Auckland on wheels 

When I told people in Wellington the only  other place in was visiting was auckland I was met with sympathetic expressions and questions of why. For me the answer was simple I’m researching leadership in disability in couldn’t come to new Zealand and  not meet be accessible (a separate blog  will follow)  and they are based in Auckland.

As a tourist i approached my visit to Auckland with a  sense of dred after the high of Wellington. People’s reaction to Auckland made me lower my expectations but having been  here for just over a week I can’t help but feel auckland doesn’t deserve the dreary reputation it’s acquired. 

Auckland is a city , not particularly beautiful but it doesn’t need to be.  Auckland is the biggest  city in new Zealand home to around a third of the country’s population  and it’s clearly the commercial capital of new Zealand.

Auckland is a massive change from Wellington it is fast, loud, big and unavoidably hilly.  We have used buses without issue to get everywhere in Auckland because the hills are insurmountable in a manual wheelchair. 

We also hired a car for some of our visit  to enable us to see some of the surrounding countryside and it was worth it. 

In Auckland we have been to 

  • The art gallery
  • The harbour 
  • The zoo
  • One tree  Hill
  • Cornwall park
  • The sky tower 

    With the car we also visited

    • Piha
    • Waitakere ranges
    • Devonport 
    • Manakua head lighthouse 

    For me the drive around Piha and seeing live kiwis at auckland zoo were my highlights as it was possible to get close up.

    It might not have the warmth of Wellington but it has a wide variety of things to do and with easy access to scenery like this..

    It’s definitely worth a stop.

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    Wellington with a wheelchair 

    Going from Melbourne to Wellington  was a bit of a shock to the system. after the hustle and bustle of melbourne initially  Wellington felt small and quiet. That feeling didn’t  last too  long although even now having left the city is struggle to think of in as a capital mainly because it feels to friendly and compact to fit that description. 

    Wellington had always had a spot on my itinerary not because I had a burning desire to go there but because for the last two years it has been the place my friend Erin calls home (there’ll be more about Erin later in a separate blog).

    Having insider / local knowledge available has definitely caused me to have a bias towards Wellington but I feel even without my excellent host it would have ended up with a soft spot for the city.

    Wellington is the furthest  capital city from london in world although for  many reasons including Britain’s dark colonial past (and present?) in many ways it feels very familiar. My impression of Wellington is it is probably one of the most chilled out capitals in the world. 

    Wellington is know as the windy city and for good reason not only is it windy but like the UK the weather changes frequently so if visiting bring layers,  bring waterproofs and be prepared for outfit changes. 

    Central Wellington is so compact it often seems silly to  bother with public transport in fact thanks to my pa Kate most of the time we just  got around on foot and wheel. There are hills in Wellington but if like us you stay in the CBD they are fairly spread out.

    By in large access in Wellington was better than I  have experienced in Australia however sometimes access was dependent on having a non-disabled companion & good puzzle skills & finding accessible toilets is definitely more difficult.

    The major  access challenge of the city is the dropped kerbs , they exist  but they are a bit of a free rollacoaster ride often steep with drains and gullies.  

    Things to do in Wellington 

    Much like melbourne Wellington is a foodie city it is definitely somewhere you eat and eat well (although much of our eating was driven by Erin’s knowledge of cocktails which led to more than one  expensive meal ☺)

    Apart from eating we visited the following attractions 

    • Te papa
    • The Wellington museum 
    • The cable car and museum
    • Cuba Street 
    • The parliament
    • The cathedral and old St John  

      I would recommend a visit to the parliament whether a tourist , it’s an interesting part of new Zealands past and present which is free and accessible to do.

      The tale of two museums

      Coming to Wellington everyone said see te papa and as expected for the national museum of new Zealand it is worth a  visit but for me it was not the  best museum in Wellington that honour  goes to the Wellington museum.

      The Wellington museum is definitely the under-appreciated little brother of te papa but that hasn’t stopped them from creating an enthralling visitors experience with  excellent use of multimedia technology, and innovative  exhibition displays which  invite visitors to critically evaluate what is being presented.

      Wellington as new Zealand’s cultural capital 

      Wellington prides itself on being the cultural capital of new Zealand and there’s lots to choose from  just with everything in new Zealand on a smaller scale than elsewhere in the world. 

      However we were very lucky to be in Wellington for one of the cultural events of the year  Cuba Dupa a massive Street festival along the central shopping street Cuba Street which sees bands,  artists and food taking over the street for a weekend. It felt like the place to be in new Zealand.  Erin and I also accidentally ended up at the centre of a brass band performance. I can’t say that will  happen to  every visitor but it’s certainly given me an amazing memory 

      Wellington is definitely worth a visit. 

      Melbourne 

      Melbourne was one of the places I was looking forward to seeing most on my trip and it’s didn’t  disappoint. 

      However after the tranquillity of Hobart it’s did feel like I had been hit by a wall of sound, light and people for the first few days. 

      Accessibility in melbourne was pretty good and  disabled people were a lot more visible than in other cities 

      Melbourne is a city for eating in and most restaurants had pretty good access I suspect that you can get virtually any cuisine imaginable in melbourne.

      Transport 

      Apart from the airport transfer bus (sky bus) and the train  which was very accessible and easy to use getting around central melbourne by public transport was challenge with little information about access. For example although many trams are accessible to wheelchair users outside zone 1 very few stops are. Also tourist information struggled to give us information on access. Also I was surprised at the  lack for audio information on  transport. 

      We hired a car for some of our visit predominantly because I  wanted to go to Philip island. 

      Things to do

      National  gallery victoria

      Free entry diverse  range of art and good access made this a must stop for me.

      Philip island 

      I love penguins so when I  found out about a place you could get close to them in nature it became a must see. It is about  two  hours drive from Melbourne and although there are tours from Melbourne couldn’t find any accessible ones so we hired a car and that gave us freedom to  explore the rest of the island before the penguin parade. Access for the attractions was good we did the penguin parade, kola walkway and heritage farm.

      Acmi
      The equivalent of the bfi in London but with an awesome  free exhibition on the history of  moving  image in Australia.  It has loads of interactive  stuff including a 360 motion capture booth so you can do your own matrix moves.

      First impressions of Sydney 

      Sydney Opera house
      Sydney Opera house

      I have been in Australia since Monday and having successfully beaten jet lag  I thought I’d  share my impression of Sydney. 

      The first thing thing that strikes me is everything seems so young and modern compared to London. Although the importance of history to Australia is clear everywhere.

      The second thing that hits you is just how international Sydney is it felt like days before we before met someone with an Australian accent.

      I’ve travelled quite a bit but predominantly in Europe and as a result it is quite novel to be in an English speaking country and I have to admit it makes  negotiating access easier.

      However wheelchair access is not as good as it could be or as I expected it to  be many  buildings have a step to get in or make wheelchair users use different  entrances. 

      Sydney is a lovely city and I can see why people come here and I’m looking forward to spending more time here later in my trip.

      Accessible tourist tips 1

      1. Go on an access tour of the opera house (thanks jo b for the tip) it’s a bit expensive but definitely worth it. 
      2. Grab a drink at the museum of contemporary arts great views
      3. If you are a wheelchair user don’t attempt to cross the harbour bridge as a pedestrian  it is not possible 

      Hidden gem 1

      The Martian embassy – this seemingly quirky shop in redfern is part of an initiative to get children  writing and reading  stories. 

      The ultimate test 

      Although applying for the  Winston Churchill Memorial trust fellowship was driven by my desire to find out more about the disability movement down under, part of my drive to  apply came  from  knowing that there was no other circumstances that I would subject myself to the journey.

      While for most people  going to  Australia or new Zealand from the UK is a big deal, for me it felt incredibly risky. I’ve done  long flights before but never two back to back. 

      Physically flying is a challenging as a female wheelchair user is end up being man handled to my seat and then I  have to assume that i will not be accessing the toliet during the flight. Now on a 3 hour flight going without the loo for me is doable but 11 hours takes planning.

      To minimise the impact I:

      • Travel with a personal assistant 
      • Travel in a manual wheelchair 
      • travelled via Korean air as they provided the most even flight legs
      • Strictly monitor and limit my liquid intake 
      • As a last resort wore an adult  nappy

      As it turned out Korean air  were better than most  long distance airline I have previously travelled on and offered me an aisle chair to the toliet.

      I have survived the  outward  journey but it doesn’t mean that I’m looking forward to the return.