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.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Cape Nature
Tel: +27 (0)21 4830190

Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary
Tel: +27 (0)23 625 1593

How to get here

To reach the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve from Cape Town follow the N1 north for just over 100km. In Worcester turn on to the R60 and follow the signs to Robertson. The reserve is 15km south of Robertson on the road to McGregor.

Around the area

The Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary provides a refuge for neglected, abused and old donkeys. It is open for visitors from Thursday to Sunday from 11am until 4pm. The sanctuary is situated along the same road as Vrolijkheid, 3km before McGregor.

Tours to do

While birdwatching and mountain biking are among the most popular attractions in Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve, the hikes equally renowned. Visitors can choose from the Heron, Rooikat and Boesmanskloof day trails, or opt for two-day hikes – either an extended version of the Boesmanskloof or the Genadendal Trail.

What will it cost

Consult the listed website for latest tariffs.

Where to stay

The reserve has two self-catering cottages, named Jakkalskuil and Aardwolf. Each of the modern units sleeps a maximum of four people. No pets allowed.

Best buys

A Wild Card is a loyalty card that makes tourism to South Africa's national parks and nature reserves more accessible.

Related articles