Wheeling to New Zealand, Part II
Text & Photos by
Syd & June Burns 2004  

Syd and June Burns continue their journey through New Zealand and head further south.

Sunday 22 February

Franz Josef Glacier.

Franz Josef Glacier

Totally refreshed, the "wasted day" it was not. The day was bright, so we were glad to be away from Franz Josef. The motel owners were totally wonderful and were devastated when we told them about the shower.

First stop the viewing point of the Franz Josef Glacier. We couldn't get on to the glacier but the lookout point was wheelchair friendly. We stayed looking at the beauty until the car park started to fill up.

Reluctantly, we moved on to the Fox Glacier some 25 miles toward our destination of Wanner. The accessible viewpoint to the Fox was down a long, narrow twisting road that seemed endless. It was well worth the drive. Again the viewpoint was wheelchair friendly. It wasn't so busy, so we could spend some time there. Stopping at Haas, we had a superb lunch in what appeared to be the only eating establishment for miles. A note here, that so far all the toilet facilities are wheelchair friendly. The views of the Southern Alps and lakes have themselves made the trip worthwhile. Plenty of stopping places to gasp and take pictures.

Lake Wanaka.

Lake Wanaka.

Arrived at the Terrace Motel Wanaka, and we noticed it was not wheelchair/walker friendly. The unit itself was superbly laid out, but there were rough stones and a very steep road into the units. We got out all right, walking into the town, exploring and seeing where the good eating places were. We were amazed to meet up with a traveller from our little town, who was serving in a shop. He had been backpacking and needed a restock of cash. He pointed to a superb bar where we met the locals and had a good night. Finished the night with a sundowner, sitting out in the twilight. Bad note: June's catheter appears to be blocking. Not good.

Monday 23 February

Up bright and early. June's catheter was nonfunctioning. She hopes it will come right. Weather so good , so we walked into town, and had a huge breakfast that should last us until night. We were directed along the shores of Lake Wanaka to a small township called Penrith. This couldn't be missed.

June takes the The alleged wheelchair track.

June takes the alleged wheelchair track.

It was a long walk some two hours in. The track was wheelchair friendly, except one had to watch out for tree roots across the path. The views were great, and we had lots of people asking where we were from.

Penrith
was just a housing complex, so after taking the obligatory pictures, we decided to take the smooth route along the main road home. That took just over an hour. It was noted that the mountains in the Penrith area had the same names as our fells. The hill back to the motel was really steep. A call in the pub to recover and then home. It required a further sit in the sun with a gin to end the day. Found we had left the diary in Franz Josef. Phoned and the lovely people had sent it on to our final destination. What joy! Had to succumb to changing the catheter. Still scary for me.

Tuesday 24 February
Off to Queenstown, allegedly the dangerous sports centre of the world. A short uneventful drive alongside stunning lakes. Stopped at Roaring Meg to view two waterfalls. Queenstown was a busy touristy town. A nice place and was everyone helpful. Did some touristy shopping, had an all-day breakfast, and then had another go at booking a flight/cruise/flight to the Milford Sound. A great birthday present from June. The Bella Vista Motel was well appointed, but the rooms were disappointingly small. After a good walk around, we repaired to the local pub that had a roaring open-log fire. We are noting as we get further south the colder it is getting.

Wednesday 25 February.

The day was bright, what a start for my birthday. Went into Queenstown to finish the shopping and looking around. Called the tour people and the trip was on. At 1.20 prompt, we were taken to the airport and introduced to our pilot and plane. I was immediately reminded of Biggles, the first world war ace. The plane was not any bigger than a car and fitted five people and the pilot. June was loaded first, and with lots of helping hands, she fitted in easily. The chair went in behind me. We humped and bumped across a grass runway and were off into the Southern Alps.
 

Syd & June enroute to the Southern Alps.

  The Southern Alps.

Syd & June enroute to
the Southern Alps.

 

The Southern Alps.

It was a hairy, bumpy flight through the mountains, down gorges and around peaks; it was totally magnificent. Half way into the flight, June decided that it wasn't really her thing and lay down looking more than a little peaky. As the flight progressed, the more spectacular it was. No wonder they made a lot of Lord of the Rings in this area. The 30-minute flight exceeded all our expectations.

Landing on another grass airstrip, we were transferred to the Milford Sound cruise ship. We chose the two o'clock sailing as it is not a popular time for the coaches. It is a 13-hour round trip in a coach. The ship was virtually empty. We have mentioned so many spectacular sights on our trip so far, but this cruise beat them all. The crew were so caring for June. She could not get to see the best views from the top deck, so they opened a door aft of the ship to enable her to see as much as possible. Free tea and coffee were available. It was two hours of total magic, seeing huge waterfalls, basking seals, and mountains of extraordinary height and beauty. The same care was taken of June by the ship's crew and the aircraft pilot. This trip could not be bettered. Any worries we had with moving June and her wheelchair around were nonexistent.

June enjoyed the flight back to Queenstown; it went a different route. Not so turbulent. Finished the day off in an Italian bistro, which was wheelchair friendly. Far too much to eat so we doggy bagged for tomorrow. A later night than usual.

Thursday 26 February

Bad start to the day. The car would not start for our trip to Te Anau. A flat battery. Called the AA out to find that there was a light switch in an odd place that had been tripped. They were with us within five minutes and solved the problem. All sorted very quickly at no charge, as it was covered by the hire.

A good drive to Te Anau, lovely views all the way. A slow gentle, take-it-all-in  journey. Te Anau is a lovely little town. We are running out of superlatives for the New Zealand  motels.

The Arran Motel is spacious, with a wonderful shower plus a separate bedroom. June had plenty of turning space. Along the side of the lake, is a long wheelchair friendly path that is several miles long. A good walk. The town boasts lakeside quality bars and good food.

We finished the night off eating the doggy bagged pizza. An Australian couple sat with us enjoying a sundowner. We were joined by an obnoxious small Texan who started his conversation by telling us how wicked we Brits were in the colonial days. He may have been right, but it was not the pleasant conversation we required. Continuing on his theme he was snarled at and ended up stalking away saying the rest of the world were subservient to the Americans and no one loved them anyway. Of all the Americans we have met in our years of travel, this little man was the worst ever. What made it worse was he was drinking my gin. We all had a laugh about it afterwards and made another hour of good conversation.

Friday 27 February

Very cold start to the day. Te Anau is the furthest south we go. June suspected a bladder infection so that was seen to at the local heath centre. Very efficient, saw a doctor and received all the equipment and antibiotics required. This was paid for at the going rate and needed no claim on the insurance. The day was taken up with the consultation and another long walk along the lake shore. Where has time gone? Lunch outside a very wheelchair friendly bar on the lake shore. People watching and generally idling the day away. We were offered a sushi by our Australian neighbours, which was accepted with relish. What a lovely finish to our trip south to share great conversation, food and drink. Sad at the thought of going north tomorrow.

Saturday 28 February

An early start to Geraldine; it was a long drive taking the best part of the day. The weather was changeable, and, unfortunately, we did not see Mount Cook in all its glory; which was a disappointment. Stopped for lunch in a place called Caldwell, which was a tiny spot but has a restaurant. A most friendly place, we were invited to join a family who were having a weekend get together. Great fun, wonderful conversation, a joy and a pleasure to be there.

Arrived at Geraldine, another one-street town. The Geraldine Hotel was another well-appointed place built like a log cabin. We walked into the town and joy of joys found a RSA club. Alas, it was shut. A Saturday night and the RSA shut, we just couldn't believe it. Looked in every window, no sign of life at all. Had the old boys all passed on? The Geraldine Hotel was open for business. Large and totally wheelchair friendly. We had a stone-cooked meal. Totally different. The stone was heated up to 400 degrees C, enabling you to cook your mixed grill to your taste. The locals were all friendly and told us that the RSA members were all old, and it only had nine members. The club was built by public donation just after the first world war and has been in decline ever since. A late night as the conversation was too good to miss.

Sunday 29 February

Short drive into Christchurch. A fine day with Christchurch in full sun. Checked in again at the Sherborn Lodge and were greeted like valuable customers. We were in the same room, so we knew what to expect. Walked again into the city centre, doing the usual touristy things. Noting again how English Christchurch is. Spent the whole day wandering. Had a great meal on the River Avon, watching the punts and other river activities. Just one step to get into the bistro with lots of people wanting to help. The Tui beer was at its best. Doggy bagged again to be eaten later. Getting scary again as June's catheter is blocking, and we have used all the spares.

Monday 01 March

We were up early and beat the traffic to return the car. June's navigation spot on. The hire firm drove us to the airport, which was a winner. Right through with an easy flight to Auckland. We were met by Phil's secretary as there was a crisis as he had lost his credit cards and was in a fugue. Elaine took us to various doctors for another catheter and associated equipment. All ethnic, who were as useful as a chocolate tea pot. Eventually we made our way to a private A&E who supplied us with the necessary goodies. The spare was a male catheter but we were assured that it would be enough to see us through the rest of the holiday provided June didn't want a swim. The mind boggled at the thought. Phil still in a panic but happy to get away from Auckland and leave the searching to others. Off to his batch on the Thames coast. Changed the catheter yet again, getting good at it now. Introduced to the local pub, had a great meal and the beer flowed well. The bugs were biting. Sat around talking till the early hours.

Tuesday 02 March

Up early on a bright sunshiny day. I was volunteered to make breakfast and how lovely a bacon and egg butty it was, sitting outside. Very lazy as the talk never stopped. Eventually did the rounds again visiting the wicked witch and the Baron. What delightful people, knowing that Phil was not a cook, they presented him with a monster dish of Shepherds pie. More than enough for the three of us to eat in the evening.

Headed into Thames town which was half an hour drive, had tea and cakes and a lazy look around. We were introduced to a Chinese-owned vineyard. They are famous for the port. We sampled many of the blends and were unanimous in the choice. The whole area was wheelchair friendly. Not the living area of the batch. We all decided that we would eat upstairs, which meant hauling June up two flights of stairs. The effort was well worth it. We managed to dispose of all the pie and the port. The talk as usual was varied, touching a vast amount of subjects. We were all transformed back into the '60s with a superb range of skiffle music. June bedded down in a single bed upstairs, far too precarious getting her downstairs.

Wednesday 03 March
 

Coromandel Coast.

Coromandel Coast.

 

Coromandel Coast.

Up very early and off for a Grand Tour of the Coromandel Coast. The Coromandel Peninsula is an 80 km (50 miles) long finger of land that separates the Hauraki Gulf and Firth of Thames from the Pacific Ocean.

There are many interesting coastal features of volcanic origin. The coast is long and indented with some of the roads being twisty and turny. It is a wonderfully varied area with high mountains, and in other places a veritable jungle. Stopping at scenic vantage points to take pictures, we stumbled across a hippy caravan selling wonderful food.

During our break, we were directed to an out-of-the way beach down a very narrow road. What a pleasure it was. Not a soul around with the beach stretching what seemed forever. We came across a small grave yard on a coastal road, beautifully kept with a white wicket fence surrounding it. There were six or seven graves, all Maori but with English surnames. We were joined by the local harbour master who told us the history of the place. His knowledge was great as his mother was buried there. Just one of the small memorable occurrences.

The trip ended in the Bay Inn again. The entrance not really wheelchair friendly, but not too difficult as there were only three steps. The owners only new, promised that alterations will be made with the forthcoming upgrading. On the bar, was a Tui beer mat, which we lusted for. With a little begging, we got it. There appeared a Tui hat for June, beach hat for me and a cap for Phil. The Oscar awards were on TV, with the New Zealanders cheering and clapping each time Lord of the Rings got an award. A joyous day, not getting back to the batch until the early hours.

Thursday 04 March

A gentle hungoverish start to the day. Cleaned out the batch, all joining in to cut the grass with June acting as foreman. The flags were taken down; there were two flying, New Zealand and the old Hong Kong. We returned to the Ellerslie Motel in Auckland by early evening, meeting up with Stu who was taking the scenic route to Miami from Tasmania. With Phil in tow, we had a pork chop meal, complete with a couple of pints at the local RSA club. I was told to remove my head gear on signing in as the code of dress was to be observed. The standards are pretty high. Ooooooooooops. Not a late night as we had to be at the airport rather early.

Friday 05 March Saturday 05 March (International Date Line)

A sad farewell to Phil after giving us such a wonderful time. His generosity was totally overwhelming. Departing on time to Fiji on a worn out 767 of Air Pacific; thankfully it was only a two and a half hour flight. Great flight to Honolulu, arriving at 9am, getting the full treatment by the staff of the New Otani Beach Hotel who remembered us well. The same room, with minimal disability facilities. Moral: Never travel without a bath board. Retraced our steps along Waikiki Beach, stopping here and there to be fed and watered. Booked a wheelchair friendly, we hope, bus trip to the USS Arizona War Memorial for tomorrow.

Sunday 06 March

Picked up by a totally wheelchair friendly bus, having an educational and sobering trip to the AWM. The US Navy have the visits timed almost to an art form. Wheelchair access to all facilities is 100%. Part of the trip was a visit to the Punch Bowl Military Cemetery having a great view over Honolulu. Not a trip to be taken lightly but totally unmissable. It was a six-hour trip, giving us time for a walk and then dinner at the hotel, virtually on the beach.

There was a plaque on the rail by our table mourning the demise of famous hamburger stall demolished in the early '80s for 'progress, as it had its heyday with the hippies in the '60s.

Left around 9pm to suffer the most rigorous security search June and I have ever had at Honolulu Airport. I was nearly down to my undies, with all bags being searched thoroughly. They took June away and even inspected her catheter bag. It appears that boarding tickets are randomly numbered for the full treatment, Nice to feel safe. Quick change at LA and off to New York. Everything wheel chair smooth. Arriving in New York, we were trying to find a phone to obtain the free bus to the Holiday Inn JFK when a lady with a mobile phone offered to do it for us. Little kindness' such as that makes the difference.

The bus arrived but the driver had not been trained in the operation of the wheelchair lift. Five steps and we were aboard, not an exercise to be repeated very often. Again same room, had a good meal but was horrified at the automatic tipping. The meal was not that good for 15%. There is no tipping at all in New Zealand and very discretionary in the UK. Vive la differences in culture.

Monday 07 March

After a long, long sleep, we were put on the bus properly and departed JFK for the flight to Manchester. Totally uneventful. Security very easy.

Tuesday 08 March

Arrived early at Manchester had to wait a short while for the taxi home. The 100 miles appeared a very long drawn-out trip. Glad to be home to the washing, reading the mail and waiting for the dreaded jet lag.

Thoughts on the trip

A lifetime tour accomplished with very little trouble. The majority of places were wheelchair friendly, and we had plenty of help offered where not. Glad we carried a bathboard. Air Companies all extremely efficient and caring getting June on and off. Take glitches such as medical failures as another adventure. Take more medical supplies than you think you will need. Skin is waterproof. The vast majority of people are kind and helpful and will go out of their way to make things go smoothly.

We hope that if only one person bites the bullet after reading this and goes travelling, complete with a wheelchair, what a success we have had.

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Click for Syd & June’s other adventures:

New Zealand Part I

East Coast Of America (Boston to Richmond and return)

Chicago and Las Vegas

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