Touring Australia 
by James Glasbergen 2000  

Sydney, Australia was also very good for accessibility, although it did not start off great for us.  Upon our arrival at the Wentworth Hotel, the staff realized that all their wheelchair accessible rooms were being renovated in preparations for the Olympics.  After trying unsuccessfully to accommodate us in a different room and even a different hotel, the manager offered us their "premier suite" for the whole week at no extra charge (normally valued at $600-$800 a night, we just had to accept it and make do!

Since none of the major tour companies (ie. APT, Grayline) had wheelchair accessible buses, we toured Sydney on our own, walking almost everywhere--from the Opera House to the Rocks to Darling Harbour. There were curb-cuts generally everywhere, although some were not very good.  Sydney was also a little hilly in sections, especially around Circular Quay and the Rocks (I was glad to be in a power chair!).  Most of the ferries in Circular Quay were accessible, making it easy to get to Darling Harbour, Homebush Bay (the Olympic site), and Manly. Upon arrival at Homebush Bay, there are wheelchair accessible shuttle buses, which go right to the Olympic site. 

Manly Beach and Bondi Beach were not very accessible for wheelchairs due to the soft sand and also the large number of steps going down to the sand, although there was a ramped area on one side of Bondi Beach.  However, you could still sit at the top and enjoy the scenery. 

The Sydney Opera House was not bad for accessibility.  We saw a couple performances with pretty good seats.  There are also special guided tours of the Opera House for the disabled.

On our last day in Sydney, we rented a wheelchair accessible van from Disability Hire Vehicles. We then drove 3.5 hours to Canberra for a day and toured Parliament House, the War Memorial, and the Telstra Tower--all of which were very accessible. 

The next day, we continued another eight hours into Melbourne.  We stayed at the Centra Melbourne, where we had a nice room with a roll-in shower and two beds (that had plenty of room under them for a lift--or hoist, as they call it Down Under. We rented the lift from Active Mobility in Sydney and brought it with us). 

We found accessibility in Melbourne to also be very good, as there were curb-cuts almost everywhere. We toured a number of places, including the Rialto Towers, the MCG, and Healesville Sanctuary. All were very accessible. 

One thing we noticed in Australia, though, was that in order to receive the disabled discount for admission into certain places, you had to have a government issued card that you had to show to prove you were disabled (as if the wheelchair didn't make it obvious.  Several places gave us the discount anyway, although not everywhere). 

We also spent a day at Philip Island, which was very worthwhile.  There is a special wheelchair area at the Penguin Parade which guarantees a good view. The Koala Conservation Centre also had an accessible boardwalk into the trees to view the Koalas an arm's length away, and the Philip Island Wildlife Park (the highlight of my whole trip!) was also totally accessible.

Finally, we also drove the Great Ocean Road, with stops at the 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, and London Bridge.  All had very good viewing areas for wheelchairs, although Loch Ard Gorge had one area going down to the beach that included maybe 30 or 40 steps and obviously wasn't accessible. 

At the end of our stay in Melbourne, we drove back to Sydney to drop off the van, the lift, and then fly back to Honolulu.  Driving between Sydney and Melbourne was preferred by us since there were no direct flights between Melbourne and Honolulu..

In the end, our trip to Hawaii and Australia turned out great.  I think the key was that all of our arrangements and reservations were made months in advance, and most of it was done over the internet.  Two Australian organizations that helped us a great deal were IDEAS and NICAN.  They had databases on the accessibility of attractions, rental companies, and hotels (including detailed information such as roll-in showers, etc.), which was VERY helpful.   One thing to remember for people in electric wheelchairs is that the electricity in Australia is different from both North America and Europe.  I could not find a modified battery charger and most voltage converters are not designed for continuous use (which is what an electric wheelchair needs for overnight charging).  Therefore, my local electronics had to order a voltage converter that was designed for continuous use.  It cost $130, but it worked great.  Hopefully I will get back to Australia some day soon!!


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