Nothing makes me appreciate a family experience more than working hard to make it happen. It’s seems a gift and the exhilaration is even greater from achieving something which seems out of reach. Although Ecotrax has been designed to be accessible to people of all ages and abilities, we were unsure if it would work for us due to the seating arrangement.
AJ and I were introduced to Ecotrax some time ago while indulging in an episode of the Bachelor in Paradise (save your emails telling me I’m bad parent allowing AJ to watch such mindless trash. I know it’s atrocious but she’s a sensible gal). Grant and Allie had their final romantic date cycling with Ecotrax on an unused sugar train rail track. It was a side of Fiji Hubby and I had never seen on our many visits and I took a mental note to investigate it if we ever holidayed in Fiji.
Fast forward a couple of years, Grant and Allie are unsurprisingly over but with a holiday booked to Fiji I had Ecotrax firmly on our must-do list. We contacted Ecotrax to explain our situation and to see if they felt we could make it work for BJ. Immediately we were struck by Mandy and Margie’s willingness to assist us with making it possible. Essentially, we decided all we could do was book a tour to make sure we didn’t miss out on a booking and see if we could make it work when we got to Fiji.
On our second day in Fiji we took the hour drive to Ecotrax to test BJ on the bike. We were met by Nitesh who was so helpful and keen to assist us in any way he could. We sat BJ on the seat, used our luggage strap to secure him, added non-slip matting to keep him from sliding on the seat which all helped, but BJ’s feet didn’t reach the floor.
BJ can sit well but we are conscious sitting is tiring without his usual supports in place. BJ has a contoured cushion on his wheelchair, a backrest which he relies on heavily and rather than a level seat on his wheelchair, it tilts slightly. For stability we always ensure BJ’s feet have a footplate at the right height.
The bike tour is 23km, two hours on the bike in total. That was a long time for BJ’s feet to be dangling unsupported. Chatting with Nitesh and Howie, the co-owner, we explained the situation. We spotted a box in the shed which we thought would be the solution and left feeling relatively confident we could make it work later in the week when we did the tour.
On the day of our tour dark clouds loomed overhead and rain started to fall steadily as we drove towards Ecotrax. On arrival we were met by Mandy (co-owner). She advised everyone else on the tour had chosen to cancel due to the weather and she offered us the same opportunity. I really wasn’t ready to give up on the dream, especially after driving there twice in the week. So with encouraging signs the weather may clear we decided to go ahead. Mandy said we could turn around at any time if the weather was too miserable.
We were surprised and touched to see since our first visit a custom stool had been built to go under BJ’s feet. A gesture which simply made my heart swell to overflowing when Nitesh proudly produced it. How wonderful for someone to do something so simple but so wonderful. At the last minute Nitesh came out with a swing seat to use as a back rest (Ecotrax are working on a project for the local school and had the swing seats in the workshop) which fitted perfectly and gave BJ additional support and comfort.
The photos above show the before and after. On the left you can see the regular bike seating and on the right, the modifications and additions to assist BJ for the ride.
BJ had plenty of rope, bungy cords and AJ standing behind him for the outbound journey just to be sure. Given the bridge crossings none of us wanted to take any risks. William from Ecotrax followed behind us to keep an eye on the situation and Britney, head guide from Ecotrax, led us on our adventure. And what an adventure it was!
Hubby and I sat up front pedaling the modern, comfortable, electric-assisted vehicle. It’s essentially a modified rail-mounted pushbike. You can pedal as much or as little as you like, letting the electric-assist take over. Britney advised after the 23km ride we’d be able to eat or drink as much as we liked in the evening. A good incentive to pedal more.
Fully immersed in the Fijian countryside it was the easiest pedalling I’ve ever done. With the scenery, wildlife and views changing throughout, I found myself eager to keep going. Large butterflies danced in front of our bike, acting like unofficial guides while we pedalled through large rock cuttings and the beautiful tree lined “tunnel of love”. It was lovely to share the ride as a family and every time I looked around I saw big smiles on AJ and BJ’s faces.
Now Hubby and I did have some words over the controls of the bike. Apparently I was too heavy on the brakes at times and a lead foot at other times. The moral of the story – nothing changes when driving in Sydney or riding the old sugar cane train tracks of Fiji, men and women see things differently. But it was all in good humour and with an approximate top speed of 20km an hour I really wasn’t going to get into too much trouble. We’d encountered the Fijian police while driving our hire car and when we said we were Australian he seemed confused as to what to do, so waved us on. I’m not sure why they were even pulling over cars.
Locals along the Ecotrax route greeted us with a warm “bula” as they worked their land or peered at us from their houses. Goats, cows (or as Britany calls them, “Bulamacows” – an easy way to never be wrong as to whether it is a cow or bull in Fiji apparently) and horses lazily looked at us and moved in their own Fiji time as we approached. One kid goat didn’t like the idea of putting off his drink from his Mumma for us to pass by and lingered on the tracks while punching into his mother’s nipple ever so roughly for a feed. Having breastfed our own kids it made me cringe in empathy for the mother.
Throughout the ride our spirits were high, the weather was holding and Britany had us entertained with stories and commentary. After telling one particular tall tale, we were advised it was bulashit which had us all laughing at being so gullible.
BJ was delighted by everything along the way but the highlight for both the kids came from passing through a village and being met by the local children.
I find it remarkable to see the way some children interact with BJ. In the whole time we were in Fiji we only saw two locals in wheelchairs so there seems little exposure to disability. The kids were keen to high five both AJ and BJ. BJ’s body often takes longer to respond and although keen to high five the kids it was taking a while for him to get it together. It didn’t deter the kids, with them all keeping their hands outstretched until he did. It was such a sweet encounter to watch. AJ always enjoys meeting local children and had gone prepared with some hand balls to give to children we met along the way. They were well received by the kids but not expected, which made it more special.
The kids are just happy with a high 5 and a bula as you go by.
Our ride took us to Vunabua (Frangipani) Beach, which was our rest stop and turn around point. There we were treated to a delicious plate of fruit including pineapple, paw paw and the sweetest bananas I’ve ever tasted. We drank from coconuts which had been purchased from, and delivered by, locals from the nearby village. Reusable straws were provided in another nod to preserving this beautiful area and ensuring no impact.
Seemingly the rain could not hold off any longer and the heavens opened but that wasn’t stopping us from swimming at the beach. Poor Britany and William sheltered while this mad Aussie family took to the warm water for a swim. It was a shame not to see the beach at its dazzling best but nothing could ruin such a wonderful experience.
As we were packing up to leave the beach a group of horses galloped along the beach in the rain. It topped off a fantastic afternoon at a gorgeous location.
Knowing BJ was safe and content on the bike seat, AJ chose to ride along with Britany and William on the return. From all accounts it was a most memorable part of her Fijian holiday. I keep hearing fantastic anecdotes from their ride proving the people, not just the experiences, make a lasting impression.
It was a soggy ride back to Ecotrax headquarters but nothing was dampening my spirits. Ecotrax was my favourite experience in Fiji. It is such a different and diverse way of experiencing a slice of Fiji
We would like to thank Mandy, Howie, Nitesh, Britany, William, Margie and the other staff at Ecotrax for going out of their way to make this experience possible for our family. We’re sure with Howie’s inventive mind a wheelchair accessible version could be just around the corner. Fingers crossed as I’d love to see more people access this unique ride.
What you need to know
Allow plenty of time if driving from Nadi to Ecotrax. Much of the road is single lane and at 80km an hour you can get stuck behind slow trucks.
It’s easy to miss the signage so pay attention. If travelling from Nadi and you reach Sigatoka, you’ve gone too far. Lesson learnt by us!
Pack sunscreen and mosquito repellent (use it before ride).
Wear your swimmers or pack them for the swim at the beach.
There’s somewhere to change and a toilet at the picnic area at the beach.
It’s a short walk from where you park the bikes to the picnic area but a long walk across the sand to the beach for anyone with mobility restrictions. BJ did it but it was quite a walk for him.
If you’d like to pack something to give to the local children, sporting equipment and school supplies are welcomed but again not expected.
Wet weather gear is provided by Ecotrax but be warned, nobody does Big Bird better than Britany!
The trip is an hour ride to the beach, an hour is allowed for guests to enjoy a swim and relax at the beach and the return ride is about an hour.
There’s a maximum of 3 people per bike platform. Any additional family members can ride along with a guide or take another Velocipede (electric bike carriage).
Ecotrax has a lovely philosophy that if they are doing well, so should the local villagers on the sugar cane rail track. Mandy has worked with the locals to have them plant fruit trees which will harvest fruit which Ecotrax will purchase at market price to serve to their guests. It’s good to see Ecotrax hiring locals and working with them to assist them to earn additional income.
You can read more about this experience on the Ecotrax website.