Accessible adventures require a lot of planning, determination, and a dedicated support crew, but they’re possible! Joe shares four ideas for accessible adventures in NSW.
Perhaps the number one thing able-bodied outdoorsy folks take for granted is the ease with which they access remote and wild places.
For those who need a level of support in order to get around, especially if they rely on a wheelchair to get from A to B, this just isn’t the case.
While important progress is being made in providing access to formerly inaccessible places there’s still a long, long way to go and some places will always be out of reach. Despite this, we felt it was high time we showcase what’s currently out there.
Why am I, an able-bodied person, writing this?
My family was raised with an acute appreciation for the outdoors and a strong sense of adventure. This has been developed and handed down through the generations like a precious heirloom, and so the responsibility now falls on me and my siblings to keep this tradition alive.
I’m yet to have a family of my own, though my three sisters each have formed their own crew and passed our adventurous spirit on to their children. It makes my heart sing when I hear them swapping tales of their latest adventures, no matter how big or small.
This is especially true of my nephew Joshua. The boy loves an adventure, his face lights up whenever there’s a sniff of eucalypt in the air. Unlike a lot of 8-year-olds though, it’s not a simple matter of letting Mum and Dad pack the car and off we go.
Joshua has a rare genetic condition known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy or SMA. This means that his muscles don’t build or retain strength and mass, making things like walking, pushing, pulling and lifting impossible.
Eventually, even the muscles used for eating and breathing deteriorate, luckily though there are huge advancements in treatment happening all the time. While they’re not a magic cure, they certainly offer some hope, slow the progression and for some, make gains not previously heard of.
Joshua’s condition means he relies on the assistance of others for many things, and needs an electric wheelchair to get around. At two years old, while most kids were mastering running, Joshua got his first powered chair and can pilot that bad boy with deft precision. The spotless walls in his house are testament to this.
But our wild places remain largely inaccessible to him, even the most simple adventure requires the kind of planning and logistics often associated with a multi-day epic. Despite the challenges, Joshua’s parents remain determined that he’ll be given the opportunity to develop his own appreciation for the natural environment that the rest of us have. His, and their, grit and determination inspires me daily.
While planning a recent family trip to Kosci I began to wonder why more people aren’t attempting this kind of thing. My sister seemed to think it wasn’t so much a lack of will, but in some cases, a lack of awareness and information about what’s possible.
Here are some ideas to help change that.
Summit Australia’s Highest Peak
There are few countries that can boast that their highest summit is wheelchair accessible… and neither can we but, like any worthwhile expedition, with the right equipment and a dedicated crew that’s exactly what’s possible right here in Australia.
The summit of Mt Kosciuszko was accessible by road until 1976, today that road remains and allows access for those with wheels all the way to the top. A detailed write up featured on this very website was the inspiration for my family’s own mission to help Joshua experience the majesty of our alpine environment.
Our small crew of five adults got Josh to the summit in around 4 hours from Charlotte Pass using a specially designed wheelchair known as a ‘Hippocampe’. For those who may not have the benefit of owning one of these chairs, NSW NPWS has a TrailRider available for use when pre-booked from the Snowy Region Visitors Centre in Jindabyne.
It’s recommended that this be attempted from mid to late summer to avoid the potential for snow across the track towards the top.
The park’s many shared-use trails also hold great potential with the Thredbo Valley Trail a popular option for those borrowing the TrailRider from Jindabyne. Ongoing work to improve access, with constructed walking tracks and raised walkways to protect vegetation, has potential to open up new parts of the park. Management and fire trails are another great adventure option for those with a suitable chair.
There are limited campsites with accessible toilet facilities in the park, for our trip we stayed at Island Bend Campground. If you need electricity to charge your wheelchair or other support equipment it’s possible to obtain exemptions for generator use from the local parks offices for this purpose. If camping’s too tricky, there are many places to stay in Jindabyne.
Of course, the Snowies are best known as a winter playground and there are accessible options for those in chairs to hit the slopes through Disabled Wintersport Australia. For more information on them and their amazing work, or how to volunteer, head to their website.
Explore an Adventure Playground on Sydney’s Back Step
The Blue Mountains is a great base for a weekend of immersion in a UNESCO World Heritage wilderness area – and it’s right on Sydney’s doorstep!
There are many accessible accommodation options in the Blue Mountains and, when paired with the selection of accessible paths, it becomes possibly the best option for those who don’t have access to all-terrain chairs.
For those wishing to experience the temperate rainforest of the area, Scenic World provides access to a raised walkway through a section of the prehistoric forest via their scenic cableway. Other brilliant accessible trails include the Three Sisters and Fairfax trails.
If you’re just looking for some quality camp vibes among the gum trees, Boyd River Campground in the Kanangra-Boyd National Park is a great option with wheelchair-accessible toilets and a generous undercover cooking shelter. It’s a peaceful spot a short drive from the walls and, due to being a few hours’ drive from Sydney, it often stays fairly quiet for some good old fashioned blissing out to the tune of bush.
For those equipped with an all-terrain chair and a crew to assist, the Blue Mountains’ network of fire management trails pose a real possibility for some ‘off the paved track’ adventure. A key consideration here is the possibility of a locked gate, or fences designed to keep out trail bikes and 4WDs.
What may be required here is a suck-it-up-and-see approach, having a more mobile mate (with a mind for what to look for) doing a recce, or investing in a topo map – they often have these gates marked. Google Street View can also be a very useful tool!
Sun, Sand and Epic Coastal Views
I was initially just going to mention the Grand Pacific Walk from Stanwell Park to Clifton. While not exactly a wilderness experience, it does provide some pretty speccy coastal vistas and a good opportunity to soak up some summery rays with a cool southerly in your face.
That was until I realised that they are making some pretty big strides down there. Thanks to Wollongong Council’s efforts it’s possible to construct a pretty perfect summer day trip or long weekend, no matter your access challenges.
Let’s start with the Grand Pacific Walk. While primarily intended as a pedestrian attraction, it was designed and constructed as a shared-use path for both pedestrians and cyclists. The aspects designed with the lycra-clad mob in mind have actually made it pretty darned accessible.
Starting in Stanwell Park, it hugs the narrow 5km stretch of habitable real estate between the escarpment and the sea, tracing Lawrence Hargrave Drive to the southern end of the world-famous Sea Cliff Bridge.
From there you’ll have to double back to Stanwell Park if a car shuttle isn’t an option. If your wheels are human-powered you’ll want to have some good brakes and some assistance as there are a couple of hefty hills along the way.
Once you’ve conquered the climb back to Stanwell Park, Wollongong’s also home to a couple of accessible beaches. Stanwell Park, Thirroul, and Austinmer have beach-friendly wheelchairs available to borrow (booking required) and matting across the sand at the latter two.
At the time of research, it seemed Thirroul was the pick of the bunch once things like parking, change room, toilet facilities, and all-important access to the nearest flat white were taken into account.
If you’re thinking of making a weekend of it Vision Wollongong have put together a great page that details all you need to know about accessibility on the Gong’s CBD and foreshore areas, conveniently plotted on an interactive map.
The Disabled Surfers Association holds annual events in Thirroul that gives many people who normally wouldn’t be able to, the experience of catching a wave. Although COVID has impacted their work in recent times they will return to the water as soon as it’s safe to do so. They’re heavily reliant on volunteers so if you’re up for helping share the stoke, why not head down to their next event to lend a hand?
The Good Ol’ Fashioned Road Trip
This is perhaps the simplest way to get out there and experience the state’s gems with minimal fuss. It’s my sister’s preferred method – hitch up the camper trailer, throw the Hippocampe in the back of the car, and head off for a week on a farm or in a national park. They’ve even more ambitious plans for a road trip from Sydney to Cairns now that borders have reopened.
So many of NSW’s great state attractions are now more accessible than ever, with accessible beaches like the ones in Wollongong scattered along the coast from Byron to Eurobodalla. NPWS have TrailRiders available not only in the Snowies, but at Kamay Botany Bay National Park and Dorrigo National Park, and their website has a useful list of short but accessible trails throughout the state.
The most challenging aspect of planning these trips is accommodation but, with more and more information freely available on the internet, planning an adventure like this is becoming easier and easier. Many websites incorporate accessibility-related filters into their search functionality. Examples of this can be seen on the NSW Parks and Wildlife, HipCamp (formerly You Camp), AirBNB and Stayz.
Of course it always pays to email or call to double-check. An able-bodied person’s perception of what constitutes ‘accessible’ may not meet your specific requirements.
Accessibility Comes in Many Forms
This article isn’t intended as a step by step how to. Disability manifests in myriad forms, in many ways, and it exists on a spectrum and how much support someone may or may not need to achieve their goals will be unique to them.
Our goal was to inform and hopefully inspire someone reading this to get out there and attempt, and achieve, something wonderful. You may also make mistakes, encounter unexpected barriers, or ultimately fail in your attempt. The most important part though, is the attempt. With any luck you’ll record and publish what you’ve learnt for the benefit of others.
This is the central philosophy behind We Are Explorers, a place to entertain, inform and inspire, irrespective of physical ability.