Accessible Adventure Travel Experiences in New Zealand
America’s Cup Sailing, Auckland. Photo / Chris Sisarich, TNZ
Adventure abounds for the young at heart, writes Briar Jensen
Studies show that adventure isn’t just good for the soul (and bragging rights), it also benefits physical and mental health, especially as we age. And there’s no need to let limited mobility hold you back – some tour operators offer inclusive options for a range of abilities, including wheelchair users.
As the saying goes, “adventure is an attitude,” so get your attitude right and spice up your next stay with one of these suggestions.
Need for Speed – Muscle Car
Let your imagination run wild in a Mustang and have fun on the world-class Highlands circuit, a 40-minute drive from Queenstown. The custom-built, production-based 5.0L V8 muscle car features manual controls, making it also suitable for those with limited leg mobility. With a professional driver by your side explaining the whole way through the specially designed track, you’ll be cornering like Greg Murphy after seven laps. If you prefer to sit in the passenger seat and leave the driving to a pro, opt for the Supercar Fast Dash. In a Ferrari 488 GTB or Porsche GT3, you’ll howl down the track to reach speeds of up to 225 km/h.
Free Fall Fantasy – iFLY
Want the feeling of free fall, but jumping out of an airplane at 15,000 feet is too far? Then try iFLY. This indoor vertical wind tunnel simulates free fall, even though you’re not actually falling, but rather floating or flying on a powerful blast of air that will still make your jowls flutter. Once you’ve “flown” a few times, you can pump up the adrenaline by wearing virtual reality goggles to simulate a parachute jump over Hawaii or Dubai, or a base jump over the mountains alpine. With no jumping, it’s suitable for people of all abilities and iFLY Queenstown prides itself on helping people ‘fly’ regardless of the physical challenges.
Learning the ropes – Sailing
Experience the excitement of an America’s Cup yacht. Ok, not the current flying machines which require hard hats and Olympic agility, but NZL 41, built and flown by Japan for the 1995 challenge, where it came second to Team New Zealand in the Louis Vuitton Cup . At 24m in length with a 34m mast, she raced with a professional crew of 17. Now novices can choose to grind the winches, tack the sails and take the helm (or just hang on) for a two-hour sprint around Waitematā Harbour. Prefer to leave the handling of the sails to the crew while you relax and sip wine? Then board a specially designed 50-footer for an afternoon cruise around the City of Sails and under the Auckland Harbor Bridge or watch the city skyline light up during a dinner- sunset cruise.
Rowing Adventure – Kayak
Getting out on a lake, river, or bay on your own gives a fresh, fluid perspective on the terrain. With no motor to disturb the locals, it’s great for wildlife viewing and immersing yourself in nature. Kayak tours start with a quick paddling lesson, then you’re off. If your knees are ready, consider SUP – stand-up paddleboard. Paddle Board Rotorua takes kayak trips along the steaming cliffs of Lake Rotomahana in the Waimangu Valley, or into the glowworm caves of Lake Okareka. Paddle Wānaka offers a half-day trip around the shoreline of Lake Wānaka with its beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountains. R&R Kayaks offers tours to secluded beaches in the Abel Tasman National Park. All of these companies have options for the disabled and Moana in Nelson offers SDP (seated paddleboarding) for wheelchair users through Makingtrax.
Suitcase basket – Hot air balloon
Pre-flight preparation increases anticipation for an early morning hot air balloon flight. Huge fans, hissing gas, and roaring flames transform soft tissue into a plump, light bulb-shaped balloon. From inside the basket, the lift-off is so smooth you might not even realize you’ve left the ground until it begins to expand beneath you. Float above the patchwork of paddocks in the Canterbury countryside with Ballooning Canterbury or take off from Hamilton for a flight over the Waikato River with Kiwi Balloon Company. Flights are weather dependent, so be flexible with dates and be prepared to get up before dawn. hot air balloon canterbury.com
Four Wheel Fun – Quad Biking
Off-road adventure with a throbbing engine between your thighs – that’s the thrill of quad biking. Expect a bumpy, dusty, muddy, wet and exhilarating ride. Modern quads are lighter and easier to handle, even for novices. But if you can’t swing your leg to straddle the seat, some companies offer buggy rides along the same track, like Hanmer Springs Quad Biking. Their scenic alpine route takes you down rocky slopes, zipping through braided streams and swerving onto forest tracks. In Nelson, head to Cable Bay Adventure Park for a 14km course offering farm, forest and coastal views.
Master the Wind – Tandem Paragliding
Once in the air, you really glide like an eagle over paragliding thermals. When you are suspended in front of your pilot, the feeling of weightlessness is exhilarating. Relax in your harness and absorb the bird’s eye views – of mountains, valleys or the coast. Stick to a smooth ride or, if you’re up for some thrills, let your rider know and they’ll be happy to help you with spins and acrobatic turns. Don’t forget to smile for the obligatory mid-flight photo. Wānaka Paragliding at Treble Cone, Coronet Peak Tandems and Christchurch Paragliding work with Makingtrax to tailor experiences for people with specific mobility needs.
Inclusive and accessible – Adventure for all
Makingtrax Foundation is a Kiwi charitable trust founded by Jezza Williams and connects travelers to inclusive adventure businesses. The website lists approved providers who offer accessible or inclusive options, from rafting to canyon swings, but Williams, who uses a wheelchair himself, says that with an open approach anything is possible and will help. to facilitate it.
For more travel inspiration, visit newzealand.com/nz.
Check traffic light settings and Department of Health advice before traveling at covid19.govt.nz