2016 was a mixed bag for us. I guess every year is a bit like that but last year was full of great experiences but also much sadness. I liken the year to a flight, some smooth sailing but turbulence along the way. I know you are all very busy people and don’t have time to read all our blogs so I thought I’d do a round-up of some of the highlights, low-lights and most popular stories. Like an old lady (no offence to old ladies, I love old ladies) I find myself muttering, “Where did the year go?” It doesn’t seem that long ago I was typing a blog about how we travelled through 2015. So, here’s 2016 in a nutshell.
Not surprisingly, 2016 involved lots of travel. BJ’s new beach wheelchair gave us the freedom to explore the South Coast of NSW. It was liberating being able to explore any of the beaches along the coast. And we saw some beauties. Green Patch being one of my favourites. AJ and I loved the mobs of kangaroos that visited our cottage at Interludes at Bawley Point each day.
BLUE MOUNTAINS TREAT
AJ and I treated my Mum to a birthday surprise by whisking her away to the Blue Mountains to one of our favourite hotels, The Fairmont Resort. Check out all the accessible facilities under one roof here. It was lovely having some time with my two favourite gals in one of my favourite places in all the world. If you’ve not been to the Blue Mountains you must at least do a day trip. Scenic World is a favourite with BJ and 2 of the 3 rides are wheelchair accessible. This area is fabulous in any season. Check out the accessible rides here.
SYDNEY CBD ACCESSIBLE STAY
School, work and BJ’s day program kept us all busy during term time but we did manage some short breaks. A stay at the Radisson Blu in the city proved that historic buildings can be made wheelchair accessible without losing any of the old-world charm. The Radisson is in a fantastic location for wheelchair users with easy level access to Circular Quay and the main shopping district in Pitt Street Mall.
IMPRESSIVE BEACH ACCESS
We took a day trip to the Central Coast where we were impressed by the inclusion and access at Avoca Beach. The Avoca for All project was led by Peta an Occupational Therapist in the area and shows that with the right person at the helm, willing volunteers and an understanding that one-size doesn’t fit all, the beach can be accessible to everyone. We’d never seen three different options for beach wheelchair available at one beach before. If you missed this story you should catch up here.
ACCESSIBLE VILLA BY THE SEA
My first ‘assignment’ for Out & About with Kids magazine took us to Stockton Beach where we stayed in a spacious 3 bedroom villa right on the beach. Stockton Beach Holiday Park has its own beach wheelchair for guest use and proved a great base for exploring Newcastle and Nelson Bay. BJ was thrilled to head back to Toboggan Hill Park which has been a favourite from when he was a little guy. Amazingly he and Hubby managed to double on the toboggan and ride it again and again. The villa at Stockton is so close to the beach, I went to the beach still in my PJ’s to capture one of the best sunrises we saw in 2016. You can read more about this beautiful accessible villa here.
CAVING (OF SORTS)
We continued to explore with BJ’s beach wheelchair and had a wonderful afternoon exploring Caves Beach. Wheelchairs and caves usually don’t go together so it was great to give BJ the opportunity to check out a cave and it was double the fun being on a beach. Check out Caves Beach and a list of other accessible caves here.
BEST EQUIPMENT PURCHASE
A trip to the Northern Territory was booked and in anticipation of the rough terrain and our desire to see it all, we bought off-road wheels for BJ’s wheelchair. They have been the best purchase we have made in a long time. They go on for our travels and are swapped back on our return. Like the beach wheelchair, the off-road wheels have given us greater flexibility and are a great travelling companion. You can read more about them here.
ON ‘ASSIGNMENT’ IN CANBERRA
A trip to Canberra for Out & About with Kids magazine allowed us to add another accessible hotel to our list with the Novotel Canberra which has a wonderful accessible room with an interconnecting room option. We loved the space and location of this hotel. We spent our weekend in Australia’s capital exploring Cockington Green, the Australian Institute of Sport and Questacon. There was so much to do we wished we had more time. We did manage to wander around Lake Burley Griffin and crunch our way through the beautiful autumn leaves which colourfully covered the lawns and paths.
And then I had the joy of seeing my story about accessible Canberra in print. It was such a pinch myself moment to see, not only my words but images of a wheelchair in a mainstream magazine. As I’ve said many times on Facebook, when BJ was younger I didn’t see any images in a magazine of someone in a wheelchair travelling. To be able to share this in a magazine is a huge thrill.
ACCESSIBLE ACCOMMODATION OCEANSIDE
I had an overnight stay with my parents and AJ for a special occasion at the Novotel Manly Pacific. Right opposite the beach, a spacious accessible room and lovely wheelchair accessible walks nearby made this hotel a firm favourite.
AJ and I slipped down to the beach for sunrise and it was stunning. I highly recommend this hotel for anyone wanting a beach getaway. Manly Beach has a beach wheelchair available for loan too.
MY PRETTY WOMAN EXPERIENCE
My Pretty Woman dream was realised when I arrived at The Langham Hotel in Melbourne for an event. Please note, there was no Richard Gere in this girl’s Pretty Woman experience, I travelled solo. The hotel lived up to all my expectations with full decadence at every turn. While there I inspected the accessible room, and experienced the famous Langham high tea. A wonderful escape from reality.
Realising our readers have varying budgets and needs, we had a night in the Sydney Harbour YHA which has THE best views of Sydney on a budget. The rooftop terrace is amazing. Our stay coincided with VIVID and was the perfect place to watch all the action with unobstructed views.
Of course, great views are lovely but we were interested in the accessible accommodation and facilities and Sydney Harbour YHA ticked all the boxes. We reviewed the YHA here.
We were happy to be invited to the media evening for Vivid. BJ and AJ happily played models for the Destination NSW photographer and it was wonderful to see that the accessible and inclusive facilities were even better than the previous year. Now’s a great time to start planning a stay in the city if you are thinking of visiting Sydney for Vivid 2017. You can read about Vivid here.
Vivid covers such a large area of the city, we visited four times to see as much as possible.
CENTRAL AUSTRALIA AND TOOTH-GATE
I look back on our photos of our time in the Northern Territory with mixed emotions. It’s obvious in so many of the photos just how sick BJ was but despite that, we made the best of the holiday. BJ had a fall at his day program the day before our trip and broke his two front teeth. We were given the okay to travel by his dentist and repairs were to be done on our return. However, when we started to travel BJ wouldn’t drink or eat much. We initially thought it was due to his split lips but by the time we got to Alice Springs and went to the hospital it was revealed that he was experiencing great pain, similar to an exposed nerve. He was admitted to hospital due to dehydration, increased sodium levels and needing his teeth repaired. We spent four nights in Alice Springs Hospital, accommodation I never imagined I’d be reviewing. You can read the full story here.
BJ lost a lot of weight after this incident, seemed susceptible to tummy bugs and took months to get him back to his old self. It was a period of the year that was awful for him and difficult for the rest of us. I know many of our readers have long hospital stays and you were in my thoughts as I worried about BJ as I know many of you go through far worse.
The positive outcome from our trip to the Northern Territory is we found lots of wonderful accessible experiences. I still have many to write about but I have shared what we did at Uluru here.
I couldn’t have been prouder of AJ on this trip. She spent from early morning to evening in the hospital and at no point did she complain. She did all she could to ensure BJ was entertained and as happy as he could be. I was already so proud of her for organising a collection of warm clothing, books and toys for an Indigenous community.
The visit to the indigenous community was a highlight of our time in Uluru. I wrote about our visit here.
She had also raised just over $1000 which she delivered to Brolga at The Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs. You can see more beautiful kangaroo photos and read the full story here.
Our trip, minus the review of Alice Springs hospital, appeared in Out & About with Kids magazine back in September giving me the opportunity to share another story about accessible travel.
We met so many of our community in our travels this year from Vivienne and her husband on Mindil Beach in Darwin, to lots of you at Taronga Zoo’s Dreamnight including Dexter.
21ST BIRTHDAY FUN
BJ had the best birthday with 70 friends and family coming together to celebrate his special day. He was beside himself with joy and enjoyed every minute. It was a wonderful milestone to celebrate with so many people that have played a part in his life.
I was hesitant to have a party because I couldn’t work out how to make it fun for BJ and bring everyone together from all the different areas of his life. The party went very well and I wrote about it in the hope of helping others with ideas. You can catch up here.
Soon after the birthday celebrations I headed off to a blogging conference on the Gold Coast and Hubby headed to Germany for 11 days. Eleven days was a long haul and I felt I was coping well with the lack of sleep until I saw BJ smile a big grin and noticed his newly repaired tooth was broken again. It was missing the repair on one side so nearly as good as broken again. I knew that would mean more dental work under anaesthetic. Something I was dreading.
LOSING A MATE
We were hit hard by life’s lesson that everything can change in a moment when we lost BJ’s best mate unexpectedly. The boys lives, and our families, have been intertwined from when the boys met at therapy when they were little tikes. We’ve all felt extremely sad at the loss but it has been so difficult to watch BJ process and go through the loss. We are fortunate that the boys had so many shared experiences and there are many good memories to think about.
It was also sad to see many of our friends lose parents this year. A good reminder to spend time with loved ones.
Accidents happen and people pass away, it’s part of life, but 2016 left me feeling uneasy. How quickly things change and watching the raw grief of those around was difficult. BJ’s accident highlighted how vulnerable he is when something happens. Being non-verbal means that there is a lot of guess work which goes on when he’s injured. His lack of tolerance to medical intervention means that something as simple as dental work requires an anaesthetic. We never wrap BJ in cotton wool, we’ve always wanted him to live a full and adventurous life so we’ve continued to make sure he has varied experiences. But I think it will take me a while to feel relaxed when other people are caring for him.
BYRON BAY ESCAPE
When Hubbby returned from Germany, AJ, my Mum and I took a few days away to spend time with family in Byron Bay. It was lovely to have a girl’s trip and to explore this beautiful area of NSW. We’d love to go back with the boys sometime. I was pleased to visit Summerland House which is owned by the House with No Steps and employs people with a disability. We had a lovely lunch at the cafe which is in Alstonville (near Byron Bay). If you’re in the area, make sure you pop in.
SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS ESCAPE
Taking some quality time with my parents in the beautiful Southern Highlands was great. The tulips displays, good food and lovely company made it a wonderful weekend getaway.
AJ’S BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
AJ was keen to go horse riding for her birthday so we booked a farm stay in Oberon. I’ve never been there before and the countryside is stunning. We started the weekend with a stop off (so out of the way) at Hill End where we all had fun at Scenic Dune Buggies. BJ had received money to return for a buggy ride and we all had a terrific day. It’s one of our favourite experiences this year. BJ particularly liked his turn behind the wheel in a wide-open paddock. You can see a video of BJ driving here.
AJ and I saddled up on her birthday and went for a ride through stunning countryside. It was so enchanting I expected fairies or elves to come out of the forest.
There was something for everyone on this trip and although BJ is still reluctant with farm animals, he did enjoy a sulky ride.
We feel lucky that we have a community who not only embrace the stories we share but also our family. We’ve had a great time sharing lots of travel stories with you but we know that travel is a sometimes activity for most people so we’ve been pleased to bring you blogs about therapy options and equipment. The blog on the NAPA Centre therapy was extremely popular, as was the story about Ice the Assistance puppy being trained by our friends. The blog about insuring modified cars and disability equipment proved an eye-opener to many.
The off-road tyres and the DIY Beach Wheelchair kit were also a hit with our audience.
One of my personal favourites was my visit with Featherdale Wildlife Park to a nursing home with Lola the wombat. Watching the faces of the residents light up as they patted and interacted with Lola reinforced that we must provide access and inclusion to everyone, no matter their age. The enrichment it provides is something no-one should miss out on.
I found the process of the NDIS stressful. We were so grateful for the support of BJ’s day program and the many friends who gave us their tips. That’s why I’ve shared our experience here. Thankfully it seems we have a good outcome and in 2017 BJ will have more support and therapy.
ACCESS IN THE NEWS
A highlight of 2016 came by way of the latest issue of Out & About with Kids magazine. I was asked to put together a list of tips regarding accessible holidays. How fantastic it was to turn the pages of the magazine and find two pages of information and images regarding accessible travel. BJ rather fancied seeing himself in print. Nothing like a healthy self-esteem.
In the same issue I have a list of places to visit in Darwin.
I’ve also done some writing for Bound Round a website about family travel and they have also been keen to share stories on accessible travel.
Thanks to our work with Accomable we even got mentions in the Sunday Times in the UK and The Telegraph in the UK.
Let’s hope in 2017 we see more positive stories showing images of people travelling with a wheelchair.
MELBOURNE AND HAMILTON ISLAND
We finished our year off with a weekend away in Melbourne for Hubby’s work Christmas party where we saw some fabulous accessible beaches, an inclusive playground and did a gondola ride at Eagle Skylift Arthurs Seat which is also accessible.
It was then off on our wonderful relaxing and fun trip to Hamilton Island. I still have so much to share about this trip. Hamilton was just what we needed after BJ’s accident and hospitalisation in the Northern Territory. Loads of fun as a family and plenty for BJ to enjoy. It was ideal.
Seeing the kids happy and smiling is definitely the best reward. We had an amazing travel year with lots of adventures and we hope for more in 2017.
We named 2016 the year of the tooth because of BJ’s accident, my ongoing tooth dramas and a very expensive dental bill for Hubby. We hope that 2017 doesn’t deliver again in that area.
I’ve got lots of ideas for stories to bring you in 2017. As well as travel, I hope to continue to highlight different therapy options, equipment solutions and organisations doing good work.
We wish you and your families a happy and healthy New Year. Please continue to share with us, we love hearing from you. If you know of someone who would benefit from the information we share please tell them about Have Wheelchair Will Travel and join us over on Facebook.
How was 2016 for you?