An Accessible Road Trip in New Zealand

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Disability Horizons

Jasmine took an incredible three-week-long vacation down to New Zealand with her friend and her carer. She went on a road trip around the north region of New Zealand (Auckland to Wellington). “As a massive Tolkien fan, and an environmental scientist, this trip was a dream come true,” she shares. 

Jasmine has Friedreich’s Ataxia, and she uses a wheelchair, a Quickie Helium, to get around. Her wheelchair is 22 inches wide wheel to wheel. It has a rigid frame, detachable wheels, and a foldable back, which comes flat down to the seat.

Transport and Essential Equipment

On board the flight to New Zealand, Jasmine encountered a few problems. She flew with Air New Zealand on a Boeing 777-300 plane because she was informed that there was an accessible toilet. While the aisle chair could be placed adjacent to the toilet seat, the toilet was still pretty cramped, and the handrails were difficult to reach and grab on to. The aisles on the plane were narrow as well. Similarly, Jasmine felt uncomfortable on the aisle seat because it was narrow, too. However, the Air New Zealand staff were very helpful: Jasmine and her traveling companions were upgraded to Skycouch (Economy +), and the staff assisted her in the plane and the toilet.

Upon arriving at Auckland, they met with Freedom Mobility at the airport, whom they made prior reservations with to rent a van. It was a Toyota Noah that had a spacious boot that could fit all of their belongings, which consisted of three big suitcases, Jasmine’s wheelchair, and other rented equipment (shower chair and toilet frame). The van also came equipped with an electronic swivel chair. After a thorough run-through of how the van works and the New Zealand road laws, coupled with a GPS system provided by Freedom Mobility and a New Zealand disabled badge which Jasmine had purchased.

They stopped at Invacare to pick up the rented shower chair and toilet frame then headed headed straight to the motel, Best Western Auckland, to rest. It was a simple room equipped with basic essentials, and the wheelchair could fit under the sink. After a good night’s sleep, they were good to go!

Exploring Auckland

woman in a manual wheelchair holding a sword and smiling

They spent the next couple of days in Auckland, visiting sea life attractions, the wheelchair accessible SkyTower, and shopping. The first activity on their itinerary was whale and dolphin watching with the Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari. While the staff assisted Jasmine down a steep ramp to the wharf and lifted her up the boat, the rest of the boat was not accessible. The boat ride, however, was a fruitful one as they managed to marvel at many dolphins up close, and even saw a Bryde’s whale.

Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium was their next stop. The whole aquarium was completely accessible. Although the conveyor and paths were narrow, Jasmine was able to fit on both. Some of the extra tours offered, such as swimming with sharks or walking with penguins, were not accessible, however. But there was still plenty to do and see at the aquarium. Jasmine fed a “hospitalised” turtle, too!

Exploring Waitomo

In Waitomo, the travelers explored the Ruakuri cave, which is “the only wheelchair accessible cave in the Southern Hemisphere.” They made advance bookings as it is quite a busy cave. The cave is pretty dark and has steep paths, but it did not limit where Jasmine could navigate and explore. “I managed to get everywhere the able bodied people could,” she shares.

Then, the big day that Jasmine had been waiting for arrived: visiting Hobbiton. Hobbiton is meant to evoke a rural and organic atmosphere, hence, uneven and gravelly paths and slopes are to be expected. They drove up to the set in their van instead of taking the tour bus because there were steps to board. The paths in the site itself were narrow and steep. Some of the steeper areas required assistance, but other than that, Jasmine was able to get around fine. However, she decided to forego making her way up to Bag End, a very steep hill.

Exploring Taupo

After their stay in Hamilton, they drove down to Taupo where they stayed for four nights at the Karaka Tree Motel. The toilet and shower area, and also the room itself, were generally too small for moving around easily or comfortably. The carpeting also made pushing difficult. Sizing up the room’s conditions, Jasmine does not recommend staying here for more than a night.

They then drove to Rotarua and visited Te Puia, a geothermal valley, on the second day. “Nearly all of the geothermal park is accessible (though one or two of the paths are a bit steep), and even with the bits that aren’t, it’s still possible to see,” shares Jasmine. You can also visit kiwis there at the kiwi house. Maori culture is also prevalent at Te Puia, where you can view Maori arts and crafts. You can also catch a Maori cultural performance, the Haka, like what Jasmine and her travelling partners did. The room had a ramp, and chairs were moved easily to let Jasmine sit at the front.

The next day, they went on the Riverjet up the Waikato River. “Two men carried my chair and I down to the boat, and then lifted me onto the boat,” shares Jasmine. “We were on the big boat, called the Beast, so my wheelchair could fit in the space next to the engine.”

Exploring Taihape, Wellington, and New Plymouth

After a long drive to Taihape, Jasmine and her companions visited the wheelchair accessible New Zealand army museum. Then in Wellington, they visited Te Papa national museum, most of which was accessible. On the second day, they visited the Wellington Zoo. Jasmine contacted the zoo beforehand, and they informed her of the steep hills and that some areas might be inaccessible to her. “They also mentioned that they are trying to improve accessibility,” she shares. In the zoo, Jasmine did find that the hills were too steep, and could potentially be dangerous, but she managed to get around with the help of her friend.

Finally in New Plymouth, the travelers spent time enjoying the views along the coastal walkway. While the walkways do cross over train tracks, they are fairly easy to pass, “as long as you don’t get stuck in the gaps between tracks,” shares Jasmine.

All in all, Jasmine’s incredible road trip through New Zealand was a huge success. 

Share this post with your friends to show them that a long road trip in New Zealand is definitely possible!

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