South African nature reserves keep on working to improve access for nature lovers with visual impairments. Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve in the Western Cape has added an informative Braille Trail to its facilities. Running along the existing Heron Trail, the feature has become an immediate hit with visually impaired visitors.

Did you know?

The Dutch word 'vrolijkheid' means 'happiness'.

The natural world engages all our senses and should be universally accessible. This is the ethos behind the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve's new Braille Trail, which is specially equipped for blind and partially sighted people. The trail opened in June 2012 and is part of a project to make this Western Cape nature reserve a more interesting and hospitable place for visitors with disabilities.

The Braille Trail makes use of the pathways of the existing Heron Trail, which meanders through succulent Karoo vegetation typical of the Breede River region near Robertson and McGregor. Guided by a sturdy rope, visually impaired visitors will discover 15 metal information plates that tell them more about their environment. Their location is also marked by wooden panels on the ground.

The Braille explanations are in English and Afrikaans and provide an excellent overview of the reserve’s history and the biodiversity in this part of South Africa. Children from the Pioneer School for the visually impaired in nearby Worcester had the pleasure of trying the trail out first during its launch, and many visitors have followed since.

Many of the improvements of recent years have been made possible by the Friends of Vrolijkheid, a group of enthusiastic people from nearby communities that has played a major part in raising funds to modernise the reserve's facilities. Examples of other projects include a bird hide, as well as a boardwalk designed for older people who cannot walk very far. These spots are also accessible for nature lovers in wheelchairs.

The vegetation in the rocky areas of Vrolijkheid is known as Robertson Karoo and consists of many dwarf trees and small shrubs. In spring (August/September), fields of orange daisies erupt in the veld and lucky visitors might even encounter a caracal, one of the most common predators in the Western Cape.

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