The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, but is it accessible for wheelchair users? Travel writer Marayke Jonkers discovers that North Queensland is not only beautiful, but unexpectedly accessible.
Published link Disability Magazine, October 2015. Click image to read magazine article.
Dive Into Life- Explore North QLD
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The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and on many travellers bucket lists. But is it accessible for wheelchair users? I set out to find out for myself as I explored North Queensland and fell in love with the region on a selfdrive journey not only for its natural beauty but for the unexpected accessibility features.
“Mum I found Nemo, I shouted excitedly over the sound of gently lapping waves above the coral of the Great Barrier Reef as a small clown fish swims away from me. I’m 66 km away from Port Douglas on Agincourt Reef. I entered the reef several hours earlier via a water powered lift designed especially for passengers of the quicksilver fleet who use wheelchairs. The Quicksilver boat complete with ramped access has delivered me to Agincourt 3 , a floating platform complete with a buffet lunch, wheelchair accessible bathrooms and access to the water for smokelling or scuba driving. While the underwater observatory is downstairs and not accessible I am more than happy snorkeling in one of the most spectacular areas of the reef with high levels of visibility and exquisite sights from parrot fish to coral and clam shells encouraging me to venture far from the boat exploring.
However there are guide ropes and flotation devices for less confident swimmers. Prescription snorkel goggles are also provided free of charge for those with various levels of vision impairments. All too soon the ships horn blasts, calling swimmers back to the boat where we can change on board the boat in the wheelchair accessible toilets and enjoy our 90 minute trip back to shore, while warming ourselves with a cuppa checking out the many photos we took on our underwater digital camera hired from the crew. Access : Quicksilver operate regular tours to be Agincourt court platform. Tours to Lowe Island are not recommended for those with reduced mobility. Discuss your needs at time of booking.
Gateway to Paradise:Cairns
My journey to the Great Barrier Reef began days earlier when I flew into Cairns airport along with my mum Marion. We opted for a hire car with a boot large enough to carry my wheelchair, giving us the option of visiting the regions attractions without needing inaccessible tour busses. Cairns may be overlooked as the gateway to more famous attractions, but it’s well worth a stay in the palm tree lined city. Wander along kilometres of pathways on the scenic esplanade and you’ll discover the wheelchair friendly lagoon, filled with salt water from the Trinity Inlet and providing a all-year round, safe, swimming location without stingers and crocodiles. Enjoy ice cream from a nearby vendor as you work on your suntan, then stroll to the esplanade or to the nearby night markets for a bite to eat a spot of shopping.
The sky’s the limit: Kuranda Sky rail
Cairns is also home to the to the Tjapukai aboriginal cultural centre and a great base for the Kuranda sky rail. Soaring metres above the treetops you will get breathtaking glimpse of world Heritage listed rainforests with an opportunity to stop and see the Barwin falls before disembarking in the quaint town of Kuranda.
The Kuranda sky rail has wheelchair access to the gondola via ramp, ramps and accessbible toilets. However there is a very steep walk from the terminal throughout the town uphill. We decide to drive to Kuranda and approach the town from the uphill moving down. This sky rail offers return trips, or you may chose to make your return trip via the accessible Kuranda scenic Railway enjoying panoramic views of World Heritage Listed rainforest, ravines and waterfalls within the Barron Gorge National Park.
Fly like a butterfly
You may be lucky enough to see the rare Ulysses butterfly, or have one land on you at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Australia’s largest butterfly flight aviary in the heart of Kuranda Village. Here on wheelchair friendly boardwalks you can see caterpillars in the nursery and a daily release of newly hatched butterflies, as well as butterfly feeding time.
Australia’s most picturesque highway Leaving Cairns destined for Port Douglas the scenery turns out to be a trip highlight. The 75 kilometre drive via the Captain Cook Highway, a windy stretch of road on the edge of a powder-blue coral sea is punctuated with cliffs, palm trees and crystal blue water. It is the only place in Australia where two world-heritage-listed icons sit side by side — the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Once in Port Douglas, the playground of the rich and famous don’t miss the view from and Flagstaff Hill, a glimpse of four Mile Beach- check it out from shore to avoid boggy sand and the Marina where your accessible Quicksilver boat departs.
Mossman Gorge- worth the day trip from Cairns or Port Douglas
Walk or wheel amongst the canopy of the world heritage listed rainforest on accessible elevated board walks set at tree top height. Not only does this protect t the undergrowth and wild life, you get an incredible arial view. Arriving at the gorge you will find accessible parking and toilets.
Tribulation: The Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation
Travel further north crossing the river on a car ferry and you will find yourself at Cape tribulation deep in the heart of the rainforest and crocodile country. Three of the four short boardwalks (Marrja, Dubuji and Kulki) are wheelchair accessible and the fourth boardwalk (Jindalba) has wheelchair access to the creek is available from the exit end. From here I use my freewheel to access the beach…. Bringing my own trials and tribulations in the soft sand along with a great photos.
The Atherton Table Lands and Milla Milla Falls
A drive by waterfall such as Milla Milla Falls is an uber accessible adventure as this stunning waterfall has a car park so close I can see it through the windscreen without even needing to get in my wheelchair, but should you wish to there is a level car park and viewing area.
Emerging from the wheelchair accessible car park along a 50m timber boardwalk I quickly realise this is not just any tree. The renowned strangler fig is over 500 years old. Twisting 15 metre long aerial roots drape from the giant tree creating the famous curtain effect. It is one of the largest trees in Tropical North Queensland, Australia. How to get there. The tree is well signposted on the Atherton Tablelands just outside the small township of Yungaburra, where you can see wild platypus swimming in the creek from the wheelchair friendly platypus viewing platform.
Curtain Fig Images
Resources to plan your accessible trip and tick North QLD off your bucket list
The douglas shire council has created a website for visitors with disabilities providing information on access to tourist attractions through to accommodation and hire of equipment: http://douglas.qld.gov.au/access-douglas-directory-2/
Links Accessible snorkelling and scuba diving http://www.quicksilver-cruises.com/faq.htm
Resources for visitors with disabilities providing information on access to tourist attractions through to accommodation and hire of equipment http://douglas.qld.gov.au/access-douglas-directory-2/