2020 has become a year of being grateful for the small things. With struggle unfolding on a global scale, Aussies have banded together to honour the places, people and spirit that make Australia special. Regardless of your family’s needs or preferences, make the most of domestic travel resuming and hit the road to celebrate our wide, brown land.
Whip around on this Big Lap covering some of Australia’s best wheelchair accessible attractions. You’ll barely scratch the surface of accessible domestic travel. But get exploring again, and support local business and tourism while you’re at it!
The jewel of the north-east is the underwater paradise of the Great Barrier Reef. Head out on a day trip to Agincourt Reef on the wheelchair-friendly Quicksilver VII catamaran. Quicksilver’s reef-side ‘pontoon’ has a water-powered lift or hoist, allowing easy water entry for anyone with additional mobility needs. While you’re in the region, let loose on the Liberty Swing (a wheelchair swing accessed with MLAK key) at Muddy’s Playground on Cairns Esplanade, or conquer the quintessential QLD croc experience with an accessible boat tour from Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures.
On the theme-park hub that is the Gold Coast, Sea World is the perfect pick for families with a wheelchair user. Try out the once-in-a-lifetime dolphin experience, with hoist access to the Dolphin Encounter platform. The dolphins and their trainers are chosen for their suitability to guests with additional needs.
Head inland from the coast now to dry out in the dust and drama of the outback. Thanks to a chairlift, visitors with mobility restrictions can delve into the bizarre lava tunnels of Undara. Stay onsite in a refurbished rail carriage, suitable for most wheelchairs.
New South Wales
Get your bearings by taking in the panoramic views from the wheelchair-accessible Sydney Tower Eye. Pick one of the specially-designed behind-the-scenes Sydney Opera House tours, before embarking on a ferry across to Manly. Then complete the Sydney postcard by crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which has newly-installed lift access.
A short 90 minutes away from Sydney lies the spectacle that is the Blue Mountains. Delve into the Jamison Valley via the Scenic Skyway or Scenic Cableway. At the base of the cableway is a wheelchair-friendly walkway through the valley.
Further north near Coffs Harbour, float above the canopy of one of Australia’s oldest rainforests in Dorrigo National Park. The elevated Skywalk lookout is wheelchair-accessible, and you can also arrange to use a TrailRider along the forest floor.
Australian Capital Territory
Our capital city brims with family-friendly activities to suit all interests – think Questacon, National Gallery and National Museum, for starters. Accessible tours are offered at the Australian Institute of Sport, where you can watch elite athletes in training. The Discovery Zone at the Australian War Memorial makes history hands-on, while the other exhibition and memorial spaces offer a sombre commemoration of military sacrifice.
If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a platypus or echidna at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Most of the bushwalking tracks are suitable for people with mobility restrictions and a TrailRider can be organised in advance.
Bars, cafes and street art combine to give Melbourne its unique (coffee-infused) flavour. Enjoy it all from the vantage point of the Eureka Skydeck, the highest viewing platform in the southern hemisphere. Wheelchair access is available to the Skydeck and the Edge, a glass box extending out from the Skydeck for travellers with a good head for heights. Families with additional sensory or vision needs can download Access Keys before visiting the Eureka Tower.
Settle in beside the sting rays at Sea Life Melbourne, with its great lift and ramp access. Among the eleven aquarium zones is the Bay of Rays and the Coral Atoll, with most tanks and viewing stations at an ideal height for visitors using mobility aids. You can see sharks, rays, penguins, jellyfish, a saltwater crocs and many more marine marvels!
Beyond Melbourne, get out into the fresh air with the Walk in the Park program from Parks Victoria for nature-lovers who are blind or vision-impaired. Brimbank Park has a great accessible playground, Buchan Caves a stairclimber and Patterson River boat ramp an electric hoist. Beach wheelchairs are available at Wilsons Prom, Cape Conran and Point Nepean National Parks.
Nature makes its mark on the memory of any traveller who visits the Red Centre. Uluru is the region’s beating heart, with viewing platforms from which to marvel at sunrise and sunset. Circle the mind-blowing monolith by following the compacted paths and footbridges of the base walk, which runs 10 kilometres in total. In Alice Springs, the natural offerings are equally as awe-inspiring, with daytrips into the West MacDonnell National Park, Ormiston Gorge and Ellery Creek Big Hole listed as wheelchair-accessible.
While some call it the City of Churches, it is Adelaide’s Central Market that has us spellbound. The largest undercover fresh-produce market in the southern hemisphere is complete with wheelchair accessible stalls and bathroom. Many of the animal experiences at the Adelaide Zoo, Squirrel Monkey Encounter included, are also wheelchair accessible. It is also worth catching the tram to glorious Glenelg, whether for the beach, historic town hall or amusement park. Venture further afield to Hahndorf for a day of history. Most of its quaint and quirky historic buildings, including one of its premier cheese producers ‘Udder Delights,’ have ramp access.
Begin in Perth’s Yagan Square, where you’ll stumble on open spaces, an aquatic playground, public art and cafes upon cafes. Keep your eyes peeled on event calendars, as pop-up festivals are often hosted here.
Tap into the foodie vibes of the Margaret River region via Busselton. Many of the local breweries and cellar doors have prioritised access. Travel without Limits editor Julie Jones recommends Amelia Park Wines and The Goose and Eagle Bay Brewing Co. In town, enjoy the wheelchair accessible playgrounds of the Busselton Foreshore Precinct, as well as the famous Busselton Jetty. Book in advance for an accessible train ride down all 1.7 kilometres of the jetty, which ends in an underwater observatory with lift access.
Australia’s offshore fruit bowl is lush, green and ideal for the outdoor adventurer. Tahune Airwalk in Geeveston combines adrenaline and accessibility in the Eagle Hang Glider – for those who dare! Its Huon Pine Walk has wheelchair-friendly paths.
On the north coast, watch the penguins come into shore as dusk falls over Low Head. Staff are accommodating and can often position the group so that the penguins shuffle straight past spectators in wheelchairs.
A version of this story first appeared in the ‘Travel without Limits‘ magazine, written by Julie Jones of havewheelchairwilltravel.com. You can subscribe to Travel without Limits magazine by clicking here.
Sophie is a die-hard pasta lover, beach-goer and theatre fanatic hit hard with the travel bug. When exploring new places, Sophie loves straying from the beaten path and chatting with locals about the best places to grab a bite to eat.