Happiness in Hoedspruit

On the recommendation of another contributor, Mandy Latimore set out to the bush to learn more about the Little Africa Safari Lodge

One of the Rolling Inspiration columnists informed me of a new lodge in the Hoedspruit area that had been built by a person with a disability. This really got me interested. Hugo Bekker, a quadriplegic, his wife Leandra built and completed the Little Africa Safari Lodge just before the first lockdown in 2020.

I jumped onto the website and was immediately excited when I saw that the accommodation was in safari tents. Most lodges that offer safari tents as an option don’t make the tents accessible.

After contacting the owners to see if they were keen to have me visit, I set about researching all the aspects of the area and travel options.

Hoedspruit, which is Afrikaans and translates to “hat creek”, was given its name by the original land owner after he lost his hat during a flash flood in Zandspruit. Hats were very important items in those days and not easily replaced!

Hoedspruit sits in the central lowveld between the Kruger Park and Blyde River Canyon, in the heart of the UNESCO registered Kruger to Canyons Biosphere. It is home to the largest privately owned conservancy in the world.

There are various ways to reach the lodge. The easiest is to fly in from OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) or Cape Town to the Hoedspruit Airport. There is a shuttle service from ORTIA that drives guests to Hoedspruit, however, it does not operate every day – especially since and during the lockdown. It will travel up at any time for small groups, but individuals would need to contact them for travel dates and times.

The other option is to self-drive, which is a great way to see the country. But, beware! The roads are not in the greatest shape and one has to dodge potholes. It’s worth it when stopping in Dullstroom for the famous Harrie’s Pancakes.

Little Africa Safari Lodge is situated within the Moditlo reserve, which lies within the 10 000 hectare Blue Canyon private conservancy. There are seven luxury tents with five overlooking the Moditlo river. Each tent has their own paved path access with a step-free ramp onto the patio with chairs and a coffee table.

The lodge has been designed with wheelchair users in mind. It boasts step-free rooms and a general area, which includes the dining area.

Enjoy private interactions with the game that stroll along the riverbed and feed off the green leaves from the bushes within a couple of metres of the patio.

There are glass sliding doors that offer easy access and amazing bush views from the bed! The wet room at the rear of the tent is accessed through wooden sliding doors and offers step-free access to the shower with a rustic tree stump holding up the basin and shower. Unit 1 has grab rails at the toilet and shower.

All the access routes within the lodge are paved with a colour contrasting edge and, on the whole, the ramp gradients are reasonably easy to use.

It is refreshing to see that the floor surfaces are all accessible in the general areas. The reception, lounge and dining area are all inter-leading with easy access to the bar area and pool. The sunbed area is up some stairs, but there is a small ramp to access this area. The private firepit area has ramped access as well.

The larger firepit in the boma is surrounded by sand, but there is paved access around the outer area. A large rubber mat is laid out to allow wheelchair users to sit on the sand with the rest of the guests and enjoy the fire.

There is a small team working at the lodge, including (from the left) chef Jeanette Mmola, maintenance man Munyaradzi Chatadza, manager Danielle Roux and waitress Thully Mahla Koane.

Due to the continued lockdown, there is a small team of staff, but their attention to detail and service was outstanding.

Manager Danielle Roux was always available to assist with any request and chef Jeanette Mmola created wonderful five-star meals with a range of delicious options from which to choose.

Game drives were especially exciting for me as, up until now, I have mostly sat in the passenger seat next to the driver or guide. This has its advantages as you get to chat with them about the local flora and fauna. However, it is a bit restrictive with the view as I’m short!

The Little Africa Safari Lodge has a small game drive vehicle with five seats for guests – one being a wheelchair space! Those who would like to stay in their wheelchair can access the vehicle via a platform lift at the back.

Hugo adjusted the vehicle himself and it is so special to be able to sit at the highest point of the vehicle and see the landscape! One just has to remember that this means ducking for branches and enjoying the rollercoaster type “ride” over the uneven areas of roads. There are larger vehicles for bigger groups as Moditlo River Lodge shares their vehicles with Little Africa Safari Lodge.

(From the left) Tracker Caswell Nyathi, Rolling Inspiration editor Mariska Morris, and driver Thomas Mkhabele.

The game within this conservancy is so calm and we managed to see the Big Five plus cheetahs and a hyena within our three-day visit with game sightings right next to the vehicles.

Of course, the babies are my favourite and we were extremely lucky to see the newest addition to their Ellie (elephant) herd – a three-week-old baby who came right up to the vehicle.

Mum was a little wary, but as we were stopped and turned off the engine, she calmly walked up to us with her little one peeking out at us.

Another really special sighting was at our drinks stop at one of the dams. There some hippos came over to check us out with a little baby riding on its mum’s back! Even when the adults were completely submerged, you could see the little head above the water – at times the body as well … too sweet.

Mandy was able to view a baby elephant with its herd during one of the game drives.

The night drives were exciting too with great owl and eagle sightings, and a male lion calling so close to the vehicle that you could feel the vibrations in your chest!

The game drive team is dedicated to showing their guests whatever is requested with the tracker often hopping off the vehicle to track the animals for a better sightings. They are also happy to stop and inform you of the various trees and their medicinal or other uses.

(From the left) Mandy Latimore seated at the back, top of the game drive vehicle thanks to dedicated wheelchair seating incorporated by the owners. Tracker Caswell Nyathi hands her some coffee while at a viewpoint.

We found a tree with abrasive leaves that can be used as a nail file! I was very happy to see the various birds available and even had a sighting of blue waxbills – something I had not previous seen in the bush

Their “cousins” the grey waxbills are the swarms of small LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) that one often sees flitting through the bush.

There are other interesting attractions within the area such as the Panoramic Route, Maholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre to name a few.

So, if you are interested in a bush getaway to restore your African soul and want effortless luxury, consider visiting Little Africa Safari Lodge – it’s worth it! Happy travels!

 

Read Heinrich Grimsehl’s personal account of staying at the lodge on page 21. Read more about Hugo and Leandra Bekker’s journey to building and running the Little Africa Safari Lodge in our first issue for 2022.


Mandy Latimore is a consultant in the disability sector in the fields of travel and access. email: mandy@noveltravel.co.za

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