Our trip around the South Island of New Zealand begins and ends in Christchurch, the main international gateway.
The South Island of New Zealand has often been described as rolling the best of the whole worlds scenery in one small accessible package. It is blessed with magnificent Alpine scenery from the Southern Alps, which form the spine of the island. It has some of the most perfect coastal scenery from the peaceful bays of its Pacific Coast to the wild ruggedness of the west coast. It has thermal hot springs, some of the best wine growing regions of the world, arguably the best Whale Watching and Dolphin encounters, and a fiordland almost as good as Scandinavia.
The map below allows for quick navigation to a place of interest or simply scroll through the page to read the full blog.
On Arrival at Christchurch
Once off the aircraft on arrival into Christchurch proceed to the immigration area. While it is not well marked proceed down the immigration queue marked "flight crew". There is a notice that states this aisle is also for people with a disability but it is easy to miss. The aisle is also marked aisle 17 when you approach the immigration counter. This will expedite your clearance of the formal immigration procedures and avoid the narrow queuing aisles. Once clear of immigration the baggage claim area is immediately in front and then the formal quarantine and customs to the left. All baggage will be X-Rayed at this point before final exit into the external terminal where transport, hire cars etc will be waiting.
Our trip will cover the South Island by heading north from Christchurch into the Alpine Pacific Triangle to Kaikoura, then inland to Hamner Springs, across the Lewis Pass to the west coast and on the Greymouth, then down to Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers. Continuing on via Wanka to Queenstown, Te Anu and Milford Sound, then to Dunedin, and finally back to Christchurch.
Christchurch to Kaikoura
The drive to Kaikoura is a pleasant 2.5 hour drive across the Canterbury plains crossing agricultural land and crossing several of New Zealand's famed braided rivers. The scenery then changes as you enter the Waipara Valley wine growing regions. The final section of the drive is through some windy hill country before reaching the coast 18 km from Kaikoura. The road then hugs the coast offering several great spots for seal viewing as they sun themselves on the rocks.
The drive affords two good locations for a break.
The first is at the Pukeko Junction Cafe, about 45 minutes after leaving Christchurch. It has a good cafe serving great coffee and a wide variety of savoury and sweet items for a lunch brunch, morning tea, or a full lunch. It has disabled toilet facilities as well as disabled parking and entry to the building from the northern side. Tables are available both inside and outside.
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The second break stop is about another half hour further up the road at Cheviot. Cheviot is an agricultural town but has a variety of food and drink outlets and an accessible toilet facility midway through the town.
Kaikoura is a picturesque little town built either side of a headland. The Pacific Ocean rolls onto its shoreline while behind the Southern Alps sweep around to meet the ocean just north of the town. The shoreline is black volcanic stones which can a photographers dream when the sun is out, the ocean takes on a blue green tinge and the Southern Alps are covered in snow. The town lies at the end of a deep trench,the Kaikoura Canyon in the floor of the Pacific and just under a mile offshore it plunges to a depth of 2000 metres. Kaikoura was originally a whaling town as whales were plentiful following the deep trench close to shore. Today Kaikoura still earned its living from the whales but now by the tourist dollar with people coming to the town to view these magnificent creatures. As well as the whales the waters abound with dolphins and seals. The latter are easy to spot along the coastline both north and south of the town. There are plenty of viewing spots, where ever these is an outcrop of rocks and in each location the seals are easily viewed from your car or from the roadside making it extremely accessible.
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The main strip of Kaikoura is one along the foreshore either side of the main street. As it is an old town accessibility varies greatly. Many of the shops and places to eat have three to four steps. Some have built ramps but they are steep and are not accessible without the aid of someone to push. For fast food the bridge cafe offers full accessibility with its own car park on the bridge side of the building. The diary (milkbar or drug store) at the bridge end of the town is also accessible. The Adelphi offers good quality pub food and is accessible through the side door opposite the mural. Accessible tables are available on the verandah at the front of the building. Public toilets are at the southern end of the town shopping strip. Further south is the information centre but the access ramp is too steep for unassisted access. Access to the supermarket is again too steep but there is a New World supermarket 2 kilometres to the north of the town on the Picton road with good car parking and level access.
Whale Watch Kaikoura.
For one of the great wildlife experiences Whale Watch Kaikoura operates year with its modern fleet of purpose built catamarans. The Giant Sperm Whale lives in these waters and can be viewed throughout the year. Subject to weather the tours are scheduled at 7:15 am, 10 am, and 12:45 daily. The tours are available for people with disabilities. The main booking office information centre gift shop and cafe at the Whale Station are all accessible from a ramp at the sea side of the building. The outdoor cafe is also accessible via a ramp opposite the beach side entrance to the main building. While there is an access ramp the tables provided are not accessible as the seats are not moveable and there is no roll under provision on the tables.
Wheelchair dependant passengers are advised to take their own cars around to the vessel dock in South Bay and parking is provided next to the vessel jetty. Access to the jetty is by a slight gradient ramp. Passengers will be transferred into a carry chair, very similar to an aircraft aisle chair at the point for passage up the gangway and into the vessel and will be put into one of the front windows seats on the catamaran. Passengers own wheelchairs can be stored in their own cars or if they are travelling alone in the secure maintenance sheds on the wharf. Captains will ensure they position their vessels to the side of the whales that give viewing to their disabled passengers. The toilets on the vessels are not accessible and the aisle chair is not available during the whale watching cruise. Disabled passengers are loaded first and disembarked last. The cruise length is approximately 2:15 and with embarkation disembarkation the total duration is approx 2:45 - 3:00 hours. Advance is booking is requested to ensure staff are on hand at the jetty to ensure safe embarkation. Wheelchair passengers are requested to arrive at the jetty early to enable their embarkation prior to the arrival of the bused passengers from the Whale Station.
Picton is most well known as the entry point to the South Island by those using the Intra Islander from Wellington. It is often just driven through by those heading for the Alpine Pacific Triangle, Nelson and the west coast or those heading further south to Christchurch. For those with the time it is one of New Zealand's most picturesque towns and one that is very accessible. Most of the shops and cafe's along the main street are at street level and afford easy access for wheelchair travellers. The cafe's at the sound end of the town offer spectacular views across Queen Charlotte Sound. The foreshore park is accessible by the main street via a long and gently sloping ramp or via a lower car park next to the "ISite" information centre. The boardwalk along the front is flat wide and has a very even surface. There is disabled parking in a lot along the main street as well as several parallel spots along the main street. Toilet facilities are available at the parking lot or at both the upper and lower level of the maritime museum. The lower toilet being accessible from the foreshore park along a well graded paved pathway. A spectacular side trip along the Queen Charlotte Scenic route is worth the detour, with picnic parks available 6 and 8 kilometres from town. There are no disabled facilities at either but the car parks and picnic areas are smooth and flat.
The Marlborough region of the South Island produces some of New Zealand's best wines. A particular favourite and one for which the region is known worldwide is the Sauvignon Blanc. Cloudy Bay has also been a favourite of mine so I couldn't pass on the opportunity to visit this world class winery. Parking is easy, and the cellar door is accessible by the side entrance to the right hand side of the building.
Hanmer Springs lies 135 km north of Christchurch or a short 2 hour drive from Kaikoura, as we did if you are following the Alpine Pacific triangle. If travelling from Kaikoura there is a convenient stop for coffee and a snack at Waiau. Accessible toilets are available opposite the diary although the dairy itself is not accessible with two steps at its front door.
Hanmer Springs was a New Zealand Tourism award winner in 2004, 2005, and 2006. It is a very picturesque town nestled in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountain peaks. It is a year round resort with skiing in the winter and a range of summer activities from golf, walks, fishing and a range of adrenalin activities from jet boating, quad biking, clay target shooting and bungy jumping.
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Hanmer Hot Springs and Spa
Hanmer is best known for its thermal hot springs and the Hanmer Thermal Hot Springs and Spa is one of the best outdoor thermal water experiences that can be found anywhere. The pool temperatures range from 25 degrees C to 40 degrees C in a range of nine pools. Five of the pools are accessible. Four by aqua lift and one by a curved sloping ramp. The spa complex has a stainless steel wheelchair for use in that pool. For those with young children the kids pool pool and water playground has a long sloping beach area which is also accessible with the supplied wheelchair. An accessible change room and shower is available. The Spa complex has a number of private hot pools. These are really only accessible for those with the ability to raise themselves from floor level into their chairs. The pools themselves have steps with low hand rails for entry into the water.
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For those wanting more of an adrenalin rush Thrillseekers Canyon offers a variety of activities that are accessible, although advanced notice and booking is requested. The Jet boat experience down the thrillseeker canyon is one of the best jet boat experiences to be had in New Zealand. It is a longer and less commercial ride than those offered in Queenstown and the scenery of the canyon is quite remarkable. It will give you the same if not better rush from the close encounters with the canyon walls!! The road down from the booking office is steep but transport will be arranged in their van. A new floating jetty now makes it possible to load disabled passengers into the boats. The guys at Thrillseekers will make the experience happen but it will involve being carried along the narrow floating jetty.
Other activities that are available and accessible are clay pigeon shooting and new this year year tandem quad biking. Tandem off road go-kart with hand controls are also also available but only by advanced booking and special request.
Thrillseekers is far less busy than some of the organisations further south and they will do their up most to give you a fulfilling and enjoyable day. If you are arriving at the canyon booking office, ignore the parking area and continue up past the building towards the bridge. From their there is a level gravel path to the building which is accessible from the bridge side.
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We reviewed three accommodation options from luxury to budget. Village Lake Luxury Apartments.
The Village Lake Luxury Apartments are newly completed and were due to open over the Easter Weekend. There are two apartments one three bedroom and one two bedroom. Both are superbly appointed throughout with open plan design, wide doorways, well equipped bathrooms and kitchen areas. The living area has a large gas fireplace and plenty of room for the family or a group of friends. Sofa heights allow easy transfer. Parking is provided just outside the entrance to both apartments. The apartments are a short drive from the centre of Hanmer and the Hot Springs.
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Hanmer Inn Motel
For a good clean and comfortable 3 star hotel, which is part of the Golden Chain Group, the Hanmer Inn offers a good standard of accessible rooms. It has two rooms on the lower level with reserved wide bay parking in front of each of the units. The units have a separate bedroom, kitchenette/lounge room and a bathroom with full roll in shower. The shower is equipped with a fold down wide shower chair.
Forest Lodge is primarily used as a school camp. It recently constructed the accessibility lodge. The lodge caters for groups with a large communal kitchen and bathroom and and a series of 8 bedrooms. At either end of the building is a self contained unit. At the weekend or during school holidays these two units provided good spacious and budget accommodation for couple or families. The kitchen area of the unit has full roll under kitchen benches, sink and cook top. The bed is low and has full roll under clearance for those requiring a lift and the bathroom has a full roll in shower again with fold down seat.
Parking is available outside the doors of each unit. For those wanting a tranquil setting in the middle of Hanmer's forest this is certainly worth considering. It is about a five minute drive back into the centre of Hanmer Springs.
From Hanmer we followed the spectatular Lewis Pass to the West Coast. An easily missed point at the high point of the pass is St James Walkway. Here a not well signed path leads to a wooden boardwalk that takes you a short two minute roll to a small lake. If conditions are right the mountains will be reflected in it making it a stop well worth while. The boardwalk is wide and flat and the viewing area is quite large.
On reaching the West Coast we headed for Punakaiki and Dolomite Point and the rock formations know as Pancake Rocks. The formations are made up of limestone laid down millions of years ago. As the forces of nature have pounded Dolomite Point and erosion has occurred it has exposed the varying densities of the rock layers and giving the appearance of gigantic stacks of pancakes. The same forces of nature have created a labyrinth of caves and surge channels. The flow of the water can be clearly felt as it pushes through the channels. We were there on a relatively calm day but when the sea is rough it is forced into the channels and out through a series of blow holes. The length of the track out to Dolomite Point is 1.8 kilometres. The track is sealed and is wide. The sign at the the beginning of the walk suggests that the path is wheelchair assisted. There are two steep pinches in the path and the final section down to the bridge and up the other side to the viewing platform is beyond 1 in 12 and has a curved approach to the bridge which we would suggest be done with the aid of someone to help push. The track requires you to backtrack over the bridge as the final loop is narrow, gravel and contains numerous steps. Once back to the main track the loop can be continued. Each of the viewing platforms has wide bars below the hand rail affording a good view between.
There are disabled parking bays directly opposite the entrance to the walk and outside the information centre which also has a disabled toilet to the southern side down the boardwalk. The entry to the information centre is flat. To the left of the information centre is a cafe which has a flat entry.
In the 1860's Hotitika was the Gold capital of the West Coast. Today gold has been replaced with Pounamu, New Zealand Greenstone. 8 km north of the town is the Araura River, which was the traditional source of the stone and still accounts for a large proportion of the supply on the West Coast. The stone is expertly carved and turned into stunning jewellery. During the the week you can watch the carvers at work at the Jade Factory. The town has a quaint feel with its central clock tower. This is plenty of disabled parking and as the town is flat throughout mobility is easy. The Jade Factory has disabled toilet facilities which are clean and well maintained.
A must do while in Hotitika is to try their famous whitebait omelette or better still the whitebait omelette sandwich. These can be obtained from the cafe at the Jade Factory, Genkie Cafe or Millie's just down the road. At Millie's access is via the side door where there are also some tables and chairs. The front door has steps and the road side tables are on a platform with a 12 inch gap from the footpath. The Jade Factory cafe has easy access. If time is available the drive to Lake Kaniere is a pleasant diversion. There is a beautiful set of falls on the access road about two miles after it turns to gravel. While the access path is rocky and not accessible, the best view is from the road bridge and car window!!! Opposite the path to the falls is a path leading to the lake. Apart from a narrow entrance, around a large boulder, the path is flat and wide and a reasonable flat surface. The beach area is pebbly. The track takes about five minutes.
The drive down the coast from Hotitika to Franz Joseph Glacier is spectacular. The town of Franz Joseph Glacier is small and compact, with most of the activity in the main street. Good accommodation can be found in the streets behind and most of it is fairly level and within easy walking distance from the restaurants and activity centres. There has been some work done in the town to improve accessibility and most buildings now have level entry. The Landing Bar and restaurant is the hot sot spot of the town serving good "Pub" food and drink. Options are available for both el fresco diner outside on the deck in the warmer months, or inside. Access is via a ramp from the pavement outside Glacier Helicopters, which is next door. Beeches, a little further up the road, has both indoor and outdoor dining, including an outdoor fireplace, and a slightly more upmarket menu.
The local supermarket is accessible from the Landing Bar entry but not from the other side, which is the official exit. If visiting the supermarket double back through the cashiers and exit via the entry.
The whole point of a visit to Franz Joseph and neighbouring Fox Glaciers is to see both of the Glaciers themselves. The Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers are unique in a couple of ways. First they are two of the most accessible Glaciers in the world being less than six kilometres from the coast and main road. They are two, of only three glaciers world wide that that effectively reach sea level and descend through temperate rainforest. Just out of town the road to the glacier is the left immediately after crossing the bridge. A short drive up the well maintained gravel road brings you to the car park when two disabled parks are available immediately opposite the entry to the access paths. Disabled toilet facilities are provided next to the entry to the paths.
There is a wheelchair designated track to Peters Pool. it is 1.1 km and 25 minutes return. The path is wide and smooth with a asphalt surface. Grades are moderate but it is not a level path by any means. At Peter's pool the view of the Glacier is distant but spectacular and if it is calm it is reflected in the pool. There is a large boardwalk platform at the pool offer a great view but the best reflection is seen from the far right hand corner. Care does need to be exercised along the path however as it is cambered sharply on both edges.
While not designated as a wheelchair path, the main path to the observation point is accessible with assistance. The main path is again asphalt and wider than the the path to Peter's pool. About midway along the path there is a steep section and near the end point the path dips steeply before reaching the observation point. Beyond the observation point the paths descends onto the dry river bed which is not accessible. The view from the observation point is a lot closer than the view from Peter's Pool and well worth the effort to get there. The two steep sections would require assistance. They are both relatively short and are easily managed.
The final option for a birds eye view of the glaciers is a scenic helicopter flight. There are options for just a scenic flight or a flight and landing on the glacier. On flights that land on the glacier you have the option on staying on the helicopter. Flights are offered at the Alpine Adventure Centre or opposite at Glacier Helicopters. Advanced booking is required as not all helipads are suitable for wheelchair access. Help is provided in loading into the helicopter and parking is available next to the helipads. Assistance is required to access the helipads as the surface of the paths is loose gravel or pebbles. Both helicopter operations, however, are dedicated to making a flight happen and will provide additional staff to make the flight happen. If time, budget, and weather permit a flight over these glaciers will stay with you for a lifetime. For anyone planning a trip to the Franz Joseph or Fox Glaciers I would recommend at least a two night stay here to allow time to visit and explore and allow for changes in the weather. The west coast weather is extremely changeable and with the Southern Alps rising to 14,000 feet conditions can change rapidly.
In terms of accommodation we stayed at the Punga Lodge, which is a good four star motel. It has too accessible units 1 and 4 on the ground four with dedicated disabled parking. The bays are wide enough to cater for a van with side loading ramp. Both the units have a separate bedroom, living area with additional bedding if required, and a kitchenette. The kitchenette has a fridge, microwave and a hotplate with roll under bench and sink. The bathroom is equipped with a full roll in shower. It doesn't have a fixed fold down seat but a portable solid steel steel stool with side handles. It is a street back from the centre of town which is a short five minute roll back to the Landing Bar or other main street cafes.
About 30 minutes south of Franz Joseph is Fox Glacier. From an accessibility point of view Fox is not available to those requiring a wheelchair. The path is extremely steep and rocky and follows the river bed immediately from the car park. A recent landslip has made the path even more difficult. There are, however disabled toilet facilities available. For those wishing to view the Fox glacier continue down the road and over the bridge. Immediately on the other side of the bridge is the turnoff to "Glacier View" Following up this road you will come across a small parking area before the end of the road. From here there is a magnificent view of Fox Glacier straight out of your front windscreen without the need to leave your car. It is well worth the diversion.
If you are the Fox Glacier area on a clear day, then a must do is lake Matheson, a short detour from the township towards Gillespie's beach. The rivers in this part of the world are all a rich tea colour from the tannin leached out of the rich rainforest floor.The water of Matheson Lake is dark and very reflective. The lake is protected by vegetation on all sides and therefore the surface is most often mirror smooth. The lake is best know for its stunning reflections of Mount Cook when the sky is clear. It is best to visit the lake in the morning before any afternoon breezes come up.
Some of the guides will say that the path is wheelchair accessible, my own advice is that unless you are a wheelchair athlete treat the path as being assisted wheelchair accessible. Even so the full round trip is not accessible as there are steep grades and steps beyond jetty point. Jetty Point has an upper viewing platform and a lower one. Only the upper platform, which does afford excellent views is accessible. The path itself is a hard gravel surface and it is wide. There are a couple of steeper sections and parts of the path are quite rough with small boulders and tree routes. Some sections contain ruts and depending on your choice of front tires may require the front wheels to be lifted. Near the beginning of the path is a suspension bridge over the river. The approach on the return journey is quite rough and there is a step of about eight inches to negotiate to get onto the bridge, something that ought to fixed by park management.
Update December 8 2009 - From the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawbai
In August the Department of Conversation undertook a major upgrade of this section of track to ensure it met the standards required for disabled access. The approach to the suspension bridge on the Jetty side has been fixed as well as the track to the Jetty has had its gradient corrected at the relevant points to meet the Department of Conservation standards for a Short Walk (Disabled) track. The overall track quality has improved with a fresh layer of gravel providing a smother travel surface, and after a settling down period, a final top coat of top grade gravel is planned; this is currently planned to begin at the tail end of January 2010.
At the visitors centre there is disabled parking, and toilet and the cafe is and outside deck area are level and fully accessible.
The drive south to Wanka is spectacular but a long day either being about four hours to Wanka or 5 and a half to Queenstown longer with a number of stops. The coastal section to Haast crosses many braided rivers and pretty inlets. Sections of these coast are quite wild and spectacular if there is a sea running. About an hour south of Franz Joseph is the Salmon farm which provides a cafe and disabled toilet facilities. Another hour further south is Haast which again has cafes and disabled toilet facilities in the town just off the main road. This is the last stop for a while and the scenic drive over the Haast Pass. The pass is a slow drive and the scenery changes dramatically from coastal to rugged mountain streams and waterfalls offering several great photo opportunities. Once through the pass there is a small roadside stop with cafe and facilities. This is a tour bus stop so it be be very busy at times with it not being uncommon to have four buses there at the one time.
The final section of the drive follows the shore of Lake Wanaka and then Lake Hawea before arriving at Wanaka.
Wanaka is a breathtaking little town nestled on the shores of Lake Wanaka which is New Zealand's fourth largest lake. The backdrop is winter and spring is majestic with towering snow capped peaks. Summer brings out the water sports. It is a perfect stopover on the drive through to Queenstown or a perfect spot to stop and stay for a while.
From an accessibility point of the view the town centre and foreshore areas are flat. There is parking in the foreshore car park past the visitors centre, which is accessible via a ramp, and opposite the toilets where there are disabled facilities. There are numerous cafes and restaurants along the main street with both indoor and outdoor tables with easy access. The foreshore picnic areas are serviced by a sealed boardwalk/pathway.
If driving on to Queenstown be sure and take the scenic route via the Cardrona ski field. The views at the end of the drive as you zip zag off the mountain into Queenstown are superb.
Queenstown is often described as New Zealand's and the worlds adventure capital. It it far more than that, however, as it setting on the shore of Lake Wakatipu is picture perfect. The town is compact and everything in the town centre is within easy walking/rolling distance. Queenstown's nightlife is vibrant with a plethora of choices for dining a quiet drink, or nightclub scene. The wharf area is a great place to start for a late afternoon drink and to savour the sights of lake jet boats, paragliding, the New Zealand America Cup yacht or to watch the graceful old steam ship the TSS Earnshaw ply up the lake to the wharf. The TSS Earnshaw takes visitors on a 2 hour cruise to Walter Peak Station is a great experience and a great way to take in the mountains that tower on either side of Lake Wakatipu. The upper deck is accessible via a wide loading ramp.
Another must do in Queenstown is a visit to minus 5. Minus 5 is the ice bar located on the steamer wharf. It is a gigantic freezer that has ben converted into an ice bar complete with an ice bar, ice sculptures and ice glasses to complete the effect.
For a breathtaking view over Queenstown the Gondola is a must do. The terminal is situated in Brecon Street. Disabled parking is available next to the bus parking bays at the terminal building. The Gondola is accessible with the following restrictions. If your chair is narrow enough you will be loading via a loading ramp straight into the gondola. If the chair is too wide you will be transfered into the Gondola by the staff and if your chair is collapsable it will follow in the next car and procedure reversed at the top. For those with ridgid or heavy electric chairs a transfer will be made into a chair provided by the Gondola company for the duration of your stay at the top. Your chair will be securly stored at the base station. Once at the top there is a lift at the arrival level to the observation deck and restaurant level with level access to both. There is a snack bar, bar area and buffet restauarant available at the top. The latter is available for dinner and the night view is spectacular. At the back of the building there is a walk which affords good views and is accessible.
No visit to New Zealand is complete without the nail biting exhilaration of a Jet Boat ride through the Shotover Canyon. The Shotover Jet operates on the Shotover River at Arthurs Point which is a five minute drive from the centre of Queenstown. The Shotover Jet is equipped to take disabled passengers and are very flexible with their arrangements. Advanced notice is required, but as this is an extremely popular attraction advanced booking is well advised in any event to avoid disappointment if the operation is fully booked. On arrival at Arthurs Point there are two disabled parking bays near the check in building. If you are travelling alone the path to the building is relatively steep to gain access to the level entry area beyond the steps. The push back up to the car park is difficult. If you are travelling with others it is advisable to allow them to do the checkin. Shotover does have an option to allow you to check in at the hut at the river bank with prior arrangement. Once checked in do not park at the upper level car park but drive down to the river bank and park on the right hand side clear of the access road. The push across the river bank can be a bit difficult due to soft sand in places. At the appointed time go to the checkin hut where you be issued with a waterproof coat and life jacket. From the waiting area you will be wheeled onto the jetty which is wide down to the boat when the shotover staff will lift you into the boat and store your chair.
The ride is a thrill ride and the boat will turn sharply during the run and will include some exhilarating 360 turns. The turns are not that violent but if you don't have a good grip or arm strength you will need a friend to hold onto you during the run. At the completion of the run, which is a 35 minutes the loading procedure will be reversed with your chair waiting for you along side the boat. There are toilet facilities available at Arthurs Point but they are at the base of the building. The road down to the access path is steep and the push back up to the car park could not be done without a strong assistant.
The Shotover operation is the easiest place to take a ride in one of these New Zealand icons. There is some effort involved, but the people at Shotover will go out of their way to make your experience happen and as I said at the outset it is one of the Must Do things in New Zealand and you wont be disappointed.
A stunning day trip from Queenstown is the drive to Glenorchy and beyond into the Paradise valley or up the road to the start of the Routeburn Track. For those lovers of "The Lord of the Rings" here is the heart of Middle Earth. The road to Paradise takes into "Lothlorien" and the road to the Routeburn Track into the the heart of "Isengard".
From Queenstown it is a very pleasant hours drive up the shores of Lake Wakatipu. There are some stunning vantage points along the road and it is well worth pulling off the road into the provided parking areas to take in the view. The rugged mountains provide a stunning backdrop to the Lake and the ancient beach forests of the area give it its magical feel.
The town of Glenorchy is situated at the head of the lake and the beginning of the Dart River. The little harbour area and jetty and worth the time to explore and soak in the atmosphere. The town has a good cafe, at the Glenorchy Lodge. Entry from the street level is flat and there is great indoor/outdoor eating areas. Accessible facilities are available here and at the public restroom in the road down to jetty.
For those wanting to drive further into the hills and forests the roads beyond Glernorchy are gravel. A drive up the paradise road will take you through some stunning beach forest. Just past the old white house on the lake is an open field with a stockyard. This was the site of the battle, where Boromir is fatally wounded in the battle with the Orcs and Merry and Pippin are captured. If you are in a standard car I would not advise going beyond this point as the road becomes rough and the stream crossings progressively deeper and rougher. The drive to the beginning of the Routeburn track is equally stunning and the road is usually in good condition. There is a new pavilion at the beginning of the track which makes a great snack stop. There is no food or drink available here as it primarily a waiting area for walkers. However the building is fully accessible including disabled toilet facilities. It does seem a bit like bureaucracy gone wrong in a building intended for trekkers set out on or finishing a three day walk but it is a handy facility to know about if you are exploring the area by car.
If you can time your visit to return to Queenstown in the late afternoon, the lowering of the sun brings some stunning patterns into the mountains on the opposite side of Lake Wakatipu.
Dart River Jet Safaris
That Dart River winds its way through one of the finest examples of glaciated landforms anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere. The Mount Aspiring National Park is one of the few places in the world with UNESCO World Heritage Area status. The park's features date back over 80 million years to a time when New Zealand was once part of the ancient super-continent Gondwanaland.
For those wanting to experience some of this superb landscape Dart River Jet Safaris operate out of Glenorchy deep into the Dart River valley. For wheelchair users the best option is their Jet Boat Safari. The Jet Boat Safari takes up and back the Dart River by Jet Boat. The other option is the one way Jet Boat ride and the other by four wheel drive. Moving from the 4WD to the Jet boat is not easy in a chair nor is loading into the boat. With the pure Jet Boat option you can stay in the boat for the duration of the trip. The is three hours of classic New Zealand jet boating as it negotiates the shifting shallow channels of the magnificent Dart River. The stunning beauty of the snow capped peaks will leave you breathless on this trip. Accessibility issues.
The river base in Glenorchy is in Mull Street, the main street leading to the Jetty. The entry area is flat and wide and parking is available. The trip is 3 hours in total duration and there are no toilet facilities at the turn around point other than "bush" facilities so you need to be prepared for a trip of that duration. A bus normally takes passengers down the jetty area to board the boat but I would suggest driving down. There is plenty of level parking at the jetty, and the small jetty is accessible. If you are planning to stay on the boat for the duration your chair can be stored in your car or the staff will look after it for you and have it there on your return. Like always advanced notice is necessary, but as with Shotover, this is a popular attraction and should be booked well in advance to avoid disappointment.
This is the longest jet boat ride in the Queenstown area and when combined with the breathtaking scenery is an experience to behold as long as the duration is not a problem.
Te Anau is the logical stopping point for those intending to do the trip to Milford Sound. The day excursion and cruise can be done from Queenstown, but it is along day with over nine hours in the car and 2 on the water. It is far better to spend 2 night in Te Anau and enjoy the day to Milford from there as there is a lot to stop and see on the way to the Sound.
Te Anau is a pretty town set on the edge of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in the South Island and the second largest in New Zealand. Te Anau has all the services a tourist could want to explore the area, from good supermarkets, clothing and outdoor stores, gift shops, banks, cafes and restaurants.
From an accessibility point of view though the town is disappointing. The facilities mentioned above are all accessible and the large new supermarket at the top end of town especially so. It has the only four disabled car parking spots in the entire town. Disabled toilet facilities are only provided by the shore front cafe. The street are equipped with curb cuts and are relatively level. If parking in the town it will be necessary to straddle a park and a half and select a spot next to one of the protruding garden verges. The tourist information centre "I-Site" is on the foreshore but the ramp into the building is far too steep for safe access. In addition the door opens outwards making entry impossible. The is a good boardwalk along the water and what appears to be a sloping ramp to allow access to it, however half way down of the curving bend in the ramp are two steps to negotiate. There is road access next to sloping ramp but it is a lot steeper. A few hundred yards further along is another gentle sloping ramp leading down to the foreshore path, but again there is no disabled parking and no cuts in the curb to allow access from the car park onto the ramp. From our travels so far this is the first town town on the South Island that seems to have no understanding of the basic needs of the disabled traveller from a public amenities point of view.
It worth noting a couple of other limitations of the area. Te Anua is the home of the famous glo worm caves. These are not accessible. First the trip involves a ferry ride across the lake. Neither the terminal, jetty or boat are equipped to take wheelchair passengers. The caves themselves involve numerous steps and a final transfer into a smaller boat to explore the caves. If if the steps can be negotiated the paths are far too narrow for safe passage.
A surprise, however, is a very pretty and very accessible short walk to the start of the famous Kepler Track. If you follow the road around the lake past the golf course you will come to the turnoff to the Kepler Track and the Dam control gates. From the parking area the dam wall is accessible via the access road. It is a very gentle grade and about ten minutes in length. A good view of the town across the lake with the mountains behind can be had from the wall. A second good drive is a short one around the town water front on past the marina. The road becomes gravel and curves around the lake to give a fantastic view right down Lake Te Anau.
There is a multitude of dining options in the town and most are fully accessible and in close proximity to each other. Choices include gourmet pizzas at Naturally Fiordland Pizza Cafe (disabled facilities provided) steak houses, Chinese and a traditional pub on the foreshore.
Accommodation - Explorer Motor Lodge
The Explorer Motor Lodge is a comfortable and spacious 3 star motel. It has two accessible units, one two bedroom and one one bedroom. Both are very well laid out with plenty of room in the living area kitchette bedroom and bathroom. The unit has a full rollin shower, but doesn't have a foldown seat. The unit we reviewed had a small plastic stool which is not satisfactory. I was assured that a proper shower chair was available on request. Parking was available outside the unit next to the stair to the second story. The bays are not marked so care needs to be taken to allow enough space between your car and the stairs as there are no marking to prevent a car parking close on the other side. The motel is one block from the main street of the town. Directly opposite the motel is a path through the park that leads directly to the main street and its cafes. It is about minutes along the path.
Milford Sound is the most accessible of the 13 glacier cut fiords. It is also the most accessible. The name Milford Sound is actually incorrect. Milford Sound along with all of the other Fiords were glacier cut over the preceding 8 Ice Ages. When you look closely at the sides of the Sound the difference in glacier widths are clearly visible. It is a true fiord, but its name stands to this day. Milford was the last of fiords to be discovered as its entrance is hidden behind a headland. Captain Cook discovered and charted all of the others but completely missed Milford. Its scenery is absolutely breathtaking and its often better on a misty day. Mitre Peak appears to tower from the water but once on the sound it is revealed to be one of a chain of peaks. Waterfalls abound, especially after rain. It is a little known fact that a lot of the waterfalls dry up as quickly as 8 hours after a heavy period of rain. Wildlife abounds in the sound from Fiordland crested penguins, blue nose penguins, New Zealand fur seals and bottlenose dolphins.
A day to Milford Sound, though, is far more than the time spent on the water. The drive from Te Anau is one of the most scenic drives anywhere in the world and you need to allow at least 2.5 hours. Apart from the numerous obligatory photo stops there are a couple of stops worth taking the time for.
The first is Mirror Lakes. These are a small series of lakes with the dark tannin water that on a still day will give a perfect reflection of the hills behind. There is adequate parking and a fully accessible boardwalk and viewing platforms. The time to complete the walk is 5 minutes but if the conditions are right you will definitely spend longer!!
The second stop is after you pass through the tunnel and more photo opportunities!!
The Chasm is a another stop worth of the effort of getting out of the car. It is 15 minutes return and the path wanders up moderate grade to the "chasm" Here the water from the stream plummets straight down into a deep chasm right under the boardwalk. The path is wide and well surfaced except for a short rough section right at the start of the path. Once at the Chasm backtrack the way you came as the short loop track has a steep descent to the main path.
As it is a good 2.5 hour trip from Te Anua to Milford an intermediate stop may be necessary. Knobs Flat provides a half way point with convenient and well appointed restroom with accessible facilities and easy parking. It is the only good facility between Te Anau and the ferry terminal building at Milford Sound.
Milford Sound Cruise
Of course the real reason for making the trip to Milford Sound is the couple of hours on the water taking in the scenery of the sound itself. We reviewed the operation of Read Boats. They have a purpose built fleet of catamarans that operate scenic cruises on the sound. The Pride of Milford is their flagship vessels and the best choice for people with disabilities.The main entry deck provides good access from the wharf and a good area at the back of the vessel to move from side to side for those wishing to stay in their chairs. The main deck also has access forward and aft to outside viewing areas. It is worth checking in advance to find out what cruises the Pride of Milford is doing and booking on one of those. The Spirit of Milford and the Lady of the Sounds are sister ships and smaller than the Pride of Milford. Their main decks are fully enclosed with no access to outside viewing areas. The rear of the main deck is also an open area allowing transfer from one side to the other during the cruise. Both of these vessels have a large rear window with level floor allowing easy viewing out of the back. Entry is relatively flat but there a weather ridge of about five inches to get over to board the vessel. (see the pictures in the album below)
None of the vessels in the fleet have an accessible toilet on board. The duration of the scenic cruise is 1 hour 45 minute1 hour 45 minutes. Full accessible facilities are available in the terminal building as is a lightweight wheelchair if yours is too heavy or cumbersome to take on board the vessel. Red Boats team will assist you to have a remarkable experience.
As with everything we have said so far it is important to book ahead to allow the staff to plan for your visit and during peak times to ensure you have a place available. As I said earlier try and book on a cruise on the Pride of Milford but if you choose another vessel it is important the staff know so they can dock the boat on the right hand side of the jetty to allow easy wheelchair access to either of the other vessels. A final note, if you choose to transfer from your chair into one of the seats on the vessel choose the left hand side as all cruises follow a clockwise circuit around Milford Sound. If you choose to stay in your chair take particular care during the short passage out of the sound into the Tasman Sea. Swells can run up to 3 metres and the boat can roll substantial as it turns side on the sea to reenter the sound.
The Otago Peninsula, stretching along the southern edge of the Otago harbour is an easy drive from central Dunedin. A wonderfully scenic drive will see you passing by lush green pastures, small bays and inlets, sandy beaches, rugged hills and volcanic landforms. So near to a major city centre, yet so far removed from the hectic pace of city living.
The Otago Peninsula is one of New Zealand's most renowned eco tourism areas. There are unique opportunities to view a remarkable range of wildlife including Royal Albatross, rare yellow-eyed penguins a variety of seals, water and wading birds.
Unfortunately from an accessibility point of view the drive and the manmade centres are about all that is accessible. The feature of the Peninsula are the Royal Albatross. The Royal Albatross centre sits right at the end of the Peninsula. There is disabled parking facilities next the building which also has disabled facilities and a very accessible cafe. There is a lot of information to be had at the centre and very informative staff. However the main purpose for the visit is to see the rookery on the shear cliff faces and the gigantic birds bringing food home to their young towards the end of the day. The cliff top viewing area is opposite the car park on the ocean side and affords excellent views. The path down to the area is gravel with rocky steps and completely inaccessible. There have been plans for a boardwalk for quite a while. As a major attraction it is a pity New Zealand's Department of Conversation hasn't put those plans into practice and built the accessible boardwalk. As it stands at the moment there is little point in making the drive. To make matters worse below the Royal Albatross centre is a penguin viewing area. The lower car park is chained off at 5:00pm to protect the birds from vehicles. You are welcome to walk down and watch as the birds come back to their burrows on dusk. In chaining off the access road there has been no provision made for people in wheelchairs to make their way past the gate posts effectively making this experience inaccessible as well. With the two major reason for visiting the Otago Peninsula being inaccessible my advice would be not to make the journey out there.
If you like old English history and architecture you will love Dunedin. It is a superbly well preserved Victorian and Edwardian city of quoted as being the best in the Southern Hemisphere. It was founded on the back of whalers and gold miners. The Octagon is a must see with St Paul's Cathedral, the Dunedin Art Gallery and a great selection of cafe's to suit all tastes. The Dunedin station is a must see. Dunedin has the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, and Speights Brewery. Both hold daily tours and tastings. It is a relatively easy city to get around, but as with most major cities parking can be a bit difficult at times. As most modern cities it is very accessible.
Our journey around the South Island has now come a full circle back the Christchurch. With any visit to Christchurch or a round island trip as we have done a drive out onto the Banks Peninsula is a must. The banks peninsula was formed by the violent eruptions of two volcanoes. The twin craters left behind form the harbours of Akaroa and Lyttelton. The peninsula and Akaroa in particular have a unique look and feel as from the 1830's the peninsula was settled by both the English and French. Akaroa has both influences clearly visible and is a picture perfect little village. It is one of those places that would be easy to go for a visit and end up staying a lifetime. The main coastal strip is extremely accessible with parking, flat streets and curb cuts, and easily accessible pier and good disabled facilities. Around the flat board walk towards Truby's Bar on the Beach is a nice ramp allowing access to the hard sand and waters edge.
Activities include bay and wildlife cruises, fishing, and swimming with the seals and dolphins. Black Cat Cruises are very well set up will a gentle ramp onto their jetty and a moveable ramp ramp to allow access onto their catamaran for both sightseeing cruises and swimming expeditions. Akaroa Dolphins share the same facilities and their smaller boat is accessible. As with most water activities on this trip their are no accessible toilet facilities on the boats. In typical French style the main street is full of little cafes and bakeries. The outdoor facilities are easily accessible and the indoors of most of them also. There are public accessible facilities to the left of the main pier. and parking spots in the main street.
Take you time driving in as the scenery is spectacular and the scenic ridge top drive worth the diversion at least one way. Akaroa is not to be missed.
Christchurch is the capital of the south island and I said at the outset the point most people begin their their South Island experience. It is perhaps one of the prettiest cities in the world. The city is centered around Cathedral Square, where old English elegance meets a contemporary city feel. Christchurch has a slower and more relaxed feel than a lot of modern cities but still has a great nightlife centered around Oxford St. over looking the Avon River. The indoor/outdoor bars and restaurants given the city a vibrant feel amongst an old world garden setting. You can while away the afternoon on the many paths through the parks or along the Avon River. Christchurch is often called the garden city and is blessed with more than 165 hectares of inner city parks and gardens right on the edge of the CBD. The city is built on the flat and all of the paths and walkways are wide and accessible. Wonder down to the Antigua Boat Sheds and take a step back in time and go punting on the Avon. Christchurch is often called the Arts City as well and a visit to the Art Gallery is a worth while experience. Like any modern city Christchurch as a large variety of good shopping and being a compact city all of the shopping is contained within two blocks of Cathedral Square. Their is a major information centre on the right hand side of the square with an accessible entrance to the left.
For those interested in history and church architecture the Christchurch Cathedral is worth taking the time to explore. There is disabled parking right outside the church in the square and entry is on the right hand side or through the Cathedral information centre/gift shop. The architecture is grand and those wishing to venture right into the church there is a ramp under the pipe organ on the left hand side.
On a clear day a great view over the city and to the cities picturesque port area can be had from the Christchurch Gondola about a ten minute drive from the city centre. The Gondola is accessible and parking and toilet facilities are available. At the top there is a lift to the upper platforms on the left as you exit the Gondola. At the upper level there is a step out onto the viewing platform or if you make you way around the food servery to the back of the building a ramped exit is available.
Christchurch is the main supply centre for the New Zealand and US Antarctic research stations. At Christchurch airport and attraction has been built concentrating on the history of Antarctic exploration. It covers not only the history, but conditions interactive displays, movie theatre and a couple of very unique experiences. Within the centre is an Antarctic weather chamber. Every half hour it simulations the conditions of a real Antarctic storm. Clothing is provided and the storm lasts about five minutes. There is also a mini penguin display on three levels. From above waterline, nesting boxes and below waterline.
The entire centre is accessible. A lift is provided to the upper penguin viewing area. The lower underwater level is accessible but only via the staff areas which they will oblige. The Antarctic chamber is accessible.