Exploring the far North

Every eager traveller should trek up across the Tropic of Capricorn, into the Limpopo Valley and visit Mapungubwe National Park. Not only is it a big five destination and a World Heritage Site, it is also the location of South Africa’s oldest trade settlement and the spot where the Golden Rhino (symbol of the Limpopo Province) was unearthed.

The area has also inspired South Africa’s highest domestic honour that the President can bestow on any of our citizens, the Order of Mapungubwe. The order is named after Mapungubwe, an ancient African nation which existed a thousand years ago. Figureheads in South African history like Cecil John Rhodes and Jan Christian Smuts both had homes in the land now forming part of the park and the region has a fascinating history of trade, smuggling, poaching and all things associated with a quick flight into any of the three neighbouring countries. It was proclaimed as a botanic reserve in the 1920s, but then de-proclaimed in the 1940s because of its farming and strategic importance. With forests of Baobabs, and groves of Fever Trees and Lala palms, the impressive gallery forest along the banks of the Limpopo river makes for a mesmerising photographic opportunity. The remarkable flora and sandstone hills in the East and the floodplains in the West are perfectly juxtaposed to create a scenic balance. There are over 400 bird species as it is a habitat convergence zone between the dry Western Kalahari thornveld and moister Lowveld and Mopane woodlands.

We have explored various accessible accommodation options in Leokwe, Limpopo Forest and Mazhou Camps in previous issues of Rolling Inspiration. I am pleased to update all readers on the fact that the pathways around the confluence of the tree top boardwalk at the Limpopo riverine forest, have recently been bricked to make them easier to navigate in a wheelchair.

However, the biggest addition in recent times was the opening of the World Heritage Interpretive Centre at the start of 2012 (architecturally the building was voted World Building of the Year in 2010 in the year of its construction) and despite its location on a hillside, attention has been given to make sure it is accessible. The cobbled floor finish in the exhibit halls has been shaved down to be more suitable for wheelchair passage and there are wooden and stone ramps linking the various levels, as well as accessible bathroom facilities. The World Heritage Interpretive Centre also has a fully accessible restaurant and conference facilities.

There is a glorious aura at Mapungubwe, one that makes your senses tingle with that feeling that you are not alone – it is where the spirits of our ancestors roam afterall.

Blue flag accessible beaches in South Africa

South Africa was the first country outside of Europe to win Blue Flag accreditation for its beaches. After 12 years, 36 of our beaches have been awarded Blue Flag status for the 2012/2013 season, while 13 beaches are in the pilot stage. A Blue Flag is an international award given to beaches that meet excellence in the areas of safety, amenities, cleanliness and environmental standards. The strict criteria of the programme are set by the international coordinators of the Blue Flag campaign in Europe, the Foundation for Environmental Education. The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) manages the Blue Flag programme in South Africa.

Many of the coastal municipalities are offering “beach wheelchairs”, but if there are no accessible facilities such as accessible parking bays, pathways, change rooms and WC’s, then these beaches should not be eligible for Blue Flag status. In order to qualify for Blue Flag status, we have to showcase at least one Blue Flag beach that has the correct facilities for persons with disabilities.

On a recent trip to Port Elizabeth, I was asked by Morgan Griffiths, the Conservation Officer for the Eastern Province Region of WESSA, to visit Kings Beach to check the facilities for persons with disabilities. They are in the process of renovating the beach approach area, as well as the facilities and it is about 80% complete. It was great to see paved pathways, a cement walkway to the beach and a ramped area to the cloakrooms, but the signage had not been put up and there was only one accessible wet room which was attached to the First Aid room. The layout and hardware (taps, basins, shower seats, etc.) were not up to our building regulations, and sadly – the newly renovated general cloakrooms had been done to standard building regulations.

Not incorporating the Universal Access Design principles has meant that the vanity areas with sloping basins and taps on the back wall, are too high for children, wheelchair users or persons of short stature. The showers are wide and long enough to accommodate wheelchairs, but there is a step at the entrance which needs to be addressed. However, they did assure me that in the low season (May – November), all these issues will be corrected. There are even plans to build an accessible and eco-friendly boardwalk along the dunes and the Municipality is looking into the possibility of offering a facility provided by most European cities and towns – selling a universal key which opens all accessible WC’s throughout the municipal area.

Happy Travel !