Seriously stylin’ at KolKol

Approaching from the Van Der Stel Pass road between Bot River and the Villiersdorp-Grabouw road (do yourselves a favour and drive the full road, it’s gorgeous), you can see the KolKol pods nestled amongst the fynbos up on the hill in the Groenkloof Conservancy. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought they were some kind of alien radio, with their beautiful curved-cornered-rectangular shapes.

They’re anything but an alien radio, though, once you’ve arrived at your doorstep. Made of concrete, wood and brick, with full-length sliding doors on the stoep side with the view, any alien (or human, I’m here to tell you) won’t want to leave.

I have never before been to a place where I wanted to touch everything. The new pods at KolKol are not only an architectural wonder – and ecologically friendly, to boot – but both the building itself and the interior decoration has the most amazing textures. The whole place is a smorgasbord for the senses.

The pods have everything that opens and shuts … think pizza oven, SMEG stove, perfect lighting, a couch that just asks to be lounged in, a ‘fatsack’ that requires the same, a bath-with-a-view, a shower that evokes a warm waterfall, a Marshall speaker so you can – most aptly – listen to Eddie Vedder crooning the ‘Into the Wild’ soundtrack when you want a little break from the sound of the wind through the fynbos and the twittering birds, and a stoep with views that’ll make you sigh blissfully, especially if you’re sitting neck-deep in the wood-fired hot tub on said stoep.

See? Heavenly view, perfect privacy, floor-to-wall glass sliding doors that open up the whole pod to said view … there’s even a picture window that is the poster girl for picture windows behind the kitchen sink which turns washing up from a chore into a dreamy experience. And don’t worry, when the sun sets over the hill behind you and Winter blows her chill down the mountain, there’s a huge fireplace between the lounge and bedroom area that makes the pod suitably cosy, so you can read your book listening to the night insects. Bliss.

And that sums it up, really: blissful.


Wheelchair accessibility

There’s a big step into the pod – sorry, I was too awed … I forgot to photograph it – but once you’re in, it’s smooth sailing around the whole place. There are a couple of carpets, but they’re loose, so if carpets are the bane of your life (I feel you), you can roll ’em up out of your way while you’re staying.

Both the kitchen table and outdoor table have nice clearance and I could fit under them and the bed, while fixed, is a reasonable height for transferring (and super comfy, with the softest, warmest blanket that I totally fell in love with).

The bathroom has no grab bars, but it’s lovely and big with a free-standing bath. The shower is large, but the gap between the glass and wall is quite small, so would be doable only if you’re able to stand. Did I mention the bath has the most beautiful view? The toilet has lots of space around it and would allow for front- or side-transfer.

If you’d like more info, feel free to contact me.

*We were kindly hosted by KolKol for the night.

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Hot springing in Montagu

On my 13th birthday – about a month into my starting high school and going to boarding school – my parents came to fetch me from the hostel with my friend Nina and we went to watch Dirty Dancing at the cinema. The first of what would be the many, many times I watched it (and still counting.) We loved it, despite paroxysms of teenage embarrassment at seeing the ‘naughty bits’ with my parents sitting beside us. Every high school girl in 1988 wanted to be Baby being taught to dance by Johnny in the back rooms of the Kellerman’s resort and in the lake. Oh, the lake!

Let me reign myself in here, this blog is not about nobody putting Baby in the corner, it’s about our stay at Avalon Springs in Montagu. There’s reason for that intro: it totally made me think of Kellerman’s. A beautiful setting, families enjoying a plethora of fun facilities, a dining room all set with white table cloths … the only thing missing was the tango classes out on the lawn, but the lawn was there!

I’ll start with the setting: facing the most beautiful cliffs that change from bright yellows in the morning to orange and gold as the sun moves across the sky, the hotel is a 6-story building reminiscent of beach resorts South Africa over, a spa taking pride of place at the top. The cliffs are gorgeous and the rooms all face them, which is just perfect.

What makes it so spectacular is the hot springs, which have brought people to this spot for hundreds of years for both its health and entertainment value. Whatever your favourite flavour of swimming, there’s an offering that’ll suit you: indoor pool, outdoor pool complete with island and little bridge, all overlooked by more beautiful cliff, a hothothot jacuzzi and super tube (which GM tried, because why not, proving that mass x velocity = momentum, and one’s mass at 40-ahem is a little more than when one is, say 11-years old. Having watched her gracefully be spat out into the pool, I can tell you that it is possible for one human woman to have three arms and five legs, momentarily).

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and it was bustling, quietening down significantly on Sunday afternoon. Sunday morning was spent blissfully ambling through the wide, almost deserted streets of Montagu, with its beautiful old houses and great museums chronicling the area’s history. Unfortunately, we’d lounged too long on Sunday morning, so by the time we popped in to see the lovely woman at the Tourism Office, the museums were already closed. We admired them from the outside, and it’s a good reason to go back to this lovely little town.

We ended our amble with a fabulous meal at the warm and inviting Kokkeman’s Kitchen which was an utter treat as the winter wind had come up. We sat cosily inside with the sun streaming through the big windows.

How do you start the week on a good footing? You take a dip in the weekend-is-over-and-most-people-have departed hot springs. The air was not pretending to be anything but mid-winter, sending steam up off the pools and making it even more lovely.

It would’ve been a good place to stay all day but, sadly, work called and we had to set off back to the city, waving goodbye to the dassies who spend their days suntanning in the parking lot.


Wheelchair accessibility

While effort has been made to ensure accessibility, there are a couple of places that are not ideal for wheelchair users staying at the hotel itself. The pools are great, with gentle slopes to the main pool and a ramp into the pool itself. The ramp from the main area to the braai/super tube/day visitor pool is doable, but steep.

The same goes for the ramp which leads from the lifts to Cogman’s Restaurant although it’s, I’m afraid, extremely steep and doable only if you’re very strong/have very strong help/are in an electric chair that is not in the slightest ‘tippy’. We went for one meal and I was too nervous to attempt the ramp a second time (and you all know I’m not afraid of a little adventure). The staff are all lovely, though, and very helpful, so I’m sure would make a plan, if asked.

Our room had a big step into it, but a good wooden ramp to put against it was there, waiting for us. Unfortunately, it needs to be moved each time the door is opened or closed. Inside, there was plenty of space to manoeuvre and a toilet and shower (small) with grab bars.

*We were kindly hosted by Avalon Springs for our two nights.

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Hanging in the treetops at Teniqua

I’ve been quiet, I admit. This year started roughly. If the beginning of my year were one of those inspirational posters with twee pictures, it would say: ‘You have to have the dark days in order to see the light’, or some such wisdom. It had left me unable to get out and about, to explore, to write, to escape the claustrophobia that threatens to throttle me when I’ve been in the city too long. The light, however, as it always does, has slowly shone through the crevices and a new normal is establishing itself and, when the opportunity to escape the city limits arose and the forest invited us to stay, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’!

And so it was that we found ourselves in The Little Bluebird of Happiness (who shook out his tail feathers excitedly as we turned on the ignition and said those golden words, ‘road trip’), wending our way in the direction of the Garden Route. The fields of the Overberg were looking superb in their winter finery and the canola was just starting to bloom, creating a gold-and-green quilt.

A short stop for lunch-with-a-view in Mossel Bay revealed the most amazing thing. When you order sweet potato chips, they come sprinkled with sugar and mini marshmallows. No need to order pudding!

Onwards, towards Sedgefield, where I still get the same thrill seeing the horse-fence at the vets as I did when we used to drive through there while visiting my grandparents in Plett. Their latest reincarnation includes a fantastic skeleton one.

We turned onto the Karatara road, where evidence of the terrible fires of 2018 is still visible, but the regrowth between the heartbreaking, but stately, remnants of burnt trees makes your heart sing. The clouds gathered moodily above us as we turned in to Teniqua Treetops, who were hosting us for two nights. Before I start to wax lyrical, they score a bonus 10 points for being eco-friendly.

How to describe this magnificent spot? Basically, you’re a bird, living in a nest up in the treetops of the emerald forests of Knysna. That is, if you’re the kind of bird who likes its luxuries. The cabin/tents are a mixture of canvas and beautifully carved wood (if you go, be sure to look carefully at all the carving – there are old men and smiling profiles in the wood), set on stilts above the forest, on a hill that falls into a magnificent valley filled with indigenous trees and every bird imaginable, with a stoep on each side, to braai on and sit on and observe the splendour for hours on end.

The word ‘tent’ gives a bit of a false impression of the challenges of camping: trying to set them up and finding, always, that there’s a large root right under where you’ve lain your ridiculously-thin camping mattress. There’s none of that here. Far from it, in fact. The cabins are equipped with absolutely everything you could need, including crisp white linen and feather duvets on a superbly comfortable bed, a heater to ward away the winter chill and a fan for those hot summer days.

It also has a fully equipped kitchen, with a two-plate gas stove, microwave, fridge and all the pots, plates and utensils you need to keep fed and happy. Speaking of such, each morning a basket of breakfast goodies is delivered to the door by the fabulous staff (all of whom are lovely). Cold meats, cheese, yoghurt, fruit juice, fresh fruit and the most delicious mini chocolate croissants. It’s like manna from heaven.

The bathroom deserves a paragraph of it’s own. Located between the outside patio and the bedroom, it is in the open air with a massive bath which looks like it’s jumped out of a travel brochure and settled in its corner. Luxuriating in your bubble bath, you can see across the whole valley (and don’t worry, there is nothing in the whole valley that can see you). A composting toilet sits next to an open shower. Basically, it’s bathroom heaven.

Beside all the creature comforts, the main thing about Teniqua, is that you can totally unwind. There is nothing to do but lie on the bed with the tent flaps open overlooking the forest, or sit on the stoep//balcony with your book and read. I found myself, on occasion, ignoring my book and just marvelling at the busyness of the birds in the trees and the little creatures that call this place home. They are incredibly lucky to call it home. Two days felt like a week, but it was totally not long enough. We had to drag ourselves away from this paradise.


Wheelchair accessibility

I was somewhat dubious when I saw on the website that Teniqua had a wheelchair accessible cabin. I fully expected it to be right next to the main camp, with little privacy. I could not have been more wrong. Green Beard, in which we stayed, does indeed balance on the side of the hill, with unbelievably beautiful views of just forest, no neighbours, and it’s totally accessible.

A relatively steep ramp leads down from where you park the car, straight into the cabin, which is do-able alone, if you’re strong, or with some help, if not. There are no steps anywhere, once you’re in, and it is incredibly spacious, considering it’s a tent, with plenty of maneuverable floor space.

The bed is a great height with plenty of space for transfers, the bathroom is outdoors but equally as spacious, with seating below a handheld shower and a bath which currently has no grab bars, but a revamping is planned. The toilet allows for front transfer and possibly a side transfer (see pictures) and grab rails will probably also be added there. The owners, Taryn and Anthony, are keen to make it completely universally accessible and are absolutely lovely.

What a gem of a place.

*We were kindly hosted by Teniqua Treetops for our two nights.

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Artsing at the Zeitz MOCAA

The Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary African Art) is in the old silos at the Cape Town harbour and it has all the gorgeous curves to prove it. It’s a fabulous addition to the art scene in the Mother City.

The architecture of the building is a piece of art in itself. Standing in the main foyer and looking up, the Seussesque walls tower up to the roof, uneven and curved, the bones and innards of those hardworking silos exposed and beautiful. The entire structure is concrete but it is surprisingly warm, despite this… Perhaps its history of holding all those precious grains within its bosom has imbued the building with a natural warmth, like the smell of baking bread. Or, perhaps I’m just being fanciful.

Up on the roof, the views stretch over toward Table Mountain, and the hexagonally curved windows make you feel like a bee, gazing across the city with your compound eyes, looking for places to collect pollen.

Wednesday mornings are free for South African citizens. On that note if, like me, you have fallen in love with the place, it makes much sense to buy an annual membership. We had a friend visiting so we went on a Wednesday morning, expecting it to be very crowded. It was busy, but not overly so. I’ve always thought galleries and museums are made more interesting by the people you see while looking at the art. I’m intrinsically a people watcher (and unashamed eavesdropper).

The gallery is spread over a number of floors, some of them permanent exhibitions and the upper levels temporary exhibitions. The two exhibitions we saw: Five BhobhPainting at the end of an era, an exhibition of art by Zimbabwean artists and the fantastic (and fantastical) Still Here Tomorrow to High Five You Yesterday.

It’s impossible to pick favourites in exhibitions like this that showcase so many talented artists but, if I had to, it would be Cristina de Middel’s pieces on the Zambian moon programme. It’s the kind of thing that makes me proud to be an African. It’s quirkiness highlights our African innovation and tenacity and belief that we can do anything we put our hearts to. It’s just lovely.

 

I’m not in art critic, I’m just an art lover and, for this reason, I am so glad that the Zeitz MOCAA is there and I’ll keep going back, over and over (also, I have the concentration span of a flea, so need to do big galleries in bite-sized pieces).


Wheelchair accessibility

The  Zeitz could teach a few other buildings in Cape Town a lesson on wheelchair accessibility.

Admittedly it is newly renovated, unlike many of the older buildings in Cape Town. The building is entirely equipped for wheelchair users with smooth floors, lifts and great accessible bathrooms, with a fabulous red loo.

The galleries flow through with interleading swing doors, which close automatically and are heavy, so not ideal accessibility-wise but, in true South African style, there were plenty of willing people around who held doors open for me. Another thing I love about my country … the genuine friendliness and generous outpouring of care.

There are only two lifts so, if it’s busy, you sometimes have to wait a while to get space in one … perfect people-watching (and listening) time.

Zeitz, we’ll be back soon.

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Beautiful Babylonstoren

There is something really lovely about walking through the gardens in which your lunch was grown before tucking in to said lunch. That’s exactly what you can do at Babylonstoren. 

Our choice of day, perhaps, was not the wisest. It was 36°C, so ambling through the beautiful, manicured food gardens on the way to the Greenhouse Restaurant was a little hot. Luckily, seeing all of the happily growing plants and different types of fruits provides more than enough distraction, as does the thought of a delicious fresh lunch underneath the trees at the end of the walk

There is no booking at the restaurant, it’s first come, first served and there were lots of people but we got a table immediately. It was in the shade of a tree, with a resident bird who bestowed its ‘luck’ on two of our heads as it hopped around singing in the branches above us. Nothing like getting close to Nature. Glorious mist sprayers wound around various trees thankfully cooled the hot air down.

 

The menu is simple, the service quick and efficient and the food prettily presented. Two of us had sandwiches, the other the pork pie, perfectly paired with deliciously tart home-made lemonade. The menu claims that 80% of their ingredients are sourced within 20 km which is just fabulous.

Suitably re-energised, we ambled down a different path on our way back, marvelling at the succulent section and bumping into one of the resident tortoises. Well, we didn’t really bump into him, that would just be rude. We stopped and let him pass in sedate tortoise-style and then watched as he nibbled on some delicious looking bushes.

It was at this point that we stumbled on some vegetable gardens that were being sprayed with huge sprayers. It was here that we spent quite a long time huddled as close to the baby veggies that were frolicking around in the spray and enjoying it as much as them. I am here to tell you that the childhood joy of running through a sprayer does not subside.

Heading out we stopped in the shade of the huge trees at the entrance and admired the donkeys. They really are the best creatures on Earth. Babylonstoren, we’ll be back (especially as I see they have a tea ceremony – how lovely)!


Wheelchair accessibility

The paths through the gardens are dust or scattered with gravel/peach pips and intermittent water furrows, so not ideal for wheelchairs. In saying that, I went with two friends who took it in turns to push me and it was fine. Had I planned better I would’ve taken my Freewheel with me which would’ve made it completely doable.

Also, if you have the help, it is totally worthwhile pushing through it to see the gorgeous gardens and have a meal.

There is a great accessible bathroom with ramp, lots of turning space, a high enough basin, and grab bars.

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Constitution Hill: Brutal and beautiful

South Africa has a dark and brutal history. As with any history, it lingers like a bad odour, the stench of it hitting one full in the face from damp alleys and around corners. 1994 brought with it freedom from those dark days but the scars are deep and, like scars, stories remain. These are scars that will stick for generations. Apartheid and its systematic cruelty and inhumanity cannot (and should not) be forgotten. It should remain at the forefront of our thoughts, a reminder and a warning.

Constitution Hill is a stark and beautifully curated reminder of that brutal history. Perched with its feet in the bustling centre of Johannesburg, this hill has seen and done plenty in its over 100 years of  history.

In 1893, as rogues and entrepreneurs fought over the gold sitting quietly glimmering deep down in the bowels of the city, Paul Kruger commissioned the building of a prison on the hill. First it was a ‘whites only’ prison. In 1899, the fort surrounding it was built as protection against the British, used by the military during the South African War.

In 1904, Number Four opened to accommodate black prisoners and the Women’s Jail was opened in 1910 (also with separate sections for black and white prisoners). There was terrible overcrowding; good people incarcerated purely for being caught without a Pass Book or being political activists were thrown into cells with hardened criminals; gangs formed and conditions were appalling. In 1983, the prison closed and the site was left to decay until 1996, when it was decided that Constitution Hill would be the site of the newly democratic South Africa’s Constitutional Court.

It is possible to visit all sections of the prison on guided tours – we were taken around by the fantastic and incredibly knowledgeable Nolubalalo. Within these walls, scores of anti-Apartheid leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Fatima Meer and Oliver Tambo spent time. The site is incredibly well-curated with boards explaining the cruel circumstances under which the black prisoners were held, including the horrifying rations of food that they were given and the horrifying conditions.

To stand within the walls of one of the cells, blankets rolled up to look like prisoners giving an idea of the hierarchy, is chilling. The walls feel damp and foreboding, the air is still and heavy, and the noise of the living city outside is swallowed up by the still-present sense of foreboding and fear.

The courtyard is open to the sky, a huge blue expanse above concrete growing hot under the midday sun, bars and windowless cells encircling it. The city noise seems to be unable to penetrate even this air and the clang of an iron door closing sends shivers down my spine. It’s loud but, at the same time, it’s eerily silent. Nolubulalo tells us about the conditions, the inmates, the terror and the inhumanity.

We head up to the courtyard in front of the magnificent Constitutional Court, a reminder of now. The air here is clear, the trees throwing dappled shade onto the bricks as preparations for a year-end function happen behind us. There’s music and two of the men putting up the marquee chat and laugh. On the wall, the words ‘Constitutional Court’ watch over this all, written in all eleven official languages.

Inside, the architecture mimics a meeting place under a tree to symbolise where we come from. Elders sitting in a circle beneath a tree have been the major decision-makers and law-keepers throughout African history. The building is scattered with incredible works of art and, something I didn’t realise, the Constitutional Court is open to the public so you can go and watch law as it happens.

Heading out and further up the hill we explored the Fort with its enormous creaking door and the views from the top over Johannesburg. The Women’s Jail is a pretty Victorian building. In design it looks innocuous with lots of light and air, but its looks are deceptive, they hide a history of more cruelty and brutality. It’s difficult to breathe in the solitary cells that were inhabited by incredible, strong women who were incarcerated for months and years purely for fighting for justice.

As you leave out of the back of the Women’s Jail, you are met with an enormous sculpture of a young girl dancing in the sunshine, the huge blue sky above her, Hillbrow Tower peaking over her head. She’s the picture of joy and freedom.

May we never forget and thank you, Con Hill, for keeping that terrible history alive, for telling those important stories and for reminding us of the darkness and terribleness from whence we came.


Wheelchair Accessibility

Con Hill is a hop, skip and a jump from Once in Joburg, where we stayed. The hop,skip and jump requires transport though: it’s steep and bumpy, so we took a quick Uber. Be sure to get dropped at the Visitor Centre, so that you’re on a flat section (or outside the Women’s Jail, if you choose to just do that).

Constitution Hill is on a hill – surprise! – and it’s not a gently sloped, tiny hill: it takes its hill status seriously. However, the whole precinct is incredibly wheelchair accessible, with ramps everywhere and wheelchair lifts where needed. Some of the ramps are steep so you need to be superfit/have a fit person (in takkies, not stilettos or slip slops) to help to push.

If you’re wanting to visit but would prefer not to have to go up/down steep ramps, the Constitutional Court is on a level part, so could easily be navigated. Alternatively, get dropped outside the Women’s Jail and just visit that – it’s relatively flat.

There are accessible bathrooms throughout. And, as at so many wonderful South African sites, the people are wonderful and helpful! Check out their accessibility page.

If you’d like further info, feel free to mail me. I’m happy to answer questions.

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Once (upon a time) in Joburg

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there lived a 17-year old maiden. She was tall and a little gawky and awkward but was filled with the joy that can only come with finishing school, taking off ones’ tatty old school shoes for the last time and walking out of the school gates, never to look back. Freedom.

But what does that have to do with Joburg I hear you ask, knowing that I went to school in ‘n verkrampte small town in North West? Hold your horses, I’m getting there. This leads us into the last time I stayed in Braamfontein. Somebody’s boyfriend’s brother’s cousin (or somesuch) was a student at WITS and let a bunch of us stay in his tiny flat in one of the maze of city streets, so we could go clubbing and celebrate our new-found freedom after finishing matric.

That was 25 years ago. Since then I’ve watched from afar – having transplanted from Gauteng to the blissful Eastern Cape to Cape Town in those 25 years – as stories of rampant crime, degradation and sadness in Jozi’s once vibrant city streets filtered through. In the past few years, though, there have been happier stories, regeneration like only South Africa can do.

I’ve been longing to check it out, and to recapture that sense of freedom I had as a 17-year old (without having to go back to boarding school, heaven forbid). There’s nothing like city streets to do that, so when Once in Joburg invited us over, the answer was an immediate yes. And boy was it worth it.

Just landing in Joburg and catching the Gautrain (an easy way from O.R. Tambo to Once in Joburg, with one change of train and a quick taxi ride from Park Station) gives me city butterflies – there’s something delightedly delicious about the busy-ness and rush of a real city. And Joburg is filled-to-overflowing with the cool kids. Cool kids that aren’t just cool, they’re friendly too.

Once in Joburg is on De Korte Street, slap-bang in the middle of Joburg and humming with vibe. It’s the poster-child for ‘poshtels’. Yip, I said poshtel. It’s a thing. According to Wiktionary:

poshtel (plural poshtels)

  1. (informal) An upscale or luxury hostel.

I, too, when I thought of a hostel, was filled with visions of bunk beds a-jumping with bedbugs and unwashed 20-something year olds ‘discovering themselves in Africa’. Once in Joburg is the polar opposite – it’s a really clean, well-serviced and expertly run establishment which, while it does offer ‘dorm-type’ accommodation, also offers en-suite double rooms and family rooms.

The clientele, far from being unwashed and 20, range from (clean and fun) youngsters to families to 40-ahem year olds.We had a double room which was spacious and spotless, with en-suite bathroom, crisp white sheets and all the makings for tea and coffee. It certainly put the ‘posh’ in poshtel.

The hotel has everything a backpacker (and the rest of us!) would need – a board covered in activities, both offered in-house and out, and on the first floor, a communal area which includes facilities for cooking and storing food and for much socialising, like the regular weekly braai.

There’s also The Immigrant where, in the mornings, breakfast is served (go for the Shakshuka, it’s fabulous) and, throughout the day, snacks, meals and drinks, with an open balcony with twinkly fairy lights. If you’re needing a night in, here’s the spot. We joined lovely Sophie for a drink and to hear the story of ‘Once’ and how they’re making great strides in bringing business back into the CBD and encouraging all sorts of incredible small business ideas.

The area in which it is situated is vibey, noisy and happening. Through a path around the back you’ll find yourself in The Grove, a square that is filled with those cool kids I mentioned above, hanging out at the tables on the square of a couple of restaurants, music pumping. It’s fantastic.

We sat there for hours, me doing what I love best: people-watching and being filled with pride and hope for this country watching the youth that are coming up (sheesh, I sound old). It made me certain there’s definitely a happily ever after to this.


Wheelchair accessibility

Once in Joburg has an accessible room. The bathroom is tiny (see pic above), with a shower with a lip so it’s a bit of a squeeze but, if you can walk a little, it’s fine. The bedroom (carpeted) is spacious, with plenty of transfer room and a good height bed. There are lifts, both small, so check measurements if you have a big wheelchair. Most importantly, everyone there is incredibly helpful, so just ask.

The area around Once in Joburg is fabulously accessible – the path to The Grove is ramped and the area is flat, so you can spend some time exploring without needing to get in a car. Do remember, though, this is a city like any other city in the world – don’t go wandering around at night or flash your valuables around. Even better, leave them in the safe.

Feel free to contact me if you want more info.

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