I love New Zealand. It is probably the most beautiful place on earth. One of my favourite things to do is road trip around this country – the untouched landscape takes my breath away every time.
As with all things access related, I’ve noticed a steady increase in the consideration of access over the years. But to be fair, when I started to travel around the country the standard was pretty low.
In 2011 I went to the Bay of Islands and booked a wheelchair accessible room over the phone. When we arrived, it was far from accessible. While the inside of the room was perfect, there was a step to get inside. A STEP. On what planet this qualifies as ‘wheelchair accessible’, I’m not sure. But the hotel owner insisted it met council requirements of accessibility. Needless to say, we stayed some place else.
This confirms what I always say about policy and decision-making. You cannot make decisions about people from different communities without having said community members at the table. If someone will access needs had drawn out the accessibility requirements, this never would have happened.
I’ve since become better at finding accessible accommodation. Hotels.com has specific checkboxes where you can tick your exact access needs.
Five years later in November 2016, we went on a road trip to Gisborne. The drive there from Auckland has the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen – the first half along the coast and the second through the Te Uruwera National Park.
I found the accessibility in Gisborne and surrounding areas to be great. The walkway along the beach in the city is newly built and very well maintained.
I was especially taken aback at the Eastwoodhill Arboretum, a quiet nature sanctuary. While all the tracks are not accessible, the tracks that are have clear accessibility signs pointing you in the right direction.
The access issue in the Far North has probably improved and there are still parts of New Zealand I need to explore. But tourism is a huge priority for the government and accounted for $2.8billion in GST revenue in the year ending March 2016.
Areas such as the Bay of Islands rely heavily on tourism. I hate to think how many people with access needs travelled to those areas and have been forever put off by blatant lack of common sense. New Zealand has so much to offer and if we invest in accessibility, that is a huge market that we make ourselves open to.