The African bush is an experience unlike many others and every drive or walk into the wild offers a new adventure never to be repeated again – no matter how many times a day or a lifetime. The guarantee of spectacular scenery, the anticipation of watching wild animals roam freely or the pure excitement after glimpsing some rare and powerful creature makes any trip to the bush worthwhile.
Growing up in the city, I experienced my first bush adventure in my late teens when my husband first introduced me. It was love at first sight for me and we have been fortunate to spend quite a bit of time as a couple and later as a family, exploring its incredible diversity. But, until May 2016 our visits were limited to a more natural, “down-to-earth”, rugged approach with most of life’s luxuries left at home and although I have never been as at-home in those circumstances as my bush-baby hubby, I didn’t mind roughing it, as long as I was there!
During all of the years of visiting various game parks or private game farms I had enjoyed many game drives with our very own personal guide – my hubby on our own Jeep and other 4×4’s. But, nevertheless, I always wanted to experience the difference, if any, on one of those “fancy”, green or khaki canopied 4×4’s, driven around by uniformed game rangers, stopping for sundowners or lounging on a pool deck with wild animals roaming around like some scene in a movie. So in May 2016, my daughter and I booked our first 5-star experience at Nambiti Plains Private Game Lodge near Ladysmith in KZN.
Just to refresh about my rating criteria:
My criteria for reviewing accessibility in public establishments are simple and I’ll try to stick to my fields of expertise, ultimately sharing my ♿️rating out of 5. Although I include aspects such as food, my focus will always remain accessibility. Criteria will include:
- Overall space: table height, floor space, 180 and 360 turning space, etc.
- Floor surface: carpets, level changes, texture
- Entrances: automatic door opener, door width, ramp, etc.
- Toilet facilities: handles, grab bar, sink height, stall measurements, etc.
- Outdoor space
- Staff Awareness
REVIEW: 5-STAR GAME LODGE AND AFRICAN BUSH EXPERIENCE
Nambiti Plains Private Game Lodge
Choosing our first 5-star, African bush experience was not easy at all since KZN has an abundance of well established and widely advertised game parks and lodges that compete to make that final booking. Our choice was influenced by distance from Durban, value for cost and reviews from others’ experiences and while I did my homework I couldn’t find any reviews posted by other physically disabled visitors – so I just made the call in the end. Like any other trip, my planning included a detailed email to the Game Lodge to provide background about my challenges and to make the necessary enquiries and finally, armed with the responses I received, I made our booking.
Considering that I had provided information about my physical challenges and that I was familiar with the information on Nambiti’s website, we expected to spend about 2½ hours on the road from Durban to the lodge and that we would be able to get around fairly easily and independently once we were there.
Traveling at an average speed of 100-120km/h we arrived at Nambiti after more than 3½ hours on the road, despite fairly quiet road conditions and only a quick pitstop along the way.
Note: Add another hour to your travel duration if you are traveling to Nambiti from Durban!
- Parking (&4×4 vehicles): – Upon arrival at Nambiti’s main entrance, we were directed to a designated parking area where we were instructed to leave our vehicle, since no private visitor vehicles are allowed to travel around freely on the property. The parking area accommodated several vehicles in a shed-type structure and although under cover, the dirt and gravel ground surface made for some tricky manoeuvring to the 4×4 that awaited us, despite me bringing along my “bush” chair with its broader tyres.
- A designated game ranger was there to chauffeur us to the lodge and we had no problem with that since we had absolutely planned on doing the “fancy 4×4 being-driven-around” thing and even enjoyed our first sighting of a beautiful kudu on the way! Upon arrival at the Nambiti Plains Lodge parking area though, given that I had provided ample information and background on my physical challenges, we had expected some form of a platform or other method to get off the vehicle. However, apart from climbing or clambering down or being lifted off the vehicle there no alternatives were provided for disabled visitors, along with a fairly uneven road surface in the lodge’s parking area . For the next 3 days getting in and out of the vehicle would require the same exercise.
Note: If you are completely immobile your only choice will be to accept the offer of sitting in the passenger seat of the vehicle with the game ranger/driver to allow for easier entry and exit into and out of the 4×4. Although the view will not be as expanded as sitting in the canopied seats, the challenges of getting in and out will be vastly reduced.
- Entrance – Arriving at Nambiti our expectations were at an all-time high and we had visions of Out of Africa and scarves billowing in the wind while gazing at our favourite animals. But first, we had to get into our room to don that first safari outfit. Tricky.
- The staff that awaited us with a chilled fruit juice, kindly offered to assist us to get down the stairs and onto the ramp going down to the lodge. Yep, there were stairs from the car park onto the ramp, two smaller ones and then a really high step connecting parking and ramp. We managed those steps and continued down an inclined ramp towards the lodge where we encountered another couple of steps at the front entrance. Once inside the front doors, we were really surprised to see a whole number of stairs going down to the dining area – where we would enjoy our meals throughout our stay.
- After signing in we were directed to our suite, so it was back up the stairs, back up the ramp, down another step, along another ramp toward our suite with another step awaiting us at our entrance into our room.
- On our second night at Nambiti we were scheduled to enjoy dinner in the boma with local entertainment for the guests. Unfortunately we encountered the entrance to the boma really challenging with only a staircase leading into that area.
- Entrance to the pool unfortunately also required descending stairs and we were “lucky” that it was well into autumn, suggesting that we did not need the pool to cool us down.
Note: Any wheelchair bound person and even those with other, less limiting physical challenges will find all of the entrances into the lodge and several of its facilities either impossible or at the very least extremely challenging. Despite it’s breathtaking aesthetics, don’t even consider it on your own!
- Overall Space – Once inside the room/suite, space is ample. The suite is designed as an open-plan space, including a bedroom, bathroom, outdoor shower and deck area, with 180° windows and doors that provide an incredible view of the plains, and additional space on the deck.
- Space inside the dining area is, however, fairly limited in terms of accessibility. The stylish decor and furniture pieces in the lounge/fireplace area unfortunately reduced the accessibility within those areas.
- Flooring – All ramps providing access into the lodge and suites are made from decking/wood and floors in all other areas are screeted concrete. Floor surfaces were therefore generally easy to manage independently, although I can imagine that walkways/ramps can get pretty slippery when it rains.
- Bathroom and Toilet Facilities – Bathroom facilities in our suite did not accommodate wheelchair visitors. No grab rails of any sort were provided at the free standing bath and although the showers, both inside and outside are large enough to accommodate a wheelchair, there are not seats installed should someone need that option. The double basins did not accommodate wheelchair users to wheel in under the basin.
Note: While aesthetics and luxury most certainly can’t be faulted at Nambiti, accessibility unfortunately was lacking in all of the bathroom and toilet facilities.
- Staff Awareness – Although Nambiti’s staff members were generally helpful, attentive and forthcoming, they were not geared to deal with someone in my position and did not know how to assist me.
Some General Thoughts
Nambiti is an incredible choice as a 5-star game lodge for able bodied visitors. Our experience of an elephant herd drinking water from the pool while we were having lunch on the deck – not once but twice! – is a memory I will treasure forever. It truly felt like I had been airdropped onto a safari movie set!
The attention to detail during each game drive, the warmed blankets on the seat of our 4×4 in the morning, the carefully chosen spot for sunset drinks and snacks and the close up encounters with lion and elephant exceeded our expectations entirely. Every meal was tastefully prepared, delicious and more than we could have asked for. Unfortunately, due to the inaccessibility of the entrance into the lodge, we were not able to enjoy the coffee and muffin offered before each game drive since we would not have made it in time.
Regrettably, as much as I will definitely recommend Nambiti Plains for able bodied visitors, it is not a destination I will recommend for disabled visitors, unless a couple of fairly easy changes are made in terms of access and bathroom facilities.
I am saddened to say that, based on my experience as a disabled visitor, I cannot give Nambiti a ♿️rating at all.