Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Crossing the Ditch part 2

This year in April I returned to Australia for a conference called the Down Under Institute, hosted in Lismore New South Wales. I planned to go with three people to support me and to travel with me. Similar to the first Australia trip in 2009 there was a lot of organizing and to-ing and fro-ing as arrangements and bookings were made. As expected this part of the process was both exciting and slightly stressful, but was nothing really compared to the rest of the experience.

We had a good early morning drive up to the airport but when we arrived there one of my travelling companions was told that she didn’t have the right travel papers. As she was not a New Zealand citizen she would need a visitor’s visa to enter Australia. Because of this complication we were late getting to the flight and she was unable to come with us, so our party of four became a party of three. When we arrived in Brisbane airport we collected the hire vehicle, which we accessed through Flash Cabs again. It was a long drive down to Lismore, but it was nice to be able to recognize some of the sights that we had seen on the last trip to the region.

The accommodation that greeted us on arrival in Lismore was another obstacle, as similar to the first trip I had underestimated how much I needed to clarify what was required. Firstly the room had a step, which could be overcome by a simple wedge ramp that they had available. Unfortunately when the ramp was in place there wasn’t enough turning space for my chair to access the door. So again necessity became the mother of invention and we were able, with the assistance of the motel supervisor, to create a makeshift “ramp”. This was not the best introduction to Lismore’s services.

Our few days at the conference were enjoyable for the opportunities they provided to socialize and learn, but were also very tiring. It was a different schedule to what I am used to at home, with the time zone change and eating times etc being different. It was also tiring for my companions. As I need help during the night and the morning starts were early so they weren’t able to get proper sleep either.

After the four days of conference we decided it was too uncomfortable and small where we were so we booked in to a place in Byron Bay called the Byron Bay Rainforest Resort. They specialized in providing wheelchair accessible accommodation. It had really nice Balinese style cottages with enclosed verandas and open bedroom/living space. There was also a central building containing a large common lounge, kitchen and games area next to a pool and spa.

We were able to catch up with my friend who had moved over to Australia from NZ in the previous year. The day in Byron was nice as we were able to visit some familiar sites around the town. One of my favourite places in Byron is the picnic tables overlooking the beach under the monkey-puzzle trees. It is a lively place with kids running around on the play-ground and by the water, and adults chilling out in the sun or paddling about in the waves. A really nice place to have a picnic.

While we were there we heard about some of the accessible services offered, including a beach wheelchair available from the surf club for wheelchair users who want to access the beach and water. There are also relaxation sessions that are offered at various spa and health centres in Byron. All the paths and crossing that I encountered in the town were good, as were many of the shops. But there were a few shops not accessible for me due to at least one step at the door, these I was told they are to keep snakes out of the buildings. Though I think this could possibly be a local story rather then fact, but you never can tell with these Aussie jokers.

Our flight back was pretty good although we were all exceptionally tired. It took a few days for us all to recover our energy. Since this trip I have thought back over the experience and have made a list which I posted as the pre-entry to this.

I hope these experiences of my and the consequent learning’s and insights will be of use to someone.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

learning and revelations

What to do when travelling!


  • Make a check list of every last detail of where, when and how things are done/have been arranged and then get one/several others to check it to make sure you have everything sorted. ie; make bookings.
  • Keep a list of contacts of agencies, accommodation etc that you have dealt with/have bookings with
  • Keep a list and tick off who has been paid, do it by VISA before you go if possible or pay as soon as you get there
  • Make bookings through a person not via the internet. Get someone who has travelled to advise you on the booking process or go through a travel agent and pay the extra cost.
  • Make a budget and compare approximate costs to real costs when you get back
  • Have a mobile phone so that you can be contacted and contact others
  • If you are travelling mostly for business then have a diary/schedule of times for meetings, keep things structured

  • Always try and have more space in motel/accommodation rooms then you think you’ll need. (This helps preserve everyone’s sanity and ability to get sleep) ie; make sure there are multiple bedrooms.
  • Get photos, video, measurements or personal trusted witness to standards of accommodation and amounts of space. ie; turning spaces outside and inside doorways, size of steps, doorway widths, open floor space, parking.
  • Get a room with a kitchen or at least easy access to a cook top with bench space
  • Check out size and layout of bathroom and shower cubicle

Support Staff

  • Have more then one person who is able to be listed and is listed to drive on any appropriate documents ie: rental car agreements, insurance forms.
  • Make roster for support staff but ensure that people are willing to help out each other if necessary/have similar work ethic
  • If possible for the health and safety of everyone, keep the trip to a week in length at maximum, shorter is best


  • Take a set of travel knife and fork for day pack and plastic mug for bathroom
  • Have a designated place where important documents are kept ie; passports, tickets, contact numbers, maps.(keep these as close as possible to you, don’t have them in a bag that requires lots of hunting through to get to them)


  • If you are at a conference or event that asks if you have any specific dietary requirements say yes. If they don’t ask but you know there will be food provided then ask them what will be on the menu.
  • Eat healthily as this helps to keep your energy up, brain working and ability to cope with stress or exposure to bugs better

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Crossing the Ditch-part one

Last year (July 2009), I and four friends/support staff went to Australia for eight days as a chance to escape the winter weather and as a celebration of the completion of my tertiary studies. It also became an opportunity for me to make connections with individuals and organizations in the disability sector.

This trip was my first undertaking of overseas travel without the physical support or input of my family, who up until my tertiary study had been my primary caregivers. Being a new scenario for me there was a lot of learning that took place, both in the organizing phase and while travelling. I would like to share this experience and the tips I picked up on the way, which I hope will help others to take similar trips.

We flew in to Brisbane from Auckland with Air New Zealand, who provided a very helpful service and had the equipment to cater for my mobility and seating needs. I used a seat harness to help me sit upright which was available only with certain airlines and an Eagle hoist for transferring from my wheelchair to the seat. This meant that my companions didn’t have to do manual transferring. Unfortunately this did mean that I had to be seated quite a long way back in the plane which was somewhat cramped and uncomfortable. The aircrew were really good about following directions with my wheelchair and made sure that my chair was waiting for me at the exit of the plane.

The rental vehicle that was brought to us at the airport was from a company called Flashcab Rentals, which specialise in the rental of mobility adapted vehicles, based on the Gold Coast. The vehicle we hired seated five with a lowered floor in the back and a ramp and tie-down system for my chair. It was a fabulous vehicle to be driven in, I felt very stable and it drove smoothly. We did quite a bit of driving as we explored some of the area around Byron Bay where we stayed, including the trip down and back to Brisbane, as well as a trip to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

In Byron we rented a house from a local real estate agent that manages holiday rental homes. It was a lovely house with a very nice garden that was located in a nice quiet neighbourhood. It would have been almost entirely suitable for our requirements if I had taken note of the fact that there was a step at every entry point into the house. This meant that we had to find someone to make a temporary wedge ramp so that I could access the house with my electric chair. Although I chose to rent a house there is a motel/lodge set up for people with disabilities, including a pool with a ramp and a spa with a hoist not far from where we stayed. Other then that place there were other homes/units that we heard of before we went away and while we were there that had better suited accommodation. It did take a lot of looking and asking questions to find the accommodation but if you are clear in what you are looking for and can be specific when checking details with people then it should go well.

Byron Bay seemed to be a mix of laid back and friendly surfer town but at the same time a vibrant music and culture scene that catered for both the locals and the frequent tourists. The other towns in the area seemed to all have a friendly atmosphere and were generally fairly accessible. As far as finding out what is on in the way of local entertainment it is best if you have a local contact, but if not then there are often flyers in the cafes and shops. Largely we avoided the major tourist centres like the theme parks and only went to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary for a day trip as a way of seeing the wildlife. This helped reduce some of the costs as theme parks and zoos all seem to be pretty expensive.

Planning a trip is all about making it what you want it to be, for example my trip was an escape from the New Zealand’s cold winter. I wasn’t worried about what we would do for activities, so I didn’t plan anything in particular. But if you have an interest in shopping or theme parks or seeing particular landmarks, then all that just takes some research. There are some disability organizations like the Cerebral Palsy Association and the Muscular Dystrophy Association in the Melbourne area that have holiday homes for rent. These places are well set up for accessibility and have some of the basic equipment like bathroom chairs and hoists, but these things can all be investigated on their websites or by contacting people directly. There are also other places and organizations that provide extra health and mobility rental equipment.


1) When making bookings for accommodation, vehicles or activities and planning flights make sure that whoever you deal with (especially travel agents) that you are specific with them as to your situation and needs. Sometimes it is best to even consider stating things that you consider obvious or logical, even if you are dealing with an agent who says they have experience with disabled clients.

2) When deciding when to get to airports and the check in/boarding gate it is a really good idea to try and get there at least an hour or half and before the normal recommended time. This is particularly important when you board the plane especially if you have difficulties with mobility or will need assistance with getting settled.

3) Make sure that you get accommodation that suits what you need. It can help if you make a list of requirements for accessibility before speaking to an agent. A good way to make sure you cover everything is to have a look at your own home and what is critical in its set up to your ease of use.

4) Get a letter from your GP or specialist outlining any particulars of your condition, any particular risks associated with it and what the general course of treatment involves. Another more basic letter can be useful at times when dealing with airport staff in making arrangements for your travel, especially if you need a harness or some other setup or equipment.

Lastly I would just like to thank everyone who has support my ambition to travel, especially the four committed, caring and humorous ladies who travelled with me. It is people such as these four, whether they are family, friends or formally employed individuals that make this sort of adventure possible for individuals such as myself.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Travellers Poem

A Journey

Highways; smooth and comfortable,

fast paced or crowded crawling progress.
Numbing the mind as you pass the mundane.

Narrow, curving back-roads, a challenge,
Focus or fall.
Catching sight of passing beauty.
Landscapes of diversity, colour, season.

Onward, past the beauty and the mundane.
Excersing skill or just cruising.
Always moving onm toward the end,
toward that inescapable destination.

Tegan Morris (March 2010)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The starting post

The inspiration for the trip was my friend’s birthday in Palmerston North and once I got onto the planning buzz it seemed worth making a real adventure of it and going to explore Wellington also. I had three people who supported me on this trip and we all travelled in "The Beast" (my parents van).

We stopped for our breakfast on our way to Palmerston North in Taupo, which had plenty of cafes to choose from. The paths and crossings around the town seemed to be good for wheelchairs and although we didn’t get to check it out in detail the path by the lake seemed like it would be the same if you fancied a stroll. But for us it was just a bit on the cold side and we were on a mission to get to the party. The drive around Lake Taupo was absolutely beautiful, especially on a clear sunny day with the sky and hills reflected on the lake and getting different panoramas as you drive along.

The night we spent in Palmerston North was really pretty cold and unappealing but nevertheless we were out there racing around in the town square and taking photos in the dark with the ducks, town clock and glowing glass wall. Fortunately I was somewhat protected from the cold by my cloak (costume birthday party) and the effect of my new favourite drink, feijoa vodka and apple juice.

Wellington was an awesome place, we stayed in accommodation that was really close to central city (Cuba Street). So it took only a few minutes to walk down to the cafes, shops and restaurants. People watching is great entertainment, sitting outside one of the numerous cafĂ©/bars you can spend ages observing the diversity and activity that’s such a part of Wellington. Many of the main sources of entertainment and attraction for travelers are fairly central. So if you’re not far from the CBD and your brave/silly enough it’s possible to wheel/walk your way between a number of the theatres, galleries and shops. But a warning for those people un-used to city traffic, it was pretty scary at times crossing at some of the intersections.

Another great attraction was Te Papa Museum, which was also only about fifteen minutes walk away via Courtney Place. It is such a vast complex that I could spend days taking in the exhibits and information, there is something for everyone’s area of interest. Displays cover everything from archaeology, New Zealand history, Maori culture, Marine life, War history, the choice is huge. Unfortunately on this particular visit we had limited time, like so many tourists, so we only really got to have a high speed visit. I especially enjoyed the Marine and zoology displays plus the geology displays that had earthquake simulators and other exciting things.

Driving around Wellington and its suburbs is an adventure in itself, with so many hills to go up and down, many of which give great views over the city or harbour. Navigating around the various streets was a challenge as there were/are many narrow one way streets, even some of the two-way streets were a bit of a thrill to negotiate in “the Beast”. We learned how to do a ten point turn in one particular dead end street, which was a great beginning to our exploration of the coastal areas. So we learned from that experience and got ourselves an updated map, as it turned out that streets do move and get changed.

On the trip home we stopped off at the Levin playground, which is awesome, it has a public kitchen, picnic area and several playground setup’s suitable for different ages and abilities. Part of one of the playground/fort's was accessible for my chair as it had ramps that led off in different directions, but that day it was a bit slippery as it was drizzling. The best part of the playground was the flying fox and the giant hamster wheels, which both provided great entertainment for us big kids.

We didn't have as much of a grand view of Mount Ruapehu on the way home as on the way there but the scenery through the Tongariro National Park and the volcanic plateau near Ruapehu was just as stunning. Taking the back way home gave us the opportunity to take in new sights and explore the more remote parts of the country that are travelled less often. It took a long time to get where we wanted, but it was worth it in the end for the experience.

Monday, June 28, 2010

It all started with.....

A Roadtrip!!......

This was my first experience of travel as an ‘independent’ adult or rather interdependent adult, spreading my wings outside of my parents care. Life is a web of relationships with people who provide support for each other. Most of my activities can only be completed with an immense amount of input from others, as well as a carload of equipment to help me stay comfortable and well. The expression of 'everything but the kitchen sink' definitely applies when I go away. My packing list usually include:

  • Bathroom stuff
  • BiPAP
  • Mask and harness
  • Tape, scissors and lipbalm
  • Hoist
  • Positioning supports
  • Pillows
  • Mattress and machine
  • Commode
  • Wheelchair charger
  • Oxygen machine
  • Oxygen hose
  • Multiplug and double adapter
  • Laptop
  • Camera

This doesn’t count the other necessities that the average traveller carries around when they go roadtripping. But as my Mum always says you need to be prepared for all eventualities, and I believe that everyone has things they just can't do without and I just happen to take a few more.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I have a dream........

I am a sagittarian with a passion for travel. The only thing is I'm in a wheelchair and have very limited use of my arms and legs. But that does not stop my dreams of wanting to travel the world, particularly to the UK and France. My ambition is to make a documentary film about travelling as a person with a serious disability, to show the world that anything is possible with the right attitudes and support.

Where I live (New Zealand) there is not much if any widely available knowledge about travel options for people with disabilities, so I hope that this journey will be helpful for others. I plan to share my journey via blogspot and other media/web sources (yet to be determined) so that others can benefit from the information.

At the moment a bunch of friends and I are brainstorming and gathering ideas of how to make this trip happen. We are gathering ideas together about ideas to raise funds, who to contact about information and services we might need and lots of other things. Planning and researching is so exciting but I can't wait till we can get some of these things underway.

If anyone has some positive suggestion of fundraising or information source ideas, or even just suggestions of good places to go and visit that would be awesome.