​Honeymooning in South Africa

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on January 12, 2022 # Travel

Stephanie and Ryan at the Mandela House in SowetoEditors note: The health and safety of the community we serve are of the utmost priority. For the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Reeve Foundation recommends that you reference the websites for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and state and local health authorities. For more resources on the coronavirus, visit the Reeve Foundation COVID-19 Information Center.

After being postponed for a year (thanks a lot COVID), my husband and I finally went on our honeymoon to South Africa in November of 2021, and it was more incredible than I ever dreamed it would be. We spent two weeks in South Africa, traveling all over the country – learning the history, taking in the culture, exploring their waters, drinking the delicious wines, and having an adventure of a lifetime!

We started in Johannesburg, where we were able to learn a lot about South Africa’s struggles for freedom, the student protests in the 1970’s in opposition to the instruction of Afrikaans in school, Nelson Mandela’s life in Soweto, and South Africa’s new constitution and Supreme Court. As a civil rights lawyer, I truly loved this part of our trip and felt honored to be able to learn from the people who experienced Apartheid and who helped to create the constitutional democracy that is in place today.

After spending time in Johannesburg, we flew to Cape Town. I did not think our trip could get better because we had such a fantastic time learning in Johannesburg, but Cape Town brought more learning opportunities and tons of adventures! We were able to go cage diving with sharks, hang out with penguins as they casually played in the sand at Boulders Beach, travel to Cape Agulhas, which is the southernmost tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, explore the top of Table Mountain, tour Robben Island where Nelson Mandela and many activists were jailed for decades, and drink lots of delicious wine from the countryside vineyards.

I fell in love with Cape Town and did not want to leave, but we had one more stop to make – safari! After five days in Cape Town, we flew off to the Kwa-Zulu Natal region, where we stayed at a private game reserve called Phinda. I had no idea what to expect while on safari, but I had high hopes of seeing zebras and elephants.

When we disembarked our tiny 4-person airplane that touched down onto a dirt landing strip, we met our Ranger, Lennox, and we immediately knew that we were in for an experience of a lifetime. Lennox helped us into our open-top land cruiser, popped our wheelchairs into the backseat of the cruiser, and set off to take us to our lodge. Within three minutes, we saw a bloat of hippos slowly sinking into a watering hole, crocodiles sunbathing on hot rocks, antelope jumping through the tall grass, and giraffe munching on the leaves in the tall trees. My mind was blown.

 Cheetah laying in the grass“Just wait until we go on safari drive!” Lennox told us with a smile.

“I thought this was a safari drive?” I asked.

“No, my dear,” he laughed, “this is just the ride to your lodge!”

When we arrived at Mountain Lodge – our home for the next week – our jaws dropped. A team of people was waiting for us with warm towels to clean the dust from our hands, cool pineapple juice made from the local pineapple farms, and they happily helped us out of the vehicle and took our bags to our lodge.

We already felt like royalty, but when we saw our lodge for the first time, we were in heaven. We have a private bungalow with a huge king-size bed, a fully stocked bar, a private deck with our own pool, an outdoor shower, and a bathroom that I still dream about. As we were getting acquainted with our new palace, we were introduced to Thando, our personal butler, who really went above and beyond to make our honeymoon a dream.

We settled in, and then, promptly as 4 o’clock, we went up to the gathering area for afternoon tea and cake before setting out on our first safari drive! Lennox asked us what we had hoped to see, and I shared that I wanted to see an elephant and a zebra. I asked him if this was reasonable, and he said, “I think we can make that happen.” My husband told our Ranger that he was hoping to see a cheetah. I thought my husband was being a bit too demanding, but to each his own. We also met our Tracker, Jomo. While our Ranger drives the vehicle and guides us during the game drive, our tracker tracks the animals by learning their behaviors, looking for droppings, and detecting other signs that wildlife may be in the area.

Stephanie and Ryan smile with their ranger, Lennox and their tracker, Jomo On our very first game drive, we were flabbergasted! We saw warthogs, water buffalo, rhino, giraffes, elephants, and lions! We saw LOTS of lions! In fact, we saw two different prides of lions. One pride of lions was asleep on a mountaintop, and when we got within 50 feet of them, I thought that perhaps we were too close – boy did I have a lot to learn. Within 20 minutes, we had come across a different pride of lions who were very much awake and eating a zebra! This is not what I meant when I told Lennox I wanted to see zebra! Lennox parked our cruiser right in the middle of the lions – they were easily 15 feet away from us, just snacking on zebra while I sat in pure shock. All of this on our very first drive!

Every day after that, we went on a morning drive at 5 am and an evening drive at 4 pm – and every day, we were amazed. We saw the most spectacular things, including leopards running from elephants, leopards laying in trees, prides of lions fighting over land, cheetahs playing in the grass, and so much more.

We also developed friendships with our Ranger, Tracker, and our butler. When it was time to leave, I got on our tiny airplane and cried. I felt like I was leaving paradise and my new best friends.

I’ve traveled all over the world, but I can easily say that this was the best vacation I have ever been on, and I cannot wait to go back to South Africa.

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

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