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Accessibility meets luxury at Ximuwu Lodge, South Africa
By Alicia Williams

 

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As the African journeys of Netherlands couple, Patrick and Elly Suverein continued, their desire to make this vast and untamed land their permanent home grew stronger with every passing day. The pull of Africa’s majestic landscapes, vibrant cultures and enchanting wildlife became an irresistible force. And so, in 2017, with hearts brimming with anticipation and adventure, they made the monumental decision to bid farewell to their European life and embark on a new odyssey with their Ximuwu Lodge located in South Africa.

As time went by, they realized their haven needed visiting friends and family. The dream of a separate, intimate guest house was therefore conceived with solitude and privacy in mind—a sanctuary where groups can enjoy the grandeur of the South African landscape, live close to nature while savouring the sights and sounds of wildlife within the 6,500 hectares of their private nature reserve.

Their concept evolved organically, from a simple guest house to an ambitious yet intimate establishment. But destiny had one twist to offer. A failed back surgery temporarily bound Elly’s husband to a wheelchair, a period that resulted in profound revelation and subsequent reflection. In the midst of this challenging journey, they witnessed firsthand the hurdles faced by travellers with disabilities and the glaring absence of luxurious, wheelchair-friendly safari options. Their sojourns across Europe and South Africa revealed an unfortunate truth—many misconceptions and patronizing attitudes towards individuals with disabilities are pervasive, transcending borders. In airports and various corners of the world, they observed people speaking down to those in wheelchairs, presuming additional impairments. It was a disheartening revelation.

“When you’re in a wheelchair,” Elly said, “people think you also can’t talk so, for example, we were at the airport checking in for our flight and my husband was beside me in a wheelchair and the attendant asked me whether my husband was able to walk. I told him my husband could speak for himself, he was only in a wheelchair. Then they started to speak loudly to him as if he was deaf. People often treat someone in a wheelchair like they can’t do anything at all. So, they touch you, all the time and try to help you” she said. “They talk to you like you are a child.”

Having experienced this firsthand with her husband and knowing that “this feeling is not very nice at all,” all of Ximuwu Lodge’s staff are trained on how to treat guests with disabilities. “We always emphasize that this is another person just like you and me.”

It was during these personal experiences that the new Ximuwu Lodge vision took shape, one that transcended the ordinary and blossomed into the extraordinary. The luminous idea was born—to create an oasis of exclusivity, a high-end haven where accessibility and opulence would coalesce in perfect harmony. After Patrick regained his mobility, albeit with a few lingering challenges, their mission became deeply personal. They were determined to create an environment that upholds the dignity and independence of wheelchair users, where every guest is treated with the same respect and consideration.

Their sanctuary, Ximuwu Lodge, was therefore conceived with accessibility at its heart but without compromising on its aesthetic allure. Here, form and function merge seamlessly. They integrated ingenious features, from game vehicles with slide-out seats to accessible bush dinners under the star-studded African sky. Their spa, too, is designed with accessibility as its guiding principle, inviting every guest to experience its soothing embrace, equally.

Electric and manual wheelchairs stand ready to facilitate exploration, ensuring no guest is confined by their mobility. Their commitment extends to comprehensive transparency on their website www.wheelchairsafari.com which shows how wilderness meets luxury and highlights the meticulous consideration they placed on accessibility.

Their vision is singular—to provide an inclusive safari experience where mobility poses no barriers. Ximuwu has the capacity to host up to ten guests at a time, with specific provisions catering to the needs of two wheelchair users. Though they contemplate expansion to accommodate larger groups, their focus remains on preserving an intimate, exclusive ambiance.

A stay here is one that won’t soon be forgotten. Nights at the Lodge are a symphony of serenity, where the sounds of the wild become a soothing lullaby. Here, guests form a profound connection with nature, cocooned in a tranquil, secluded setting that stirs the soul. But Ximuwu Lodge is more than a destination; it indicates the owners’ unwavering commitment to caring about people and the environment.  A vegetable garden flourishes on their grounds, while a water purification system draws from a well, reducing reliance on plastic. They are also diligent in sourcing meat and fish.

Situated near Johannesburg, Ximuwu Lodge is a mere 45-minute flight or a six-hour drive from the city, a convenient gateway for international visitors. Recognizing the dearth of suitable transport options, they have added an accessible van to their services, ensuring a seamless journey for all. And for guests who want to do and see more, their connections in Cape Town allow them to recommend high-quality, accessible accommodations for those eager to explore beyond the safari Ximuwu offers.

Ximuwu clearly shows that accessible accommodations can be stylish and luxurious. Admittedly, this requires investments in facilities like pool lifts and many other thoughtful adaptations, but collaborating with experts and individuals who have firsthand experience of disabilities will ensure that the end result is something people of every ability can enjoy. Elly acknowledges that awareness is the catalyst for change and initiatives like Accessible Journeys play a pivotal role in educating and enlightening potential travellers about accessible options. She believes the advent of accessible travel guides is a monumental step forward, providing invaluable insights for travellers with disabilities.

The Lodge offers many things of which the owners can be proud, but the crowning jewel of its allure is the absolute independence it offers to wheelchair users. Here, they can navigate the game vehicle, their rooms, and all lodge facilities self-sufficiently. This independence, coupled with the exclusivity and privacy that envelops the lodge, creates a singular and inclusive haven for guests with disabilities, their families and friends. It is akin to having a cherished home in Africa, a sanctuary where luxury and independence flourish in the embrace of a breathtaking natural canvas.

In the heart of Africa, the owners of Ximuwu Lodge have found their calling. They have fashioned a haven where barriers are shattered. Their journey shows the extraordinary transformations that can arise from awareness. It is a story of compassion, and a steadfast belief in a more inclusive world. Ximuwu is not merely a lodge; it is a legacy of accessibility, luxury and the undying spirit of the wild.

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