting!
We decide to break up the full day drive with a stop in the quaint coastal town of Knysna along the famous “Garden Route” to get to Cape Town. The lovely Protea Hotel had an accessible room, yet unfortunately the view was not of the amazing water views, but down to the parking lot. This happens often when it comes to accessible rooms, as they tend to be placed in the least attractive locations on a property. We really need to advocate trying to change this!
From Knysna, we had only 4 more hours along garden route to Cape Town with more outstretched lands to take in, and farms that make you understand why the meat and food taste so good! All natural and no chemicals, just grass feed, free range, local and healthy!
We arrive in Cape Town! While the original hotel we had booked, The Ambassador Hotel, had one of the most amazing cliff top views directly down onto the ocean and rocks below from the hip restaurant, the actual designated handicapped room was across a busy street from the main hotel. I just could not bring myself to accept the possibility of being run over while crossing the road in a wheelchair. After it took me a 22 hour plane trip from Florida, a short flight from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth and an 8 hour drive to get here, I had no intention of staying anywhere that I did not feel completely comfortable or safe.
So the Hotel referred us to a partner Hotel that they knew had an accessible room available nearby. “Wonderful!” I thought until I learned the option came with a price tag: R6000 rand a night (that was $600 US at the time)! “Ok I said, I don’t care, it is one night, it is the only accessible room available (at very short notice and that was nearby, in town). I am ready to settle in, let’s go!
The Victoria and Alfred Hotel: Our Unplanned but Fortunate Alternate Oasis
This Hotel ended up being the piece de la resistance of the trip. The view, I believe should hold a place on the list of “The Best Hotel Views in the World”. The "handicapped accessible” room's view is revealed via two outward opening large bay windows looking down directly onto the harbour and waterfront and then up to the most breathtaking Table Mountain in the distance.
"Welcome to the Victoria and Alfred Hotel Madame"! We found a disabled parking spot right in front (used my FL handicapped tag), and a bellman came to greet us at our car and brought up luggage. A small elevator right off the lobby took us up to the 2nd floor of this 3 story former shipping warehouse built in 1904, and converted in 1990 to this luxury hotel. It is named in honour of the Queen of England and her son, Prince Alfred“This landmark hotel is perfectly situated in the heart of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and offers spectacular views of the working harbour and Table Mountain. Walk in the utmost safety to some of the finest retail outlets from designer stores to restaurants, craft markets, cinemas, boat cruises to Robben Island and entertainment in the amphitheater.”
Double wide hallways lead to the extra-large rooms that are best described as “elegant contemporary”. The windows beckon you and open outwardly with the white billowing sheers giving way to the sights, sounds, and views that make this room, and this experience worth the splurge!
If you want a shower, then the accessible room has one with a small pull down wooden slate bench seat, or if you want to soak, a large tub with grab bars. The bathroom toilet is a good height for transfers, and has grab bars, but there is a folding door track that is a little awkward to go over and position yourself next to toilet-but it is definitely doable!
The rate comes with breakfast and champagne mimosas you can refill yourself from chilled Moet and Chandon bottles in a large ornate silver basin…nice touch! Sumptuous buffet, and made to order a la carte eggs, bacon etc. will leave you feeling like you definitely got your money’s worth, and a nice relaxed start to the day . There is outdoor and indoor patio seating, with small chandeliers over tables and bright fresh flowers in the vases. To access the dining room via wheelchair, you need to go outside the front entry off the elevator and down the outside ramp toward the waterfront and either stay on the outside and dine along the waterfront, or enter a door on the same level to sit inside the enclosed sun room.
The location on the waterfront harbor is perfect for just strolling around and exploring the smaller boutique shops featuring local artisans, visiting the other large and glamorous hotel properties located near (but not directly on, like the V&A) the waterfront, and taking in the numerous authentic African street performances that take place throughout the large quayside complex. You can walk to the Two Seas Aquarium, The Victoria Wharf shopping complex, a folk art complex, Nobel Square (Peace prize laureates Statues in bronze) or the many restaurants to choose from. I suggest you do not skip going to the top rated Belgian Den Anker restaurant and have the pot of beer infused mussels, salmon plate, French fries (called “pomme frites” and served with mustard mayonnaise instead of ketchup-which, if you must have, you ask for “tomato sauce”) and Belgium chocolate sundae! TO DIE FOR!!!! Here is a link to their Terrace menu: http://www.denanker.co.za/Terrace_Menu_Den_Anker.pdf
After the waterfront, the real must see attraction is the big beauty that makes up your window, the glorious Table Mountain. A fully accessible, exciting lift takes you up, up and away, all the way to the very top for a walk around the mountain’s flat top surface pathways. The views from that 3567 ft. (1087 meters) height are what can usually only be described by pilots and mountain climbers. Awesome!
After Table Mountain, continue up to Stellenbosch and stay the night at one of the accessible resorts there, spending at least a day taking a wine tasting tour of the many fully accessible wineries in the region. The region puts out a guide book that will highlight those wineries that are accessible: http://www.cadek.co.za/swr/. Breathtaking beauty, fresh and sumptuous delicacies on outdoor balconies, and charming, elegant and visually stunning winery views are a treat to all the senses. This wine region, which is said to be the start of the longest wine route in the world, is a must not miss minimum one day and overnight excursion from Cape Town.
by Bill Forrester
Two and a half hours north of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal lies the Elephant Coast on the north Indian Ocean coast of South Africa. The Elephant Coast stretches from St Lucia in the south to Kosi Bay in the north and encompasses a vast array of activities from Big 5 game viewing, whale watching, bird watching, encounters with hippos and crocodiles, turtle tracking, scuba diving, visits to cultural villages in the heart of the Zulu Kingdom or just relaxing on the pristine beaches of the Indian Ocean.The region has a conservation ethos with the HluhluweiMfolozi Park and lake St Lucia having been under formal conservation since 1895. In 1999 the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was inscribed as South Africa’s first world heritage site.The Elephant Coast has one other feature that statistics alone cant cant convey, if is a feeling of stepping back in time and immersing yourself in a culture of Africa that has been forgotten and overly commercialized in other parts of the country. It is both safe and extremely friendly. It final great advantage is that it is an extremely accessible destination that allows a wheelchair tourist to experience the majesty of Africa’s big game.Hluhluwe is the oldest and second largest game reserve in South Africa and contains the mandatory “Big 5” (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino). It is world renown for saving the White Rhino from possible extinction and today has the largest population of Black Rhino in Africa. The park gives a feel of a true African adventure with its rolling hills dense forest and thornveld valleys. The park is open to private vehicles and has good roads throughout. Most of our travels were done with our car hired from Durban International Airport. We encountered herds of buffalo, giraffe, rhino, warthog, zebra and elephants with one very memorable close encounter. Driving is easy and well signed throughout, but often the best trick is to just stop by a river or waterhole and wait.Accessible accommodation is available within the park at Hilltop Camp. As the name suggests it is a beautiful lodge perched high on the ridge line giving commanding views over the park. Apart from the rooms with roll in showers the main complex is very well designed with wide entrances and flat flooring throughout giving easy access to the dinning room and bar areas. The outside terraced area is two level with a very gently sloping ramp connecting both levels and giving a great place to relax over a drink and talk about the days encounters as the sun sets over the park. Accessible facilities are available within the complex both for overnight guests or visitors wanting a convenient place to stop for lunch or morning tea.For those wishing to stay outside the park Bonamanzi private game reserve and lodge has a fully accessible unit. The lodge area is again very well equipped with level wide and smooth pathways connection all areas. The dinning facilities have easy access as does the elevated viewing area over the lake with gentle sloping ramps onto the platform. Bonamanzi is a private reserve and it has its own game drives including night drives. The open topped game vehicles are accessible via a purpose built wheelchair loading area.If you are after a guided tour of the Elephant Coast Access2Africa safaris runs a series of inclusive itineraries from Durban including transport, game drives, scenic tours, activities and accommodation. Jennae will put together an individual tour as well to meet your specific needs.If you have ever wanted to experience the “wilds of africa” the Elephant Coast is a perfect and very accessible way to do it.
Addo Elephant park is the third largest in South Africa. It is situated 72km by road from Port Elizabeth. Established in 1931 to saverds great wildlife viewing on well maintained roads throughout from the comfort of your own vehicle.
The park has several innovative features for the disabled traveller.
Accessible Discovery Trail
Close to the main park camp is the 2km PPC Discovery trail. From the two disabled car parking bays, that are wide enough to take side loading vans, the path winds through the thicket. The trail is made from a reconstituted plastic material called polywood, giving an extremely smooth ride for wheelchair uses. The path is interspersed with interpretive centres and displays explaining the natural vegetation and wildlife making up Addo's bushveld. For the visually impaired the path is edged with ropes for guidance and at each interpretative centre the displays ar
11 Elephants on the brink of extinction, and is now home to more than 350 of them, 280 Cape Buffalo, black Rhino, a range of Antelope species, as well as the rare flightless dung Beetle. The park affoe also presented in braille.
Main Camp Waterhole
At the main camp there s a floodlight viewing area that overlooks the waterhole for night viewing. The viewing area is easily accessed via the main path from the car park down a smooth gentle slope. Barriers are at a height that makes viewing easy from wheelchair height.
Another great feature of Addo is the bird hide situated just opposite the entrance to the viewing platform. Again the hide is accessed through a smooth pathway up a very gentle slope from the car park. Once inside all viewing slites have been design for a seated position. There is ample room either side of the provided seating for wheelchair users.
Accessible accommodation with roll in shower facilities are available at the main camp area. Addo can be very popular, especially in the main tourist seasons for it is advisable to book in advance. The park offers a truly great wildlife experience for people with disabilities.
Address: 2180 Ballarto Rd, Cardinia, AustraliaRetail Office: 17 Wells St, FrankstonToll Free: 1300 722 683Travel Agency: 03 9 781 3733Mobile: +61 4 1769 0533Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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by Deborah Davis
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