Travelling is something that I love and I am determined to make sure that having FA does not impact on my ambition to see the world! Visiting Tanzania to trek up Mount Kilimanjaro whetted my appetite to see more of Africa, so this year I decided to see what adventures South Africa would hold for me.

Travelling with a disability need not be as daunting as people think

Firstly, preparation is important - I like to do online research and plan as much as I can before I travel, minimizing the hurdles one may experience with a wheelchair. For example, before I went, I booked online tickets for Robben Island and Table Mountain, bypassing any queuing on the day. This helped a lot.

Secondly, never be too proud to ask for help – I find that people are kind and always want to help, albeit sometimes too much!! 

Thirdly, don’t be a wallflower and when you arrive at attractions, find an official. Without exception I found they would happily take me to the front of any queue.

The Adventure Begins…

For this trip, my dad, his partner and I travelled together. We based the trip around three centres: Johannesburg, Cape Town and Kruger Park.

To get to South Africa we flew from Heathrow Airport using KLM (a company we had use before). We booked online and registered at the booking time what assistance I required. 

Both airline and airport are a great example of how to provide assistance to disabled people. Even when our flight was delayed because of bad weather and we missed our connection in Amsterdam, KLM were able to put us up overnight in a nearby hotel which met my disability needs and transferred us to the airport the following morning to catch our rearranged flight.

Johannesburg

Johannesburg (or Jo’burg or Jozi) is an incredibly friendly, warm and vibrant city, and there’s a lot to see and do here. We had already arranged accessible transfer from the airport to our chosen accommodation through a contact we were fortunate to have in Jo’burg .  

We were based at Hands On Retreat in Craighall, a guest house and spa. From here we were able to tour Jo’burg, using the same service that had transferred us from the airport, to visit the Apartheid Museum, Nelson Mandela’s House in Soweto, the Carlton Centre Tower, Gold Reef City and the Hector Peiterson Monument.

We were pleasantly surprised at how similar wheelchair accessibility was in Jo’burg compared with the UK. Although we made good use of my wheelchair freewheel around the streets, all of the above mentioned places are wheelchair accessible without the need for a freewheel.

Cape Town

South Africa’s mother city, with its wonderful beaches, vineyards in abundance and of course scenic national parks captures people's hearts. It certainly captured mine. 

We flew from Jo’burg to Cape Town using FlySafair, having already booked the flights online before we left the UK.  Again we were able to book the assistance required at the time of booking.  Our experience at Jo’burg Tambo and the airline we used was not as smooth flowing as we would have liked and next time we would choose another airline. Sometimes you just have to smile and grit your teeth!  However, on our return, the assistance provided at Cape Town Airport and Jo’burg Tambo was very good. 

In Cape Town, we stayed at Epic House which met my needs as a wheelchair user and made full use of Epic Enabled’s tours in and around Cape Town including: transfers to and from the airport; visiting Robben Island; visiting Table Mountain National Park; watching Paragliding from Signal Hill; wine tasting in Stellenbosch; visiting the penguins in Simons Town; visiting the Cape of Good Hope National Park and Cape point.

In all the places we visited (for example on the ferry across to Robben Island) I found the staff very helpful and accommodating.  To get around I found my freewheel of great assistance especially on Robben Island (essential), Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope National Park. But, as with Jo’burg, accessibility again was favourably comparable to the UK, especially in the shopping malls and accessible toilets.

Kruger Park

In terms of wildlife, Kruger is recognised as one of the world's greatest national parks.

We booked direct via the Park’s website, and stayed in an accessible cottage in Skukuza Camp. Although Kruger Park has its own airport, we opted to be driven from Jo’burg to Kruger Park so that we could see the beautiful countryside that SA has to offer.  The trip from Jo’burg to Kruger Park takes around four to five hours with a choice of service stations, all of which had wheelchair accessible facilities.

The animals were amazing and all the big five came out to see us: African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros!

Although the tour vehicles were not accessible, the guides and drivers were more than happy to help lift me in and out, which meant that I could take full advantage of the different safari drives available at sunrise, sunset, night time and all day.

Returning home

With the internet now, planning and booking is very easy but beware: some websites state accommodation is wheelchair accessible when this is clearly not the case. (I found the accommodation websites below were all wheelchair accessible.) When planning trips in general, I find contacting accommodation direct via email asking for photographs of the facilities helps a lot.

Visiting South Africa was an experience I will never forget and I cannot recommend South Africa enough.  As the Lonely Planet says ~There's something about the rainbow nation that just grabs hold and won’t let go”. Now for my next adventure…

Useful websites

For this trip to SA I found the following websites extremely helpful:

http://www.rollingsa.co.za/ detailing many activities available for wheelchair users.

https://www.handiscover.com/ giving an indication of which accommodation would be suitable for me.

https://www.handsonretreat.co.za/ Indirectly through Handiscover we found Hands On Retreat, which provided us with accessible accommodation during our stay in Jo’burg

http://epic-enabled.com/  Through Handiscover we found Epic House in Cape Town and their sister company, Epic Enabled.

https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/  From this website I was able to find out that I could book a wheelchair accessible cottage in Kruger Park direct and arrange safari drives

https://www.gofreewheel.com/ Freewheel

https://www.klm.com KLM

https://www.schiphol.nl/en/ Airport Schipol.

https://www.apartheidmuseum.org/ Apartheid Museum- No need to book in advance

http://www.mandelahouse.com/  Nelson Mandela’s House in Soweto- No need to book in advance

http://www.gauteng.net/attractions/carlton_centre   The Carlton Centre Tower- no need to book in advance

http://www.southafrica.net/za/en/articles/entry/article-southafrica.net-gold-reef-city Gold Reef City- No need to book in advance

http://www.gauteng.net/attractions/hector_pieterson_memorial_and_museum/   Hector Peiterson Monument. Free no booking required

http://webtickets.co.za/events/tourism/robben-island-museum-tour/76219  Robben island booking

https://www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain/   Table Mountain National Park, Boulders Beach (penguin colony), Cape of Good Hope National Park, and Signal Hill – Booking in advance helps

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/  Lonely Planet