South Africa:
Sun City / Pilansberg Resort 

by Hilton Purvis &Loretta Jakubiec © 2002  

Hilton Purvis and his wife, Loretta, who are frequent contributors to Global Access, share their recent journey in their homeland, South Africa. Hilton is a wheelchair user with spinal muscular atrophy. Hilton said," My wife and I have repeatedly proved that travelling in a wheelchair is neither daunting, nor limiting, and hope our experiences will be of benefit to others."

Sun City entrance.

Sun City entrance.

The contrast between the stark, arid bushveld surrounding Sun City and the lush green golfing greens and secluded gardens is extreme. Nothing serves to demonstrate the transforming capabilities of water more clearly. Step out of your 4x4 in the bush and the air is dry, the light sharp. Open your Palace room door onto the gardens and the breeze is cool, the sound of bubbling water soothing.

It reminds me of the contrast between trying to travel in a wheelchair twenty years ago when an enquiry for a wheelchair accessible room would have elicited a quizzical look from the concierge, today it is more often than not a simple; "Certainly Sir, room E116 is suitable for your wheelchair". Never being one to believe that travel was some form of endurance test,  today travel for a disabled individual can be a lot less hard, and a lot more relaxing. As it should be.

Many hands may make light work, and when two of them are occupied with pushing the wheelchair it only leaves the teeth spare!  The cool tiles of the foyer rolled smoothly underwheel as The Palace Of The Lost City welcomed us. Fortunately for me, and my dentist, our baggage was whisked away to our room in the Elephant Wing. Welcoming smiles were everywhere to be seen, each one helping to shed a city shackle and expose the soul in search of relaxation within.

Able-bodied readers can avert their eyes at this point if they find bathroom talk hard to bear. Wheeled readers will be pleased to note that grip rails are all in place, the shower is of the roll-in variety, and the hand basin does not have a cupboard beneath it. For the benefit of those able-bods who are back with the article, and any budding architects out there, access is often measured in bathroom or restroom terms. You can lay on the opulence and luxury as thick as you like, but we've all got to visit the bathroom sometime, and if one can't because of lack of access, then all the hospitality in the world is worthless. So, when travelling in a wheelchair one most often gives the spacious room, king sized bed, and fancy trimmings only a cursory glace as we head for the head and check on loo's, showers, and hand basins. Of interest to foreign disabled travellers is the provision of an international standard plug point in each room, useful for charging power chairs, and scooters. How would we manage to survive without battery-powered devices?

After a refreshing shower, and a drink at the Tusk Bar, we decided to dine at the Crystal Court. The Crystal Court is an impressive looking room when viewed from above at the foyer level, when seated at your table it is positively breath taking. A reclining wheelchair would have afforded me the opportunity to gape at the décor, but I showed discipline and self control by immersing myself in the menu.

After dinner, as we strolled into the Shawu Courtyard with its life size bronze statue of the famous tusker, we reflected that there are few places in the world where the design of The Palace could work as effectively as it does in the North Western Province. The main building is open to the elements with its courtyards leading directly into restaurants, bars, lounges and conference halls. The openings are huge, the ceilings towering and the floor spaces vast. Gone are the stuffiness of closed rooms, and the heaviness of deep pile carpeting. The Palace is volumous, on a scale that will allow you to dispense with swinging the proverbial cat and substitute it with a giraffe.

The morning dawned windless, crisp and clear, and after taking in breakfast we were ready for some serious game viewing. The Pilansberg National Park, the fourth largest in South Africa, and home to the Big 5, is only a few minutes away from Sun City. The 4x4 game-viewing vehicle will pick you up right outside the hotel, and while they are not specifically set-up for wheelchairs, the staff was willing and in no time we were off.

Sun City lion.

Sun City lion.

Spotting lions is difficult enough, given their perchance to sleep most of the day. Fortunately our guide, Jonathan, knew their habits and was able to not only locate a pride of seven, but also position the vehicle so as to provide us with a clear view of the magnificent males, and watchful females. The benefits of taking a guided tour were paying off handsomely. It was our first ever sighting of lions in the wild, an exciting moment, and one that gained newfound respect for these big cats.

Sun City elephants.

Sun City elephants.

Our vehicle came face-to-face with two bull elephants out to rev a couple of fresh tourists. An game of elephant and Nissan, similar to the more well known, cat and mouse, ensued with each party edging up and down the road. Needless to say, the Japanese motoring giant was forced to give way to a couple too many tons of wrinkled skin. The rhino were far more considerate, choosing to watch us from the shade of a huge thorn tree. Zebra, the pyjama donkeys of the bushveld, giraffe, wildebeest, springbok, impala, warthog, and waterbuck were all on our spotting menu, as were numerous guinea fowl, partridge, and kingfishers.

During the heat of the midday the animals head for the shade of the trees, while the humans head for the sun drenched lawns next to the pool. So much for being in touch with nature. The poolside bar takes care to keep you cool on the inside, and the huge King Pool takes care of the outside. A fully setup disabled change room is located nearby.

The Crystal Court.

The Crystal Court.

If one has somehow missed out a breakfast, and the poolside braai lunch, then the traditional "high tea" served in the Crystal Court offers an escape. If the bushveld calls you for more, then try and time your visit to coincide with one of Sun City's evening "boma braai's", a sumptuous meal under the stars, greeted and entertained by tribal dancers, surrounded by flaming torches, all within the game park boundaries. Our last evening found us at the Villa Del Palazzo, overlooking the enormous King Pool. The lights twinkling in the moat surrounding the restaurant almost give the impression that we were floating in the pool, but our thoughts were focused more closely on the menu. Wheelchair, or no wheelchair, by the time we had finished we literally rolled out of the restaurant. The evening was calm and clear so we decided to forego an after-dinner drink in favour of a roll through the gardens.

Sun City's King Pool.

Sun City's King Pool.

We chose not to take The Palace up on their suitcase packing service, feeling that while it was not intended to hasten our departure, but more likely to assist those overcome by the effects of luxurious living. That would mean defeat, and we were still strong, albeit plumper. Our closing breakfast was a leisurely affair as we attempted, in vain, to make an impression on the incredible array of choices. An elephant would have been hard pressed. One could get used to lazy mornings, interspersed with regular coffee refills, browsing the day's paper, as the sun shines down on you through those towering Crystal Court windows.

Sadly this is but a getaway, our car beckoned, as did the office . . .

Note: Sun City is not only about The Palace, and Pilansberg National Park. It is home to three additional hotels; The Cascades, the Main Hotel, and the Cabanas, as well as the Vacation Club time share accommodation. Entertainment can also be found through hot air ballooning, golf, tennis, bowls, a crocodile park, water sports at the lake, walks, cycling, swimming, horseback riding, and, of course, gambling and nightly extravaganzas.

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