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Apr 27, 2016

Mobility Impaired? Winter Coming  Go South!

So I said, with some excitement, “Tomorrow night I will be in Blenheim, and then Central Otago”. The Auckland person said “It’s July. You’re nuts”. I said “You haven’t seen the South Island until you see it in winter”. Auckland person said “You’re nuts!” 

Around 30 years ago I took my wife and her Canadian parents for a South Island exploration. In January. On a 30 degrees plus day in Ashburton we called in to a place called a lounge hoping for some lunch. The furnishings were all red velvet, a bit dusty, and the choice was hot roast lamb. We had spent the last few days looking at hot dusty lambs on dry brown hillsides, just a few glimpses of snow. Our South Island trip was underwhelming.

Years passed. Our family discovered the joys of skiing, especially in the South Island. In winter of course. Then I broke my spine. A broken spine is a bit limiting on some activities. Car travel is not one of them. Car travel is easy. Comfortable seats instead of wheelchair cushion, moving at the same speed as everyone else, going fast up hills.

After several trips, never getting tired of it, I had found my unquestioned favourite route – the drive between Geraldine and Wanaka/Queenstown/Cromwell. In winter. I have taken most of the photos here, meaning anyone with my kind of injury and anything less severe can do the same trip and see the same sights. So the rest of this article is a kind of photo essay about this drive that people with mobility problems of any kind (and others) might be interested in.

The reason it’s such a mobility friendly trip is simply because the scenery is stunning and spectacular on a truly grand scale. Sure, you can hike or kayak or mountain bike or ski. But you are mostly seeing your immediate surroundings. From the car you see it all. There are more bonuses, especially for people from busy North Island centres. There’s hardly any traffic. The road is in great condition. It doesn’t wind much. It isn’t very hilly. There are long flat straights. Isn’t very hilly??? No, it mostly climbs gradually.

 At one end is Geraldine. Somehow the town looks just like its name. Gentle and peaceful. You can buy all kinds of Barkers products from their Geraldine store. When I came back Barkers jam was cheaper in my supermarket. But it definitely tastes better if bought in Geraldine.

 From Geraldine there is a bit of windiness in the road as you start to climb through green farmland towards Fairlie and the Mackenzie basin. We stayed in Fairlie 2 weeks after their big snow storm in 2006. As the photo shows, there was still snow everywhere with deep drifts on the road sides and rooves. I have said I have never felt cold in the South Island but the motel that night (outside air temperature -6) was a bit of an exception. Perhaps explained by the kind moteliers having left some of the windows open, “to let some fresh air in”.

 The photos at the start of this article and all that follow are my own. All taken on a trip from Fairlie to Cromwell in June. They are not any kind of publicity shots, the sky has not been retouched, and I have around 100 more, just like them. What you are seeing is Tekapo – Mackenzie Country - Lindis Pass – Lake Dunstan.

 And just to show the honesty of this account, yes it is winter here too and sometimes it looks like it. But as a northern North Island person where winter just means rain and wind, these scenes and this kind of experience are another part what I come here for.

Because its winter, accommodation is relatively easy to find – still requires the same search you may need to do anywhere to find places that suit you. Access4all lists accommodation in Cromwell, Wanaka and Queenstown. I stay at Cromwell because it’s flat, has everything you need – including wine at Bannockburn, great fruit stands – real fruit yoghurt ice-creams and locally grown Central Otago apricots - and is a good central place to explore Queenstown, Wanaka, Alexandra, the Ida valley and the Maniatoto. And some of you may remember Garry McCormack’s fantastic Heartland TV documentary about curling in the Maniatoto. It’s all here.

Coming back the last time in September 2015, this view of Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook unfolded. I sat (in the sun!) and looked out to Mount Cook – the isolated high peak. It was mid-afternoon. And I thought about the wonders of travel in that later that night I would be back home in a suburban street in Auckland You can see the sky. When I got back to Auckland it was grey, again. And stayed like it for weeks.

I don’t think I’m nuts.