Australia & New Zealand 2002
My wife and I have returned from a six week tour through New Zealand and Australia and thought you might be interested in some feedback. I am permanently confined to a wheelchair through spinal muscular atrophy. For the purposes of travel evaluations please bear in mind that I am lightweight, my folding manual wheelchair is narrow (22 inches overall), and that we enjoy "walking" as much as possible. We generally "hit the streets" at around 09h30, and return to our accommodation after 21h00. The "access" discussed here is obviously from a wheelchair point-of-view.
Tourism is big in New Zealand, far bigger than their government is prepared to acknowledge. In some towns the tourists outnumber the locals, and the only business is lodging, food and souvenirs. The whole of Europe, the UK and Japan appear to be touring NZ. Lots of campervans and hire cars, and a fair number of people cycling, which is really the hard way of seeing the country. Access for the disabled traveller is very good, with lodging available in all price ranges, accessable camp sites & parks, wheelchair taxiís kneeling buses, lots of ramps, boardwalks, accessable public toilets, etc.
We landed in Christchurch and spent the first day watching the punts on the Avon, walked through Hagley Park and the botanical gardens, listened to the buskers in Cathedral Square, shopped through the craft markets, photographed the trams operating around the town, and stumbled into an Edwardian rally with penny farthings, old cars and folks in period costume. Coffee shops are to be found everywhere, more so than any other city we have visited. In this part of the world it is worthwhile noting that polar fleece is the standard upper body dress, even in mid-summer! Later in the day we collected our hire car and took off for the Willowbank Animal Park to see some real Kiwis! Hilton was hustled by two Kea's (member of the alpine parrot family) who undid his shoelaces and searched for ways to remove his wheels! Saw rainbow and brown trout T---H---I---S big, but no fishing was allowed!
A day trip, out through the farming districts surrounding Christchurch, across Arthur's Pass and the Otira Gorge, to Lake Brunner proved a very good choice. Very dramatic scenery with the flat glacial valleys and the mountains tapering away in the background. A landscape artistís dream view! The NZ riverbeds are all rock strewn, with little or no sand, and the rivers flow strongly, even in summer. There was snow on the peaks, but it was t-shirt hot on the ground. The Greymouth-to-Christchurch Endurance race - running, cycling and kayaking, was on at the time with about three thousand competitors in all. Crazy people! The drive to the little coastal town of Akaroa on the Bankís Peninsula was another worthwhile day out, with its winding roads, fast corners, narrow track with no barriers, and some serious altitudes along the Summit Road, literally the rim of the volcano crater which created this area. Stunning scenery, turquoise waters, yachts, and blue skies!
Then it was on to the next stop, Mt.Cook, the highest peak in the country, via Rakaia Gorge (our first sighting of the infamous jetboats), Mt Hutt (skiing area), and Lake Tekapo. Mt.Cook presented herself straight out of the chocolate box, snow-capped, with the turquoise lake in the foreground, and forests trimming the edges. We spent a whole day there, enjoyed a peaceful picnic lunch out on the lawns in front of the lodge with Mt.Cook and the Huddleston Glacier right in front of our noses! Loretta trekked up to the viewpoint to see the Tasman Glacier, but itís moved, downwards, and so at the viewpoint all you see is glacial rubble, much like a building site. There is a placard, which poses the question 'Where is the glacier?', which is your first impression.
On to Te Anau, and our much awaited visit to Milford Sound. In a region known for its storms and rainfall levels of 7m per year! (thatís 250 inches!) we had three days of blue skies! Picture postcard stuff, blue water, sheer cliffs slicing down into the waters of the Sound, and waterfalls around every bend. Because the rock cliffs run straight down into the Sound the skippers can bring the boats right up to the rock faces, so close one can fill an outstretched cup with the water spraying down from the waterfalls above. It was dramatic scenery, put into perspective when a visiting ocean liner ventured into the Sound and was dwarfed by the surrounding cliffs. The drive down to Milford from Te Anau is worthwhile on its own, even if one doesnít go onto the Sound. Winding through the Te Anau Downs, past Mirror Lake and Lake Gunn, the Homer Falls, and through the unlit Homer Tunnel, all the time enveloped by dense forest and towering cliffs. Impressive stuff.
Doubtful Sound, pretty much an all day trip, begins with one leaving on the "Manapouri Flyer" ferry across Lake Manapouri, then a coach ride over the steep Wilmot Pass to Doubtful, and finally another ferry for a three hour cruise out to the Tasman Sea and back, followed of course by the return bus ride, and the ferry to Manapouri. The skipper on Doubtful Sound said it was the best weather he had seen in his fifty four years of working on the Sound! We went out onto a flat calm Tasman Sea, a rare occurrence indeed. Picked up a small group of penguins on the return leg, and a few fur seals, but most of them were in the water as it was so hot! The dolphins living in the sheltered waters of the Sound have little chance to experience ocean waves, so they took full advantage of our ferryís wake, leaping clear of the water in sheer enjoyment!
The bird sanctuary at Te Anau is home to some Tekhanes, only three hundred of whom still survive due to the problem of alien stoats eating them, and alien possums eating their food. There is a real possum problem here, figures quoted are of a total population of eighty million, so the best trapping, turning of possum into fur and possumdown gloves, hats and jackets, and even the road kill make no impression on their numbers. We reluctantly left the Sounds region, making a brief stop in Queenstown, action sport capital of the world. We opted for the more scenic experience of taking the SkyRail gondola up the mountainside for spectacular views of the lake, town, and the Remarkables mountain range in the background. No one bungi-jumping when we were there, but plenty of folks doing the louge, and tandem-paragliding. Another amazing drive up through the Haast Pass, stopping at every waterfall we could, and on to the West Coast, through dense coastal rain forest unique to this part of the world. The little tourist town of Franz Joseph was our springboard for exploring the glaciers, beginning with a helicopter flight to the top of Fox Glacier, landing on the ice for fifteen minutes. There is no way to describe what it was like. Perched on top of the mountain on a huge expanse of glistening ice, bigger than six football fields, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. We were then flown down the face of the glacier, over deep crevices, huge blocks of ice, and blinding white snow. It was over all too quickly . . . We then trekked up to Sentinel Lookout, and viewpoints at both Franz Joseph and Fox to see the terminal faces, but could not get as far as we would have wished. We did manage to get a reputation in the area, the hotel manageress told us other guests had spoken to her about the crazy couple with the wheelchair who were walking the local trails, most of which able-bodied visitors were struggling to cope with! Plenty of offers of assistance, some of which we accepted.
We were eaten alive by black flies on the way up the West Coast. Juicy fresh tourists! The Pancake Rocks north of Franz Josef was a worthwhile stop, providing an excellent accessable shorefront walk with good viewing positions. Strange rock formations, all perfectly laminated, and now being eroded into weird formations by the heavy surf. We enjoyed ourselves in the Nelson and Marlborough region, driving to the "end of the line" at Collingwood, which is the beginning of the Abel Tasman NP. The entire region is peppered with fruit farms and the roadside honesty boxes are a wonderful source of fresh fruit for the hungry traveller. Along the way be sure to stop at the crystal clear PuPu fresh water springs, and Kaiketeri Beach. The drive across from Nelson to Picton takes one through Havelock (the green mussel capital) and past Queen Charlotte Sound. We joined the daily mailboat run at Picton which delivers and collects mail from all the remote farms. A great way to see the Marlborough Sound and Tory Straight region with its salmon and abalone farms more closely, and at the same time gain insight into the lifestyles of its inhabitants.
The crossing on the InterIslander ferry from Picton (South Island) to Wellington (North Island) was as smooth as a pond, but it was raining and cold on arrival in Wellington. Unperturbed we turned indoors and went to the Te Papa museum with its Maori exhibits, geological shows, and fauna and flora displays. It also had the finest examples of traditional Maori bone, greenstone and woodcarvings we saw available for sale on the trip, albeit at fairly stiff prices. Wellingtonís Mt.Victoria lookout offers 360-degree views of the city, suburbs, harbour and surrounding bays, but it is not accessable!, and the view from the carpark is a poor substitute. Being the capital, the city fathers should be taken to task over this. We were in time for the Cuba Street festival, with its street markets, music, and food, so it was lunch on the streets! The tramcar up Mt.Wellington was celebrating its 100th anniversary and was free for the day! If you can manage steep gradients take the scenic route back down into the city through the botanical gardens. We only saw a fraction of the gardens, they are huge.
Northwards, ever northwards, and into the thermal areas of the island. First came Taupo, via the Tangariro National park, up Bruce Drive to the base of the volcanoes, whereupon our (new) car's radiator decided to split, and the car looked like a mini volcano itself! Suffice to say we replaced the steaming vehicle, shuffled our agenda, and re-focussed our attention on thermal areas in the region. These include the relatively sedate Craters of the Moon which has an accessable boardwalk, and Orakei Korako which had everything (geysers, springs, caves, pools) including a million steps. But we managed. The Huka Falls was worth the stop, not high by any means, but it pumps an enormous volume of water. Enjoyed a leisurely Thai dinner on the shores of Lake Taupo, watched the sun go down on a warm, windless evening, and walked the endless accessable path along the shoreline. A perfect way to end the day. On to Rotorua, and a mad rush, along with the rest of the tourist population to see the Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-O-Topu erupt at 10h15, good stuff. What everyone, including the park officials, fails to mention is that even if you miss the initial eruption of water it continues spurting full volume for at least an hour. Most visitors up and leave within the first five minutes of it erupting. Half an hour later, surrounded by the terraced amphitheatre of seating it appears almost lonely as it gushes water and steam, with no-one watching. Accessable trails (with help) take one on to their champagne pool and artistís palette. Hells Gate, our last thermal stop, was bleak, eerie and desolate, the raw edge of thermal areas. Waimangu, which appeared to be the newest of the thermal developments was not accessable.
Much is made of Mt.Manganui, known as "the Mount", on the northern coastline, but at a total height of only 250-odd metres it is no more than a hill! The Coromandel Peninsula was a strange place as it felt like we had time warped back into the movie "Deliverance", with pale youths in beanies, eyes too close together, driving beat up cars badly through the forests. They cruise up and down the streets at night with their low slung suspensions and extra large exhausts, revving their engines, wheel-spinning around corners. We had a narrow escape in the forests when one carload misjudged a corner and almost ploughed into us. Whangerai, our stop on the northern arm of the island, also sported its fair share of "Deliverance Kids", together with nightly police youth patrols. Cracks appearing in the New Zealand society? Fortunately mother nature came to the rescue in the form of the kauri trees (down to 3% of their original area), and a superb drive through the forest reserves. We found the Bay of Islands somewhat disappointing, being unable to gain really good views of the coastline from the clifftops. One probably needs to get into a boat and sail to appreciate them. We devoted an entire day to B-of-I and didnít get much in return other than increased road mileage. Te Ngere Reserve was a good choice for a lunch stop.
Then it was on to Auckland, the land of traffic jams! Took a couple of hours to adjust, if one can ever, to the congestion, but found parking a.s.a.p. and hit the streets in the wheelchair. Parking is a problem in Auckland. It is costly, and often full, so itís best to find a central spot, park there, and only return when wishing to leave the city. Parking on the North Shore and catching a ferry across to the city is possibly an option, as long as one returns before the last ferry back (at 18h00). We did the Victoria Park Market and then on to the SkyTower with its great 360-degree views of the city, and glass floors, fifty one floors up. Loretta stood on them, but with her eyes shut! She could not manage to take a photo with both feet on the glass, no matter how safe it was. Every couple of minutes a bungi jumper would bounce into view as they leapt off the upper floor! We took the ferry across to Devonport (easy access) and spent an enjoyable afternoon walking through this little tourist town. Aucklandís regional botanical gardens are unusual in that the first trees were only planted in 1974, and the gardens opened in 1982. They are therefore very new, and "in the making" so to speak.
Total days in NZ : 28
Total distance driven in hire car : 6200km
Total distance walked in wheelchair : 170km
Some comments on NZ . . .
On a previous trip we had covered Australiaís South East and East extensively, taking in the Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Tasmania, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, and lots in between! This time we chose to focus only on Adelaide, and Western Australia south of Perth.
Adelaide was a most pleasant surprise. Possibly due to the fact that we knew little of the city, and therefore landed with no preconceived ideas or expectations. It has a brilliant Central Market which could have kept us occupied for days! We visited it three times, on each occasion finding alleys and avenues into still more little stores and stalls. A Chinese supper in its foodcourt was an experience, rather than just a meal, with all shapes and sizes, all ages, and all cultural groups, all mixed together around one common goal, the enjoyment of food! Adelaide also has a parking shortage so we chose to park in the zoo / botanical garden area. Once parked one can make use of the accessable, and free, "Cat" buses which circuit the city. Not only do they get you from A to B, but one gets a guided tour as well from the well-informed and chirpy drivers.
The Arts Festival, on during our time there, did not flood the city. The Russell Street pedestrian shopping mall was filled with street entertainers and onlookers, but not excessively so. Day trips took us out to the Adelaide Hills with its many arts and crafts shops, and fruit produce stalls. The Wooden Toy Factory is worth a stop, as is the Melba chocolate/cheese/dried fruit complex. Mt.Lofty provides good views of the area and is probably better appreciated in the morning with the sun behind your back. The Whispering Wall is interesting, with its curved dam wall acting as an acoustic transmitter, allowing one to talk to those standing on the other side of the dam (almost out of view) without amplification. Another day found us in the famous Barossa Valley, wine country and home to over fifty wine farms, tasting some excellent wines, probably the most memorable being the St.Hallettís shiraz range.
Whilst in Adelaide be sure to take an evening drive, or tram, down to the coastal towns of Glenelg and/or Brighton. Bypass the trendy restaurants and bars, and rather get yourself some take-away fish Ďn chips and head down to the beachfront piers. Watching families paddling in the calm surf, fishermen casting their lines, eating a tasty supper from the warm packet on your lap as the sun goes down over the ocean in a ball of fire is one of the great pleasures of life!
Moving on to Western Australia, we grabbed our trusty hire car at the Perth airport and immediately headed south, to Albany, which proved to be the most frustrating stop. It has numerous attractions on the Fishermanís Peninsula, The Gap, Natural Bridge, Stony Hill, which are 99% accessible, with the most important last 1%, i.e. the actual attraction, being inaccessible. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble, and expense, to lay down paved paths leading to the various viewing points along the coast, but failed to carry the path to the end. In two cases the path stops literally 10m short of the viewing point. Only the able-bodied can walk across the final few rocks to the railing. Mt.Clarence lookout also fell short on access (and itís a war memorial!) but offered some views of the area.
The drive west to Walpole brings one to the accessable Tree Top Walk, a 600m long and 40m high suspension walk through the forest. Most unusual, and great fun to be eye-to-eye with big trees. The Ancient Empire Walk in the forest below is only partly accessable? Pemberton, our next stop, is a logging town with some beautiful karri (not to be confused with the New Zealand kauri) forests, trout lakes (Big Brooke Dam), and exotic birds (cockatooís, rosellaís). It also has a thriving wood furniture and sculpture community who create the finest woodwork we have ever seen. The Fine Wood Gallery, Gold Ďn Grape Gallery, and Peter Kovacsy Gallery are must seeís, even if you are not in the market to buy. Loretta attempted to climb the 61m high Gloucester Tree (used as a forest fire observation tower), but abandoned the attempt after a couple of metres! Her story is that she could not leave Hilton to be eaten alive or carried off by the flies.
Went to the Eagles Heritage bird of prey sanctuary outside Margaret River, off the Caves Road up to Bunbury, to see the unique Australian wedge tailed eagle. Sadly only ten thousand wedge tailed eagles are left, and thanks to the government supported hunting and poisoning programmes we can expect the species to be extinct in the next thirty years. Stopped in at the little coastal town of Busselton, with its two kilometre long pier. It was a fascinating insight into the power of tourism since, in only 1971 the pier was closed to shipping and left to fall apart. In 1998 it was extensively damaged by fire. Now, thanks entirely to tourists flowing through the area seeking sights and entertainment it is being restored, and an underwater observatory (which will have an elevator for wheelchairs) installed at a cost of many millions of dollars! We stopped off in Freemantle en-route to Perth (only 16km away) and did the tourist thing and had coffee on the Cappuccino Strip. However, ran out of Freemantle before we ran out of parking time.
Perth, our final stop, was lovely and warm, allowing us to walk around the city, along the river (very accessable) down to the ferry terminal, watching the ferries and feeding the seagulls. The city is sporting a new, very modern, bell tower at the ferry terminal, which shares some design attributes with the Sydney opera house. With the day over one can do a lot worse than taking in fish Ďn chips on the wharf. Perthís Kings Park functions as botanical gardens, nature reserve, bush reserve, and public park. It also offers the best views of the city and the Swan River basin.
Total days in Oz : 10
Total distance driven in hire car : 2100km
Total distance walked in wheelchair : 70km
Some comments on Australia . . .
Beds, Wheels, and Food
In New Zealand we decided to try an alternative style of accommodation, wherever possible, to hotels. "Holiday Parks" is the term used to describe centres which offer a range of lodging facilities from tent space, to campervan, to cabins. HAPNZ (www.holidayparks.co.nz) is an umbrella body which brings dozens of them together across the country. A more selective group is Top 10 (www.topparks.co.nz) which sets high standards for its members. When either of these were unavailable we resorted to the Motel Association of NZ (MANZ, www.manz.co.nz). First up it has to be said that all three have excellent websites. Nothing fancy, but they work very well, and in double quick time one can fire off a collection of enquiry eMails to chosen lodgings. They are proof that one doesnít have to spend millions on eCommerce to develop a system that works.
Below is the list of accommodation we used, with contact details, and a description of each. Some of the comments may seem a trifle "picky", but we have tried to assess the rooms in terms of all mobility impaired tourists, and not just ourselves, working on the assumption that many disabled travellers are on their own and do not have able-bodied companions. A number of items stand out, namely :
Christchurch Central Park Motor Lodge, 15 Riccarton Rd.
Ph. 3 3432033, Fax. 3 3432090, Res. 0800 663664,
Zoned parking outside, easy access into room. Bedroom area quite limited. Sliding door to bathroom, grabrails, pedestal handbasin, roll-in shower, no shaving mirror. Kitchenette, but not accessable. Free-standing table in room.
Twizel High Country Holiday Lodge, 23 MacKenzie Dr, Twizel.
Ph. 3 4350671, Fax 3 4350747,
Free standing bungalow, ramped, with parking. Large bedroom. Sliding door to bathroom, grabrails, pedestal handbasin, roll-in shower, no shaving mirror. Kitchenette, but not accessable. Free-standing table in room.
TeAnau TeAnau Mountain View Top10, Mokonui Str & Te Anau Tce.
Ph. 3 2497462, Fax. 3 2497262, Res. 0800 249746,
Parking outside door, easy access into room. Large bedroom area. Sliding door to bathroom, grabrails, accessable handbasin, roll-in shower, no shaving mirror. Kitchenette, but not accessable. Free-standing table in room.
Wanaka Bay View Motel, Studholme Rd,
Ph 3 4437766, Fax 3 4439194,
Parking outside door, easy access into room. Large bedroom area. Sliding door to bathroom, grabrails, accessable handbasin, roll-in shower, no shaving mirror. Built-in table. Kitchenette, but not accessable. Front porch not accessable.
Franz Josef Glacier Gateway Motel, Franz Josef Village, South Westland,
Ph 3 7520776, Fax 3 7520732, Res 0800 372694,
Zoned parking outside, ramped access into building. Large bedroom area. Swing door to bathroom, grabrails, pedestal handbasin (too low), roll-in shower, no shaving mirror. Kitchenette, but not accessable. Free-standing table in room.
Nelson Greenwood Park, Cnr Lansdowne Rd & Coastal Hway, Appleby,
Ph 3 5444685, Fax 3 5444527, Res 0800greenwood,
Parking outside door, easy access into room. Large bedroom area, separate spare bedroom. Sliding door to bathroom, grabrails, miniature handbasin!, roll-in shower, no shaving mirror. Kitchenette, but not accessable. Free-standing table in room.
Picton Broadway Motel, 113 High Street,
Parking outside door, easy access into room. Bedroom area quite limited. Swing door to bathroom, grabrails, pedestal handbasin, roll-in shower (fixed head), a shaving mirror!. Kitchenette, but not accessable. Free-standing table in room.
Wellington Hutt Park Top10 HP, 95 Hutt Park Rd, Lower Hutt,
Ph 4 5685913, Fax 4 5685914, Res 0800 488 872,
Parking outside door, ramped access into room. Large bedroom area. Sliding door to bathroom, grabrails, accessable handbasin, roll-in shower, no shaving mirror. TV mounted in top corner, without a remote! Kitchenette, but not accessable. Free-standing table in room.
Taupo Lake Taupo HP, 28 Centennial Dr (Off Spa Rd),
Ph 7 3786860, Fax 7 3786860
Parking outside door, access into room with effort. Bedroom area quite limited. Swing door to bathroom, no grabrails, built-in handbasin with cupboard underneath, roll-in shower, no shaving mirror. Kitchenette, but not accessable. Free-standing table in room.
Rotorua Holdens Bay HP, 5-7 Stonebridge Park Dr,
Ph 7 3459925, Fax 7 3455126, Res 0800 939993,
Advertised as an accessable room, but actually not, for wheelchairs anyway. Parking outside door, easy access into room. Bedroom area quite limited. Swing door to bathroom, no grabrails, built-in handbasin with cupboard underneath, toilet out of bounds, stepped shower. Kitchenette, but not accessable. Free-standing table in room.
Thames Coastal Motor Lodge, 608 Tararu Road,
Ph 7 868 6843, Fax 7 868 6520,
Parking outside door, easy access into room. Large bedroom area. Sliding door to bathroom, grabrails in wrong places!, pedestal handbasin, roll-in shower, a shaving mirror!. Kitchenette, but not accessable. No accessable table in room.
Whangerai Whangerai HP, 24 Mair Street,
Ph 9 4376856, Fax 9 4375897,
Parking outside door, ramped access into room. Compact bedroom and en-suite with wood floors (what a pleasure!). Fully accessable bathroom unit outside door, en-suite is OK if one can stand. Kitchenette, but not accessable. Free-standing table in room.
Auckland Manukau Top10, 902 Great South Rd, Manukau City,
Ph 9 2668016, Fax 9 2684209, Res 0800 4226737,
Parking outside door, ramped access into room. Bedroom area quite limited. Sliding door to bathroom, no grabrails, built-in handbasin blocked by washing machine!, roll-in shower with dangerous stainless steel floor, no shaving mirror. Kitchenette accessable! Free-standing table in room.
Adelaide Flag Manhattan Motor Inn, 471 Main North Road, Enfield,
Ph 08 82622748, Fax 08 83497619,
Parking outside door, easy access into room. Large bedroom area. Sliding door to bathroom, grabrails, pedestal handbasin, roll-in shower, no shaving mirror. Kitchenette accessable! Built-in table in room.
Williams Williams Motel
Ph 08 98851192, Fax 08 98851298
Not listed as being accessable, and not so without assistance. Those able to stand would manage. Parking outside door, easy access into room. Bedroom area quite limited. Swing door to bathroom, no grabrails, accessable handbasin, stepped shower, no shaving mirror. Kitchenette, but not accessable. No table in room.
Albany Norman House, 28 Stirling Terrace,
Ph/Fax 08 98415995,
B&B lodging. Parking outside but sandy, ramped access into house. Large bedroom area. Sliding door to bathroom, grabrails, pedestal handbasin, roll-in shower, no shaving mirror. Free-standing table in room.
Pemberton Glenhaven, 25 Browns Rd,
Ph/Fax 08 97760028,
B&B lodging. Parking outside across gravel, ramped access into house. Tiled floors throughout. Large bedroom area. Sliding door to bathroom, grabrails, built-in handbasin with cupboards underneath, roll-in shower, no shaving mirror. No table in room.
Bunbury Castlehead B&B, 44 Elinor Bell Rd, Australind,
Ph 08 97970272,
Not a wheelchair accessable lodging. Parking outside door, easy access into room. Bedroom area quite limited. Swing door to bathroom, no grabrails, built-in handbasin with cupboard underneath, stepped shower with sliding door, no shaving mirror. No accessable table in room.
Perth Goodearth Hotel (formerly Terrace Hotel), 195 Adelaide Terrace.
Ph. 08 94927777, Fax. 08 94927749,
Parking in basement, elevator up to rooms. Huge bedroom/living/kitchen area. Swing door to bathroom, grabrails, built-in handbasin with cupboard underneath (too low), roll-in shower & showerchair. Kitchenette, but not accessable. Free-standing table in room.
In New Zealand we used Apex Car Hire (www.apexrentals.co.nz), a good website, excellent eMail service through their Christchurch offices! Sadly it all went pear shaped on the North Island with first the car breaking down, and then their Auckland office refusing to refund expenses we incurred with the breakdown. We did resolve the issue, but not before it became an unpleasant experience. In Australia we used Avis Car Hire (www.avis.com), a dreadful website, certainly enough to put us off but for the fact that we could earn loyalty card points! The deal was struck by eMail, which proved to be painless. The cars were in excellent condition and the collection and drop-off smoothe and simple. We contacted the NZAA and AAA (www.nzaa.co.nz, www.aaa.asn.au) long before departure and while they promised to mail some info it never materialised. The intentions of the AAís left us somewhat bemused. As a mechanism for, or service to, motorists the AA seemed almost reluctant to distribute maps to members, choosing to charge quite heavily for them. This is in sharp contrast to other publications which are available free, such has huge 500+ page travel guides and accommodation books. In our humble opinion the maps should be free (to encourage the movement of people, as the free bus services do in the cities), and the huge guides should have a cost factor? Regardless, the car rental maps, free, were more than adequate.
The InterIslander Ferry (www.travelnz.com/ferry-interislander.html) took us from Picton on the South Island to Wellington on the North Island for NZ$55 each. They claim to offer concessions to disabled travellers, but we had to pay full fare. The booking was handled through Apex as part of the car hire package. No problem with the wheelchair at any stage, and accessable toilets in both terminals, and on board the ferry.
The Milford & Doubtful Sound Cruises (www.fiordlandtravel.co.nz) have a good website, easy to book through, and they followed up very quickly on my wheelchair comment. They put us on the midday Milford cruise because it uses the larger boat. The weather was beautiful so Hilton spent the entire 2h30 seated right at the bow in his wheelchair! Wild horses couldnít have prized him away! The Doubtful Sound is a different matter. It involves three stages, the lake crossing from Manapouri, the bus ride to Doubtful, and the ferry ride onto the Sound, and that is the only way to do it. None of the stages are accessable, but, as in our case, we were determined, and assisted by good people all the way. We knew the situation beforehand, Fiordland Travel were very honest and upfront about the levels of access.
Whilst the accommodation, ferries and car rental bookings were easily concluded via eMail the same cannot be said for the airlines. We had the distinct impression that eMailed queries or bookings just do not seem to enjoy the same priority as a real live person. Our booking took two months to conclude, approximately fifteen eMails, and double that in phone calls. Our lasting impression is that we would have been better off plonking ourselves down in front of a travel agent and not moving until the flights had been well and truly nailed down! Airlines around the world are battling, and we are not surprised. They just donít seem to understand how things work today. They are out of touch. We used SAA (www.flysaa.com) for the international legs, and Qantas (www.qantas.com.au) for the domestic and NZ to Oz legs.
Right at the start of the planning we adopted a principle of "if youíre not on the Net, or canít be reached via eMail, then you donít exist". This was partly done to test the viability of those two mediums in travel planning and booking, and also to evaluate the speed with which such an exercise can be concluded. It put eCommerce to the test. The results were interesting, with 75% of the accommodation being finalised within three working days of the initial enquiry.
All in all we must have sent out over one hundred and twenty eMail accommodation enquiries for eighteen destinations. We received over fifty "no vacancy" replies, the bulk of which was due to not being able to accommodate the wheelchair, the balance due to being fully booked. For some reason a couple took over a month to answer, why bother?! One motel answered our eMail enquiry a month later, by fax?! Some folks just donít understand! The enquiries went out in November/December, with the departure date being February. We usedwww.google.com for all our Internet searches, finding it to be very fast and effective.
For us, an integral part of travelling is the "fooding" experience! Both New Zealand and Australia are becoming melting pots of different cultures as emigrants arrive to seek better lives. This is reflected nowhere more so than in the food, where the Pacific Rim is strongly represented. We travel on a very limited budget so fancy restaurants are a no-no. We donít eat burgers, nor hotdogs, and rarely pizzas. All that stodgy food just bogs one down! Strangely we found pizzaís to be "expensive" in NZ, costing approx. NZ$18 each, as opposed to a noodle dish at NZ$7 to NZ$11. We go for as much veggies as possible, with noodles or rice, and there, nothing beats Asian food. We also buy fresh fruit whenever we can. Still the best value for money meals in town are to be found at the Retired Servicemanís Associations or RSAís (called "League" in Oz, RSL). Here one can get a wholesome plate of meat and three veg for NZ$6 to NZ$10, leaving some hard earned money over for a glass of wine, a beer, or even some pavlova! Pack Ďn Save and Woolworths have excellent deli sections which are perfect for the hungry traveller wishing to construct a delicious meal from the variety of bread rolls, cold meats, cheeses, and dips available. The quality of the produce was outstanding. We didnít lock ourselves into hunting down selected restaurants, choosing rather to explore the town, stopping to pick out places which caught our fancy. Here are some of the more interesting ones we patronised . . . Argee Bhargee & Cambodian Noodle Bar (Christchurch), La Toscana (Te Anau), Asian Noodle Bar (Taupo), The Fat Dog (Rotorua), Peppertree (Coromandel), Karma Sutra (Whangerai), Hanís Noodle House & Viet Ho (Perth). In Perth, Williams Street is home to countless restaurants, and Hay Street the base for foodcourts.
Probably the best trip we have done in six years of good trips! Difficult to put our finger on the exact reason for this feeling, but we believe it was largely due to the good weather, the spectacular and unique scenery, the friendly and genuinely helpful people, the ease of touring with a wheelchair, and the safe conditions of travel. It resulted in us having no stress levels, and little fatigue, even after six weeks of travel.
Based on past tour review feedback some folks find our comments a bit forthright, but we say it the way we see it. We have repeatedly proved that travelling in a wheelchair is neither daunting, nor limiting, and hope our experiences will be of benefit to anyone who may be planning a tour of New Zealand or Australia. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you require any additional information.
Hilton & Loretta
Noordhoek, South Africa