With theme parks, pristine beaches and a hinterland to explore, Julie Jones discovers plenty of accessible activities for the whole family on the Gold Coast. 

wheelchair-friendly family holiday
Ruber tires allow the whole family to enjoy the beach. Picture: Julie Jones.

Like the whales we spotted breaching in the warm waters of the Gold Coast, we migrate north to escape winter’s chill. Although not warm enough to entice us into the water, the area delivers a memorable week of entertainment and relaxation. 

These are accessible attractions we keep coming back for. 

South Stradbroke Island Buggy Tour

Leaving the high rises of the city behind, we cruise for 30 minutes to South Stradbroke Island. After a short instructional video, we swap our thrill-seeker’s wheelchair for an off-road buggy. In convoy, we follow our guide to explore the rainforest and the beach.

We spy wallabies grazing near mangroves before driving up a sand dune and making our way down to the water’s edge. With only the occasional piece of driftwood to avoid on the deserted beach, we feel relaxation settle in and the shackles of city life melt away.

Our son’s smile from the front seat fills the rear-view mirror as he glances back to see if we are enjoying the ride as much as him, taking particular delight in the squeals from the back as the buggy plunged into a large puddle.

The Gold Coast Island Buggy tour includes cruise, buggy tour, Segway use and free time for lunch at Couran Cove Resort.

O’Reilly’s

wheelchair-friendly family holiday
Few treetop walks are wheelchair friendly. Hence why this one is a gem. Picture: Julie Jones.

The promise of an accessible tree top walk lures us to the Gold Coast Hinterland. Perched at the top of the mountain is O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat which greets us with crisp air and uninterrupted views of the western McPherson Range.

Lamington National Park contains over 320 kilometres of walking tracks, of which two are wheelchair accessible and easily enjoyed by visitors of all abilities. The Tree Top walk consists of nine suspension bridges which are elevated up to 16 metres above the ground.

Suspension bridges are rarely wheelchair accessible, so there is joy in sharing the thrill of a new experience with our son. When heavy-footed walkers cause a more severe bounce and wobble of the bridge, it only adds to his excitement.

Birdlife is plentiful in the National Park, but it seems the birds were intent on playing a game of hide and seek. I can report they are expert on the hiding portion of the game.

Fortunately, O’Reilly’s offers other opportunities to interact and see birdlife in action with their Birds of Prey Show. We sat in the natural amphitheatre admiring O’Reilly’s large feathered friends. Twinkle the Barn Owl, Conan the Kestrel and one of their Wedge Tail Eagles all starred. 

wheelchair-friendly family holiday
Did you know that Owls have really long legs? Picture: Julie Jones.

Fun Car

Like a couple of circus clowns, the boys squished their long limbs into a fun car to tour the Esplanade. Loving anything with a motor, our son embraces the car (and the celebrity-like status he attracts!) as people wave and point as they pass by.

Only 10 fun cars operate in Australia and they’re all on the Gold Coast.

With a top speed of around 50km an hour, it certainly wouldn’t replace a hire car, but with an open-top it’s a novel way of touring and fun for the whole family.

wheelchair-friendly family holiday
Fun Cars do what they say on the tin. Picture: Julie Jones.

Fire Engine Tour

Kids go through many phases with most enjoying a transport loving stage. Others, like our son, continue with the passion. That’s why a Fire Engine tour is a must-do for us while visiting the Gold Coast. Retired authentic fire engines are used for the tour. Tour guides are usually ex, or current, firefighters.

We share the tour with a family celebrating their son’s 6th birthday. This creates a lively atmosphere in the cabin as the fire engine weaves its way from Surfers Paradise, along the beachfront to The Spit.

We are all invited to operate and experience the full power of the fire hose on the oval. Feeling the weight of the hose and the kick-back as the water pumped through the hose, it is clear why fire-fighters are so muscly!

wheelchair-friendly family holiday
The Fire Engine tour is one of the hot tickets in town. Picture: Julie Jones.

The tour is educational, with Geoff explaining the workings of a fire engine, its capacity and the methods used by fire fighters to put out different kinds of fire. He also sets the record straight on a few scenarios from Fireman Sam, after questions from our 6-year-old travel companion.

Our son can manage a few stairs with assistance and being an authentic fire engine, this was necessary.

Sea World

wheelchair-friendly family holiday
Are we looking at the fish or are they looking at us? Picture: Julie Jones.

Sea World’s accessibility ensures a fun day for visitors of all abilities. Easy to view exhibits, reserved wheelchair seating for shows and a special needs dolphin experience, complete with hoist access, are just a few reasons we’re repeat visitors.

My personal favourite is Polar Bear Shores where I can stand watching the bears for hours. Knowing we’ll find them at their most active early in the day, this is our first stop.

On this occasion, we are lucky to find mum and her bub taking a morning stroll and swim.

I relate to the mother’s little dance of reluctance at the edge of the pool, before taking the plunge with a look of parental resignation.

The special needs dolphin experience is available for a maximum of four people. This includes one carer/companion, to assist the person with a disability. The dolphin experience is free for the carer.

Bookings need to be made in advance, direct with Sea World’s Guest Relations. 

Movie World

Our movie-loving family always has a fun day at Movie World. For our son, meeting the characters and watching the parade is a highlight. His day is made when he looks up to see Superman striding across the road, complete with superhero aura, to admire our son’s Superman-themed wheelchair.

Guests with a disability are encouraged to visit Guest Services on arrival to discuss the accessible facilities and suitability of rides. Wheelchair accessible seating is available for the adrenalin-fuelled stunt show and for the parade. 

wheelchair-friendly family holiday
Hang out with Wonderwoman and see the famous Golden Lasso. Picture: Julie Jones.

Beach Wheelchairs

While swimming in winter wasn’t on our wish list, we couldn’t wait to get our feet in the sand and take a long walk on the beach. Fortunately, after an extensive and successful trial, the City of Gold Coast has implemented a permanent accessible beach program.

This includes a range of beach wheelchairs, beach matting and information about accessible facilities.

Understanding there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to accessibility there are several styles of beach wheelchair. These include the Hippocampe, Sandcruiser and Water Wheels chairs.

Our winter getaway on the Gold Coast is everything we needed it to be, and it certainly proved it’s a destination for all abilities. 

Family travel tip

Kurrawa All Abilities Playground at Broadbeach has a range of inclusive play equipment including supportive swings, high-back seated flying fox, picture communication boards and a hoisted bathroom facility with an adult-sized change table.

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