Fancy a family trip to a safari park this half-term?
By Helen Dolphin
It's half-term! If you're looking for a fun, family day out in your Motability Scheme car, have you thought about a trip to your local safari park? Independent mobility consultant Helen Dolphin MBE reviews her recent trip and gives tips on what to see, when and accessibility.
On a cold winters day, a trip to a safari park is a great way to get out and about and see some wild animals without leaving the warmth of your vehicle. The nearest safari park for me is Woburn Safari Park which is in Woburn, Bedfordshire. Although winter may not seem the best time to visit, it is a lot quieter than in the summer months and when it is too hot all the animals just hide themselves away from the heat. I was able to visit on a weekday in December which was really quiet but if you go in holiday time or at the weekends it will be busier.
Woburn safari park is split into two distinct areas, firstly you have the “road safari” section where you must stay in your vehicle to look at the animals and then there is the “foot safari” which you can walk around. If it’s very cold or you don’t want to get out of your vehicle for any reason, then it is still a great place to visit as you can drive around the park as many times as you would like.
I decided to start my visit with the road safari. Nearly all vehicles are suitable to drive the safari although cabriolet and soft top convertible cars are not allowed access into the “Kingdom of the Carnivores” or “African Forest” for safety reasons. The speed limit through the park is 15mph. Before you even start the “road safari” you can already see lots of animals roaming about. I was particularly taken with a little baby elephant called Tarli who was born in 2014.
The first road section I drove through was called “The Northern Plains”. Here Przewalski's Horses , Chapman's Zebras , North American Bison , Oryx gazelles and Bactrian Camels are all happily grazing together. You follow the road through the plains and if there is nobody behind you can stop at any time for a closer look or to take a photograph. There are wardens patrolling each area in case you need help or breakdown as under no circumstances should you ever leave your vehicle. The animals all look very cute and furry but many of them have very sharp teeth! The wardens also ensure that nobody is opening their window or feeding anything to the animals.
After passing through the Northern Plains you enter the “Savannah Grasslands”. This area is home to Southern White Rhinos , Blue Wildebeests , Ankole Cattle , Dwarf Forest Buffalo , Eland and Sable Antelopes . Many of the animals at Woburn are part of international breeding programmes as there are very few left in the wild. On the day I was visiting a new male White Rhino had been lent to Woburn from Colchester Zoo and he was getting very amorous with one of the females. The Rhino’s are in a fenced off area as there is a possibility they could charge at a car although the majority of animals are roaming completely free and have no fear of cars whatsoever. The wildebeest who have featured on many a wildlife programme hardly batted one of their very long eyelashes when I drove past. It is lovely to see animals who would naturally live together doing just that instead of being in individual areas as is often the way in a zoo.
The next area is the “Kingdom of the Carnivores” which you enter through sturdy double gates. All of the animals in the “Kingdom of Carnivores” have the propensity to be dangerous so here you must keep your vehicle moving at all times. The first animals to see in this area are the tigers. On the day I visited some of the females were in season, so the male was behind a fence. However, one of the female tigers was having a snooze on a sleeping platform very close to the road so I was able to get a fantastic view of her. As I continued my drive I was excited to see a North American Black Bear asleep in his hut and poking his head out over the top of a hill was a Canadian Timber Wolf. These two animals live happily together. The last animals in the Kingdom are a pride of African Lions. Just like the Tigers the male Lion had to be kept away from the females who were also in season. Although there are big cat breeding programmes Woburn are keen to increase their gene pool and so did not want the male lion mating with his daughters. You could still see the male but he wasn’t roaming free like the rest of the pride.
On leaving the Kingdom of the Carnivores you enter Giraffe Junction. It being winter the Rothschild's giraffes were not in the main reserve but were staying warm and dry in their enclosure. This is because being so tall if a giraffe slips over it can be very dangerous. As well as lots of full sized adult giraffes there was also a very small one who was just a few months old. Although the giraffes were inside you could still see them really well. When they are roaming free the giraffes share their home with Grevy's Zebra and critically endangered Addax, Somali Wild Ass and Scimitar Wild Oryx.
The final part of the road safari was through the African Forest. This area is home to Patas Monkeys and Barbary Macaques who are busy browsing the forest floor and each other for food. They also jump between the cars and trees and put on a fantastic display. The monkeys also share their home with East African Mountain Bongo, one of the most critically endangered mammals on the planet. If you are worried about a monkey damaging your car you can always bypass this section although it is very rare that this occurs.
The “road safari” took me about two hours to complete but I did stop at various places to just sit and observe the animals. I was therefore looking forward to a loo stop and some lunch by the time I had finished. I parked my car close to the restaurant and gift shop area and there was plenty of accessible parking. Accessible toilets are located at various places all over the park and some of them are radar key operated. Changing facilities for larger children and adults are available in the first aid room, but there is no hoist equipment available for use. I chose to have my lunch at the Safari restaurant which serves hot and cold meals and snacks. It is self service but if needed staff are on hand to carry your tray for you. All the seating at the tables move and there was a lot of space to move about amongst the tables. If you prefer to bring your own food an indoor seating area is available.
Once I’d had my lunch I decided to have a look around the “foot safari” . I was in my manual wheelchair and my friend who was pushing me did find it quite steep in places. However, a power chair or scooter would be absolutely fine. On the day I visited the only birds I could see were penguins as all the others had been shut away on DEFRA guidance to protect them from bird flu. The animals on the “foot safari” area are generally small ones or those that live in water. It was lovely to see a family of otters being fed at “Otter Falls” and a sea lion swimming about in his pool at “Sea Lion Beach”. A favourite of mine is always the Meerkats and these certainly didn’t disappoint. As well as looking at the animals there are daily demonstrations that you can attend and there is a timetable set for these. It’s fair to say on a cold winters day I didn’t spend so long on the “foot safari”. If you have children there is large indoor soft play centre and an outdoor play area as well as a Treetops Action trail and pedal powered boats.
There is a lot to see and do at Woburn Safari Park and this is easily a full day out. I really enjoyed my visit and it is great to see animals roaming about instead of behind bars. There is a concession for disabled visitors and carers which is £12.50 whereas adult price is £20.99 at the gate. Do be aware that over winter the park is only open Thursday to Sunday and all pets including assistance dogs are not allowed entry. If you have any questions regarding accessibility in relation to an upcoming trip you're planning, contact Woburn Safari Park on 01525 290407
For more information visit www.woburnsafari.co.uk
If Woburn Safari Park is too far for you to visit how about visiting one of these:
Longleat, Warminster, Wiltshire, BA12 7NW
Concessions: Carer goes free, disabled visitors pay standard prices
Dogs (including service dogs) are not allowed in the Safari Drive. Complimentary kennelling facilities are available but are subject to availability.
Wheelchair Hire - Wheelchairs must be booked prior to your visit via the main Longleat switchboard (Tel: 01985 844400) during normal office hours. They are subject to availability. There is no charge for this service.
Accessible toilets available
The Safari Bus Service is unable to accommodate wheelchairs.
Situated just off the M27 between Manchester and Liverpool. Put L34 4AN in your sat nav.
Concessions: Carer goes free, disabled visitors pays standard prices. In the winter entry price is £15/vehicle.
Guide and hearing dogs are welcome to accompany their owners around the park. Assistance dogs are allowed access to pedestrian areas but not the animal areas. They are not allowed in the safari drive for safety reasons.
All viewing areas are accessible by wheelchairs and pushchairs, with the exception of the giraffe platform.
Wheelchair Hire - Wheelchairs can be hired. It is advisable to book in advance via the main switchboard (Tel: 0151 430 9009) during normal office hours. There is no charge for this service.
Accessible toilets are available
Baboon Bus can be converted to allow one wheelchair (please provide 48 hours’ notice to allow conversion).
Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park
Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park, By Stirling, FK9 4UR
Concessionary price; Disabled (15 years and over) £7.60 (proof will be required), Carers £7.60 (when accompanying disabled person)
Dogs are not allowed in the park but they do provide kennels subject to a £1.00 refundable deposit.
Wheelchair hire is available by calling 01786 841430.
Accessible toilets available
There is no wheelchair access on the safari boats.
West Midlands Safari Park
West Midland Safari Park is situated off the A456 between Bewdley and Kidderminster in Worcestershire, DY12 1LF.
Concessions: Carer goes free. Disabled visitor pays £17.00
Assistance dogs are allowed in the Discovery Trail, Dinosaurs, Adventure Theme Park and parts of the African Village. They cannot be admitted to any areas where there are free-roaming animals, so are not admitted to the Lemur Woods, Twilight Cave or Lorikeet Landing. They are also not admitted to the drive-through safari, but the park has onsite boarding kennels located at the entry to the Park. A key for these is available at Reception.
Wheelchair hire - A small number of wheelchairs are available on free loan and can be reserved in advance (Tel: 01299 402114).
Accessible toilets are available.
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Images by Bridget Davey - Woburn Safari Park