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Inside South Africa’s first luxury wheelchair-friendly safari lodge

While many safari lodges claim to be ‘accessible’, Ximuwu Safari Lodge is the first to provide a true luxury experience in a built-for-purpose wheelchair-friendly environment.

Dutch couple Elly and Patrick Suverein fell in love with the bush and wildlife of South Africa 30 years ago. It was their first visit to the country and it ignited a lifelong passion for the region within them. In 2016, Elly and Patrick purchased their own plot of land there, with the intention of building a private home for themselves. It was a decision that led the pair to become leaders in the accessible travel space.

Located in Klaserie Private Nature Reserve adjacent to Greater Kruger National Park, the property had little more than a few small, old buildings, a waterhole and electricity when the couple procured it, says Elly. “The location is only a 40-minute drive from town, it has quite open plains and a big, open area close to camp where we were able to create a dirt airstrip – which was on my wishlist,” says Elly, a pilot who flies her own Cessna. “Our love for animals always existed, even when we lived in Europe, but living in the bush and being able to see the wildlife every day was our dream. Even after living here for six years, waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of roaring lions is amazing.”

The suites at Ximuwu Safari Lodge
© Ximuwu Safari Lodge

Wheelchair accessible accommodation

A commercial safari camp was never Elly and Patrick’s intention for the land, it was an idea that developed organically. “As a European couple living in South Africa, we had lots of friends and family who stayed with us and after a few years we decided to build a separate house for our guests,” says Patrick. The couple employed a chef and a guide to staff the property, only for COVID to hit in 2020, and Patrick required back surgery for a pre-existing medical condition shortly after.

“Unfortunately, the surgery didn’t go well and I ended up in a wheelchair for a few months. That made us realise how difficult it is to travel as a wheelchair user in general, and that there were no luxury lodges that cater for someone in a wheelchair,” says Patrick.

It was this realisation that inspired the pair to change their plans of a guesthouse into a luxury wheelchair accessible lodge for the exclusive use of small travelling parties. “After COVID, a lot of people wanted to travel with their own group of friends and family,” says Patrick. “Wheelchair users also encounter staring and impolite treatment in their daily life, so we wanted to create an environment where they could holiday with friends and family in peace.”

the deck at Ximuwu Safari Lodge
© Ximuwu Safari Lodge

Ximuwu Safari Lodge

Given their personal experience, Elly and Patrick designed a lodge that was not only wheelchair accessible but prioritised those in a chair. Ximuwu Safari Lodge was designed with wide halls and doors, and door frames that fit flush against the floors to create uninterrupted smooth surfaces. Stairs and steps were avoided where possible and a ramp was positioned at the entry. Sliding doors ensure ease of access for all, and the communal area features a bathroom with electric doors, a pool with a lift, and a wheelchair-accessible spa treatment room and underground photographic hide. The private rooms feature electric adjustable beds, a roll-in shower and a bathtub with a lift – even the outdoor shower is accessible in a chair. The private suites are 100 square metres to allow plenty of turning room for wheels, and the entire concept adheres to an earthy aesthetic that sits harmoniously within the natural environment.

“There’s so much more to being wheelchair accessible than amenities. We’ve trained our staff to treat guests in wheelchairs just like anyone else, there to assist in whatever way we can while maintaining our guests’ desired level of independence,” says Elly. “Our guests in chairs will enjoy the exact same experience as those who aren’t, which is only possible because of the thought and equipment we’ve invested into the property.”

A wheelchair accessible drive viewer | a wheelchair accessible helicopter
© Ximuwu Safari Lodge

Wheelchair accessible travel and experiences

Although Ximuwu Safari Lodge isn’t the first accessible lodge, it is the first luxury wheelchair accessible lodge. “A lodge may claim to be accessible and have ramps, an accessible bathroom or carry you to the front seat of a game viewer, but they don’t have the accessible luxury features that we do,” says Patrick, and he has the receipts to prove it. Ximuwu Safari Lodge provides an accessible van for airport transfers that caters to a wheelchair in the back and a BraunAbility swivel chair for easy access in front. The gameviewer has been fitted with two slide-out seats that can be easily used from ramps, and portable ramps to take on safari drives so guests can stop for a gourmet dining experience on location. There’s also a helicopter that caters to wheelchair users included in the rates. Add to this the wheelchair accessible spa space and photographic hides, private chef and bespoke menus, Ximuwu is a full-service luxury property.

wheelchair accessible photographic hide and woman in wheelchair walking a safari path
© Ximuwu Safari Lodge

Ximuwu Safari Lodge is for the private and exclusive use of four to eight guests and facilitates activities such as game drives, sound safari, night safari with thermal vision, bushwalks, spa treatments, helicopter flights, and a sleep-out deck experience. Located just 20 minutes from the Hoedspruit (Eastgate) Airport, guests can utilise Ximuwu’s transfer service or fly directly to the property if travelling by private charter. 

A pool lift for wheelchair users
© Ximuwu Safari Lodge

According to Patrick and Elly, guests report that a safari travel experience is the best inclusive holiday, besides a cruise. Guests only have to be transported from their chairs to the game viewer – which is where all the action happens on drives – or enjoy a meal on the patio where animals walk right by. “If you’re at a truly accessible lodge, it’s the most comfortable and easy way of going on holiday,” says Elly. “It’s often underestimated how many people around the world face walking difficulties or are bound to a wheelchair, and they have the right to travel in comfort and luxury just like everyone else.”

Visit the Ximuwu Safari Lodge website for more information.

Read more:
Ol Jogi safari lodge in Kenya is eco-conscious luxury at its finest
An expert guide to planning a luxury safari
Inside Botswana’s breathtaking safari lodge

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