Australia by Wheelchair
by Louis Frick İ 1996  

Louis & Kris Frick.

Louis Frick shares his eastern Australian adventure.

My wife, Kris Limont, and I recently took a three month trip to Eastern Australia. Both of us use electric wheelchairs and had very few complications during our trip. One of the few hassles we ran into was charging our chairs. In Australia, they use 240 volt current (as opposed to 110 here in the U.S.), and although we took additional transformers our chairs never charged properly. We are in the process of finding a much more appropriate charging system for our next trip.

We flew Air New Zealand from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand and then on to Cairns, Australia. The flight from Los Angeles to Auckland was approximately 12 1/2 hours, then a quick plane change before a five hour flight to Cairns. Air New Zealand has very small aisle chairs for getting to the toilet. Here a person would need to be able to stand or have help from someone strong. There is an 18 hour time change (they are ahead of us) so after traveling all night and part of the day we arrived at 10 a.m. It took us a good three days to adjust to the time change.

Cairns is a burgeoning city of about 100,000 people. It is known as the "gateway to the Great Barrier Reef" and therefore, is quite a tourist spot. In Australia a city of that size would be considered huge, but coming from San Diego it seemed rather quaint to us. As soon as we arrived at the airport we were amazed at how readily available wheelchair accessible taxis were. In Cairns, as well as the rest of Northern Queensland, minivans are the accessible taxis of choice. Even with all of our luggage, two electric chairs and two other people we were able to squeeze into our taxi. We stayed in a small hotel about two miles from the center of town called the Reef Palms. And although the room we stayed in was "accessible" we needed to do some rearranging of the furniture in order to be able to move around freely.

In Australia, in order for a hotel to be considered "accessible," it must have a roll-in shower, as well as an accessible toilet. Our room also had a small kitchenette. All of which made our stay very enjoyable. A quick phone call and a taxi would be waiting to take us wherever we decided to go. One drawback we found in Australia was that many stores had about a three -- to -- five inch curb at the entrance (due to often times torrential rain storms). However, even when we went out on our own, virtually everyone whom we met offered to be of assistance so we rarely had any problems whatsoever. We took a one day trip out onto the "Reef" on a ship that carried about 150 people and received the same type of hospitality as on land. Everyone aboard made our excursion a wonderful experience.

Cairns is in the tropics, and therefore, was quite hot and humid, as we were there during their summer (December through April/May). Nearly every place had air conditioning and/or fans. We met a man named Greg Taylor who's a quad and who has a small bed and breakfast place up in the rainforest, very secluded. Greg was very accommodating and, although we didn't stay the night, let us have our picnic lunch with him. The name of his place is the Koah Bed and Breakfast, Greg can be reached at: tel; 61-70-937074; fax 61-70-937074; lot 4 Koah Rd., via Kuranda, Qld 4872, Australia.

After having spent 10 days in Cairns, we went up into the rainforest, to an area known as the Atherton Table1ands. We had gone to Australia for a six week long conference in the Table1ands. We stayed at the Genazzano Center, a Catholic retreat surrounded by thousands of acres of rainforest. There wasn't a town for 20 miles, and the accessibility was terrific! A roll-in shower and accessible toilet and rooms. The Center was very well suited for our needs. A town about 30 miles away (population about 2000) had two taxis, one of which was an accessible minivan. It wasn't cheap, but it was available.

After returning to Cairns for five more days, we flew south to Brisbane where we spent two days, and although we didn't like the city, transportation was once again very doable. We then were driven by taxi south (into the state of New South Wales) to a town known as Byron Bay. Byron Bay is a small beach community of about 6000. Just outside of town is a place known as the Wheel Resort, owned and operated by a disabled woman. Their address and phone are; 39-51 Broken Head Rd., Byron Bay, NSW 24081, Australia; tel 61-66-85-6139; fax 61-66-85-8754. We spent a full month there and had a tremendously relaxing time. "The Wheel" sits on 6.5 acres of lush vegetation. There are about 8 cabins all of which are completely accessible: roll-in showers, accessible toilets, very usable kitchens, a roll-in pool, a Jacuzzi with a lift and not one single threshold at any doorway!

There are a number of hard packed gravel paths which are very doable in a power chair and more than likely for manual chairs as well. One of these paths leads to a small store where we often purchased our food. The curbs that we had encountered at most of the stores and restaurants in Cairns, were non-existent in Byron. Byron is known for its wheelchair access. There is a gentleman named Terry who is in a chair (manual) who is the town advocate. And he obviously does a great job.

We made our last move down to Sydney where we spent four days before flying home. The only available hotel with "accessibility" was by far the worst place we stayed. As a place to avoid, stay away from the Coogee Sands Motor Lodge!

For anyone considering Australia as a possible travel destination, we would highly recommend the trip.

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