A quick flick around the internet will confirm that travellers with disabilities can enjoy the best adventure activities New Zealand has to offer – from leaping out of planes and exploring the rainforest canopy to jet boating in white-water rapids, going fishing, tearing down the slopes or landing on a glacier.
Coromandel: A splendid day’s fishing
On a fine day, fishing is the perfect way to relax and Coromandel Fishing Charters’ vessels Joint Venture and Rubin Jack are perfect for wheelchair users. Business owners Tom Meyers, himself a double amputee, and Lorraine Corbett, say the boats are ideal for wheelchair fishing. “There’s no reason why anybody in a wheelchair can’t come,” says Tom. “It’s no problem and we have staff on hand to help.” He says a day out on the water can be a soothing experience, and he has a list of returning customers.
Coromandel Fishing Charters also works with the Wish4Fish charity, set up by Bryce Dinneen to help those with disabilities get out on the water. Bryce is also disabled, having suffered a spinal injury.
The main town on The Coromandel Peninsula, Whitianga is 2.5 hours’ drive from Auckland, or 1 hour 20 from Thames. Regular buses run from Auckland central and a shuttle service connects Auckland Airport with many of the Coromandel’s hot spots.
Wheelchair users, people with cerebral palsy and blind people have had a blast going tandem skydiving with Skydive Abel Tasman in Motueka, over the coastal Nelson region. Skydivers report the experience of flying through the sky as an incredible rush.
Another venture, Skydiving Kiwis, in Ashburton near Christchurch, says more than 50 wheelchair riders have used a specially developed harness to tandem jump. There’s no age limit, and so long as you can fit the body harness, you can take part.
Motueka is near Nelson. Fly to Nelson from Auckland, Christchurch or Wellington or take the Wellington to Picton ferry, and drive to Nelson (2 hours by car).
Ashburton is just over 1 hour by road south of Christchurch. New Zealand’s second largest airport, Christchurch is a 1.5 hour flight from Auckland, or less than an hour from Wellington.
Have fun in the snow
Skiing, snowboarding or just getting out in the snow is a fantastic way to enjoy a crystal-clear, sparkling winter’s day. The Ruapehu Adaptive Programme, on the slopes of the North Island’s Mount Ruapehu active volcano, has been developed for people with disabilities who want to go skiing or snowboarding.
In the South Island, Cardrona’s Adaptive Snow Sports programme also enables people with physical, sensory or cognitive impairments to enjoy the snow. Participants ditch their wheelchairs for ski chairs, or can use specially-designed outriggers. Cool!
Ohakune – in the central North Island - is just over 4 hours’ drive from Auckland or 3.5 hours from Wellington. The nearest airport is Taupo which has rental car facilities and is 1.5 hours’ drive from Ohakune.
Lakeside Wanaka is just over an hour by road from Queenstown. Queenstown is serviced by regular flights from Australia and all national hubs.
Helicopter glacier landing
The Helicopter Line has launched a new venture for wheelchair-bound clients – taking them onto the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers in Westland, and the Tasman Glacier in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Surrounded by snow-clad mountains and primeval rainforest, wheelchair users can experience landing on a slow-moving river of ice and actually get out on to the glacier in a specially modified ski chair. Flights depart from Franz Josef and Glentanner, near Aoraki Mt Cook.
At the heart of the Southern Alps, Aoraki Mt. Cook village is just 2.5 hours’ drive from Wanaka, or 4 hours from Christchurch. Fly to Hokitika from Christchurch, and drive 2 hours south to Franz Josef.
Walk and wheel the treetops
Many trails around the country have been built so wheelchair users can explore New Zealand’s ancient rainforest, where trees grow to be hundreds of years old. West Coast Treetops Walkway, near Hokitika on the South Island’s wild west coast, gives you an opportunity to experience the rainforest from a novel perspective, at a bird’s eye level high in the tree canopy. The easily accessible walk takes you more than 450 metres along a steel platform 20 metres high. A series of ramps and gentle inclines provides easy access for wheelchairs.
Hokitika is a little over 3 hours’ drive from Christchurch, via the spectacular Arthur’s Pass, or just 30 minutes south of Greymouth. Hokitika has regular air connections to Christchurch and other national hubs.
Leap off high places
Bungy jumping is a quintessential Kiwi adventure activity. The Ledge Bungy, at the top of Queenstown’s Gondola, is operated by pioneering bungy company A.J. Hackett and gives people in wheelchairs the chance to safely leap off into the void while still inside their wheelchair. Just getting to the ledge is an adventure with wheelchairs transported up the hill via the Gondola.
The Shotover Canyon Swing, near Queenstown, also accommodates wheelchair users. At the Auckland Sky Tower, New Zealand’s largest city offers a SkyJump and SkyWalk for people with disabilities.
Queenstown airport is well serviced by both domestic and international flights and, with its Remarkable alpine backdrop, boasts one of the most scenic landings you’ll ever experience. Or drive from Dunedin (3.5 hours) or Te Anau (2.5 hours).
Make a splash in a jet boat
New Zealander Sir William Hamilton invented the jet boat in the 1950s as a unique way to cross shallow water. Since then, adventure-seekers have embraced it for high-speed thrills up and down New Zealand’s waterways. Queenstown’s Shotover Jet takes passengers on a heart-pumping ride through the twists and turns and canyons of the Shotover River. The jet boat is equipped to take passengers with disabilities; however, prior booking is advised.
Queenstown is New Zealand’s most popular year-round resort town. You can fly in directly from Australia and most other New Zealand airports. The popular tourist spot is also a central setting off place for adventures in Fiordland, Otago and Southland – all within a few hours' by road.