HAWAII: accessible airport transportation, accessible hotel, medical rentals, Waikiki, accessible sightseeing tours, the Polynesian Cultural Center, Pearl Harbor
Sydney: Hotel, Circular Quay ferries, wheelchair taxis, Manly beach, Bondi beach, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Tower, Bush Tours, rental van, medical rentals
Canberra: Accessible hotel, Parliament House, the War Memorial, the Telstra Tower
Melbourne: Accessible hotel, Queen Victoria Market, the Rialto Towers, the MCG, Melbourne Park, Healesville Sanctuary, disabled discounts, Phillip Island, the Great Ocean Road
For additional information on Oahu accessibility, see "HAWAII/LOS ANGELES 2002"& "KAUAI/BIG ISLAND 2002
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By James Glasbergen
The thought of going to Australia had never even crossed my mind before since it seemed so far away. However, after doing a bit of research and planning, I discovered that a trip to the land down under was entirely possible. Since Hawaii is about halfway between Toronto and Sydney, I decided to break up the flights by spending a week in Hawaii both on the way to Australia and on the way back. Therefore, we had two 10-hour flights between Toronto and Sydney instead of one long 24-hour flight, which would have included a brief stopover in Honolulu anyway.
While the flight attendants for both Canadian Airlines and Qantas were very helpful, the baggage handlers for Qantas were terrible. It was clear upon our arrival in Sydney that they had poked and prodded at my chair very carelessly. On the way back to Honolulu, my wheelchair arrived with a very bent armrest. They also tried in vain to take the tilt box off my wheelchair, even though it wasn't meant to come off. In addition, they lost my joystick. The baggage handlers evidently took it off in Sydney when they were storing my chair on the plane, and it was nowhere to be found when I got my chair back in Honolulu. The claims person was incredibly unhelpful too. He kept telling me to just fill out a claim form for a damaged item and Qantas would reimburse me for a new one, but I stressed to him strongly that it was a custom made joystick and that I needed it back immediately in order to drive my chair. What I really wanted was for him to have someone go look in the cargo hold of the plane for it. He wasn't having any of that though. I don't think he ever really understood the importance of it, even though I put up quite a fuss. He just had me sign a claim form and told me to call Qantas the next day to see if they found it. Of course when I called the next day, they did not have it and they said the claim form described it as a damaged item, not a missing item. Therefore, they did not look for it and the plane had already returned to Sydney so there was no chance of looking for it any more. I should have stayed at the baggage claim the night before and put up a fuss until he agreed to have someone check the plane. Anyway, I had to make a joystick out of cardboard and use that for the last week in Hawaii. I ended up getting a new one made a couple weeks later and Qantas reimbursed me. I discovered that the key to avoiding this problem is to put clearly labeled signs on my chair for things that the baggage handler should not mess with, although I didn't do this until the fourth and last flight.
Accessibility in Hawaii (specifically Oahu, where we stayed the whole time) was probably the best I have ever seen. We made reservations for airport transfers with a wheelchair taxi service that had a fleet of accessible minivans. This worked out great as they were waiting for us at the airport when we arrived. We didn't come across any wheelchair accessible taxi companies on Oahu that had on-demand service. All required booking in advance. We used the same company for both airport transfers between Honolulu and Waikiki and they were greatalways on time.
We stayed at a hotel right on Waikiki beach where the wheelchair accessible rooms were excellent. There was a big bathroom that had a lot of room to manoevre and included a roll-in shower. The room had two beds (which had plenty of space under them for a hoyer lift) and a sofa-bed, as well as an accessible lanai. We rented the lift from a local medical company, who delivered it and picked it up from the bell deskvery convenient since we didn't have to be there to receive it. This company rented a wide range of medical supplies, including wheelchairs and lifts. They will pick up and deliver the item to your hotel without you having to be there. It is important to confirm and re-confirm the delivery date though. They actually forgot to deliver it on the correct day and since we arrived at our hotel late at night, we had to wait until the next day to get it. They were quite apologetic about it though and actually gave us a discount on the rental because of their error.
Waikiki was generally very accessible as the curbcuts were
excellent. Waikiki beach was also great, because there were sections (near the
volleyball nets) where the sand was hard enough that a wheelchair could easily
wheel right onto the beach.
We took three different day tours with a sightseeing company that had several accessible buses. The first tour was a circle island tour. It was great, although several of the stops were only 10 minute stops which wasn't enough time for a wheelchair to get out of the bus and get back on. I did get out at the major stops though, such as at Waimea Falls. It was a bit of a walk to get from the parking lot to the Falls, but the path was nicely paved the whole way so it was easy. We were told there was an accessible tram that could have taken us to the Falls as well, but we preferred the walk.
We also went to the Polynesian Cultural Center, which was totally accessible and a lot of fun. The Samoan show and the Pageant of the Long Canoes are absolute must-sees during the day. The evening show "Horizons" was the highlight though. It was excellent. There was designated wheelchair accessible seating in the amphitheatre.
The last tour we took brought us to Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was semi-accessible. The ferry going to the Arizona Memorial would not take electric wheelchairs, only manual wheelchairs (no idea why because there was a ramp to board the ferry!). Therefore, I had to get transferred into one of their manual wheelchairs, which they were more than willing to help out with. It was worth it though as the memorial was quite an interesting place.
The battleship Missouri was also worthwhile, although only the main deck and the surrender deck were accessible. It was too tight inside the ship for a wheelchair. Boarding the ship was an interesting experience too. I basically drove into a cage and a forklift picked me up and raised me up to a gangplank-type walkway which I booted across to board the ship. (, )
Sydney, Australia was also very good for accessibility, although it did not start off great for us. Upon our arrival at our hotel, the staff realized that all of their wheelchair accessible rooms were being renovated in preparation 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! It was the most expensive room in the hotel. It had a kitchen, a living room, a dining room with a huge boardroom table (), crystal chandeliers in every room, 5 balconies, a huge bedroom with 2 king beds, and 2 bathrooms with marble floors, toilets, and sinks. There was also a hidden door in the bedroom closet that had a different number on the outside than the front door had. This was apparently done so that people in the hall would think it was the door to a different room, and therefore if celebrities stayed in the premier suite, the celebrity gawkers would be waiting for them by the front door while the celebrities were able to slip out the hidden door. Apparently a lot of celebrities stayed in that room, including Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
Since none of the major tour companies (ie. APT, Grayline) had wheelchair accessible buses, we toured Sydney on our own, walking almost everywherefrom the Opera House to the Rocks to Darling Harbour. There were curbcuts 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 were wheelchair accessible shuttle buses which took us right to Stadium Australia and the Olympic venues. The various Sydney Harbour cruises were also accessible. No one should leave Sydney without taking one of those cruises.
Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne all had wheelchair accessible taxi companies. The taxis in Sydney and Canberra (we never took one in Melbourne) were quite good. We didn't have to wait too long for them and the drivers were pretty good. One important thing to be careful about when taking them, though, is that the drivers don't overbill you. I noticedbut was too stupid to say anythingthat most drivers started the meter as soon as they stopped to pick us up, so by the time he tied my wheelchair down and we actually began driving the meter was already at $4 or $5. Don't let them get away with that! Make sure they reset the meter before you begin driving.
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 okay for accessibility, but not great. We saw a couple performances with pretty good seats. For one show, we were right up against the stage on the side. It was a little awkward because I was in the aisle and it was hard for people to get by. There were also special guided tours of the Opera House for the disabled since the regular guided tours included a lot of steps.
We also went up the Sydney Tower which provided a great overhead view of the city. The view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House was not that great though as they were largely obstructed by the tall buildings in front of them. The trip up to the observation deck was still worthwhile though. There is also a revolving restaurant at the top where you could eat dinner.
We also spent a day taking a bush tour. A variety of bush tours were offered, but one of them catered specially to people in wheelchairs. I made arrangements about a month before we arrived in Sydney. For our tour, we picked up a guide in our van and he spent the day showing us around the Royal National Park, Botany Bay, and other sights. We made several stops along the way to get out and enjoy the view. It was a fairly interesting tour since we got to see things we would not normally see on a regular tour. However, I did find the tour to be rather expensive, although he did provide snacks and lunch.
On our last day in Sydney, we rented a wheelchair accessible van and then made the 3.5 hour drive to Canberra. Our hotelb room was quite small, but it did have a roll-in shower and 2 single beds with plenty of space beneath for a lift, or "hoist" as they call it Down Under. We rented the lift in Sydney and brought it with us. The next morning we decided to walk from our hotel to Parliament Housebig mistake! It was 100 degrees out and it was a lot farther than I thought. We did walk by the Canadian embassy on the way, though, which was really cool. We popped in for a minute and signed the guest book before continuing on to Parliament House.
Parliament House was fairly interesting. We took a guided tour that included a walk through the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was entirely accessible. From there we took a wheelchair taxi over to the Australian War Memorial, which I found incredibly boring. However, it is one of Canberra's main attractions and many people love it, so don't take my word for it. It too was entirely accessible. At night we went over to the Telstra Tower where we had supper in the revolving restaurant. That was probably the highlight of my day in Canberra because it provided a great view of the city and surrounding countryside. I wasn't too excited about seeing the crocodile and kangaroo on my friend's plate though. Yuck!! I'm glad we were only in Canberra for a day because I would not have known what to do for another day.
The next day we continued on another eight hours into Melbourne. We stayed at a dowtown hotel, where we had a nice room with a roll-in shower and two beds that had plenty of room under them for a lift.
We found accessibility in Melbourne to be very good as there were curbcuts almost everywhere. We spent one morning at the Queen Victoria Market, famous for its shopping. We also toured a number of places, starting with the Rialto Towers which provides a great overhead view of Melbourne. We also took a guided tour of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) which was quite interesting.
Next, we walked across the bridge to Melbourne Park and the Rod Laver Arena, perhaps better known as Center Court for the Australian Open tennis tournament. I was pretty sure that I had read on their website that they offered guided tours, so I inquired at the box office. I was told that they did not offer guided tours, but that there was a free viewing area where you could go see the Center Court area. That was fine with me. However, after conferring with someone, the man said that unfortunately I would not be able to go there because the elevator could only be used on event days, and since there were no events scheduled that day, we were out of luck. I accepted his explanation and left, but after thinking about it more, I realized how discriminatory that was. Basically they were telling me that any able-bodied person could go in and take a look at the tennis court, but anyone in a wheelchair was out of luck because they were not allowed to use the elevator. It would be one thing if Centre Court simply was not wheelchair accessible and there were lots of stairs, but to the contrary, there was a working elevator completely capable of taking us to the viewing area. We just weren't allowed to use it. After returning from Australia I sent an e-mail to Melbourne Park to voice my displeasure, and I received a response from the Melbourne Park Marketing Manager who was quite horrified at the treatment we received. She apologized and promised that the issue and the parties involved would be dealt with so that a similar occurrence would not happen again.
We also visited Healesville Sanctuary which was about a one hour drive from Melbourne. It was quite good, although if you're going there to see koalas and kangaroos, we found Phillip Island to be way more worthwhile. Later that night we went to an Aussie Rules Football game, better known Down Under as a footy match. Waverly Stadium was nicknamed "Arctic Park," and we sure found out why that night. I've never been so cold in all my life! It was fun though, something everyone should do to get a good taste of the Aussie lifestyle.
One thing we noticed in Australia 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 Phillip Island, which was about an hour and a half drive southeast of Melbourne. It was very worthwhile and is a must-do if you're in Melbourne. We first went to the Koala Conservation Centre, where you could walk through the park and see koalas in the trees. There was an accessible boardwalk that went into the trees to view the Koalas an arm's length away.
Next we went to the Phillip Island Wildlife Parkthe highlight of my whole trip Downunder! There we went through the park and saw all sorts of native animals in their pens and cageswombats, dingos, koalas, snakes. However, the best part was that the kangaroos were not in cages. They simply hopped through the park amid the tourists. They were not huge kangaroosnone much bigger than waist high. Everyone was given feed at the entrance to the park to feed the kangaroos. That was cool! The park was totally accessible too.
At night we went to the Penguin Parade. It was quite a sight to see all the penguins coming in from the ocean and waddling back to their burrows for the night. There was a special wheelchair area at the Penguin Parade which guarantees a great view.
Finally, we also drove the Great Ocean Road, which begins a couple hours west of Melbourne. We made 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. To me the two absolute must-do's for anyone visiting Melbourne are the Great Ocean Road and Phillip Island.
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 non-stop 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. 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 store had to order a voltage converter that was designed for continuous use. It cost $130, but it worked great. I would recommend that people just go to an electronics store, tell them the requirements for your battery charger (ie. number of amps, that it must be able to handle continuous use), and they should be able to get an appropriate voltage convertor, even if it has to be ordered in (which could take a few weeks, so don't wait til the last minute). Hopefully I will get back to Australia some day soon!!
For additional reviews on Hawaii, see:
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