Wheeling to New Zealand, Part I
Text & Photos by Syd & June Burns 2004  

Syd and June Burns, of Penrith, England, share their five-week adventure Through New Zealand.

June & Syd Burns share dinner and a Waikiki Beach sunset.

We decided to have a holiday in New Zealand after living there in the mid '70s. We saw a great deal of the North Island in that period but never the South. June having arachnoiditis found the whole idea a challenge, so a route to New Zealand was to be done in as many short hops as possible.

Our route was sorted out by Global Village, who also booked hotels en route to New Zealand with wheelchair friendly rooms.

The route was Manchester/New York/LA/Hawaii/Fiji and finally Auckland. We carried as much medication as was necessary to keep body and soul together. I was instructed in the arts of fitting an indwelling urine catheter to June, so there would not be the hassle of trundling June to the toilet on the aircraft in an aisle chair and then struggling through the tiny door. This worked well.

Wednesday 4 February
The wheelchair was overhauled, the bags were packed, the taxi was on time, so off we went on our adventure half way across the world. Alas, we never got far. Fifty miles down the motor way to Manchester Airport, I had the horrid thought that the foot rests for June's chair were not with us. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, what embarrassment. The driver was not fazed in the least and drove us back home. Hoping none of the neighbours saw our predicament, we were back en route in about 10 seconds.

We booked in at the Raddison Hotel in the airport. The room was well thought out with plenty of turning space, complete with a roll-in roll out shower. We had a leisurely tour of the airport having fish and chips at the famed Harry Ramsdons chippy. We sat at the bar watching the travellers, some happy some under stress. Had an early night with one hilarious episode. In this disabled room, the doors were operated by elbow pads. I hit one going to the bathroom later in the night, the main door opened and I was dressed in my nothings. It would have been a horrid sight for any unsuspecting soul who was passing. Luckily, the main corridor was empty.

Thursday 5 February
We checked in three hours before the British Airways flight was due out. There did not appear to be a lot of extra security until we noticed every sixth group were taken away to be searched. The flight was as normal, total boredom. At least we got to JFK New York early. Took a short taxi to the Holiday Inn JFK and then found that if we had phoned we would have had a courtesy bus complete with wheelchair hoist! A wasted $10. We had a suite of rooms for a modest price, but, alas, their idea of a disabled room was not ours. The bathroom was not up to any wheelchair friendly standard. A bath with one handrail. Luckily we never travel without a bath board just in case we come across this sort of situation. The rest of the hotel had ramps in all areas, so it was good for us. Cold winds and snow were the weather of the day, so any idea of going into the city for a night out was out of the question. The dining room was really wheelchair friendly. An early night was called for.

Friday 6 February
Still terribly cold. The wheelchair friendly bus got us to the American Airlines desk in good time; then the problems started. They had cancelled the flight to LA because of the snow and high winds. We were offered three options: Stand by at noon with no guarantee, out at 7pm to get us to LA around 1 am, or swap our flight to United with an hour delay. We chose that one. Not the best of flights: hard bus type seats, no head rests, and June was stiff and sore by the time we arrived in LA 6 hours later. Security very tight. We had to take our shoes off to complete the exercise. A bus was awaiting to take us a short distance to the Crowne Plaza Hotel at LAX. The bus was not good as there were three steps to haul June up. The hotel was superb and definitely wheelchair friendly with a most helpful and caring staff. This was just another stop over. We were both looking forward to getting to a hotel and being stable for a few nights in Hawaii.

Saturday 7 February

A better bus to the airport. Went through a stringent security check before getting on the plane. Shoes off again. The flight was delayed an hour, and this time there was no free bus, so it was a $35 taxi to the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel. This is a Japanese-owned establishment so it is very efficient. Our room looked out on Diamond Head Mountain. Staff were great, but June was in hysterics with a receptionist who was like a nodding donkey, totally delightful. Bags up to the room with lots of staff to help. Room not ready come back later. No problems as we were early, and there was a splendid bar to waste a few minutes. It feels like the holiday is starting as from now. Dropped the bags and went for a three-mile walk. Shamefully, we ate in a McDonalds as it appeared the easiest way out till we found our bearings. The jet lag was diminishing. We both had to have a swing on the roots of a banyan tree. Syd's hands started to blister. The hotel was completely wheelchair friendly with the exception of the bathroom. They had a bath with a large chair in it, which was OK for June, but may be problematic for some disabled people. On our arrival after the walk, a quarter pineapple was awaiting us. Never tasted a pineapple as good; ours are like turnips compared. Sat out and watched the sunset. The beach was terrific; the beauty being we could get on to it. A good meal and bed made for a superb day.

Sunday 8 February
Up early, but not early enough to manage the free coffee. We were directed to a little shop just outside the hotel entrance. A tiny Japanese lady sold coffee and to us a weird and wonderful breakfast sausage, egg, rice, seaweed bound in a square box. The day being beautiful we walked as far as we could. Visited the International Market, bought T shirts and other goodies. It was a boon to us that all intersections had dropped curbs. Hunted out pineapple for lunch. We noticed that there was a roaring trade in weddings. Every hotel seemed to have at least two functions. Walking around 10 miles, we were hot and sticky on arrival back to the hotel. We repaired to the bar where the drinks complemented the view. We decided to have a formal dinner. Magnificent. Access to the beach restaurant was via ramps, which took a scenic route. The taxi arrived at 9pm to take us sadly to the airport. Security was the tightest ever. Everything was searched making the queues interminable. It made one feel a lot safer. Eventually, we managed to depart for Fiji.

Monday 9 February
This day did not appear, owing the International Date Line

Tuesday 10 February
The flight was diverted to Apia in Samoa. The 6-hour flight turned into 8. Air Pacific served the worst food ever on this flight. Transport waiting to take us the short drive to The Fiji Mocombo Hotel. That is when we found that we had lost a scheduled day in Fiji.

A lovely hotel, except for the bathroom. There had been no planning for wheelchair access. No grab rails, shower at an impossible angle and could not get the chair anywhere near the toilet. With our usual ingenuity, we adapted our way around it. Breakfast around the pool and it was getting hot and humid. We decided to stay around the hotel as rain, very heavy rain was expected. A wise choice. There was a great selection of shops, browsed around and then it started. It was rain as we had never seen before. Totally soporific. Had a drink on the veranda and dozed off. How relaxing. Woke up and all was wet; we had been in a tempest. Had a great meal cooked al fresco. Made a great fuss of June and she got the best seat. Really good company; we laughed the night away.

Wednesday 11 February
Had a very healthy breakfast. All fruit and cereal. Taxi on time. Still hot and humid, so the drive to the airport was mercifully short. Passed through checks with ease, everyone laid back, looking after June as someone special. Two and a half hour flight, and there we were in Auckland, New Zealand. Made it without any hassle at all. Had a great reunion with my Army buddy Phil from 40 years ago. Went to a posh bar called Butterfly Creek. Lots of talk and a few drinks. Loading up the wheelchair and June, somewhere along the line I put the camera where I shouldn't have. Whether on the floor or on the top of the car, I don't know. However, two miles down the road I realised I did not have it. We turned around, went to where we started but to no avail. Lost and gone forever, along with my Jubilee medal. The camera I can replace, the medal I can't. On that sobering note, we had a late meal and bedded down at the Ellerslie Motel, which was really wheelchair friendly.

Thursday 12 February
Early start to the day to make desperate phone calls to the police regarding the camera and medal. Alas, to no avail. We will use June's camera. The day was warm and clear The Ellerslie did a great laundry service--$3NZ for a full wash. $3NZ for a spin. We took great advantage. After a grand tour of the outskirts of Auckland, we returned to Phil's house. Totally beautiful, but a nightmare of steps. Carried June up and down for what seemed forever. Once in the living quarters, all was well. The conversation was brilliant, tripping down memory lane. The day ended in a Chinese cafe, not a restaurant. Margaret, Phil's wife who speaks Cantonese did the ordering. Totally stunning. Never eaten a meal quite like it. Bloated, we returned to the motel where our clothes were washed and folded ready for another onslaught. A gin and to bed.

Friday 13 February
A Late breakfast, the day being warm and sunny. Phil drove us to his Batch on the Thames Peninsular, which is some 80 miles from Auckland. A batch being a beach house normally furnished with left over furniture. Once they were rough and ready places, but not now. A lovely drive along the Pacific Highway. Stopped at Clevedon, the half way point for lunch. What a delightful spot.
 

Syd & June at the Batch.

Syd and June at the batch.

Phil, who is building a new batch, took us along as he combined the tour with business. Wonderful people. We were intrigued by a man earning his living in the middle of nowhere sawing and cutting house beams. Further down the coast, we met a couple who have built a mini theatre. It seated 60 people, and it was well used, having three Australian tours a week. I couldn't resist and with an audience of 4.I gave an impromptu song and dance act. The applause was deafening. We were given a tube of Manuka Honey--a natural substance, which is being claimed as having great healing properties. June's ankle ulcer is static, and she was happy to give it a go. This treatment is acclaimed in New Zealand.

Had a quick tour of the batch to make sure it was wheelchair accessible. The ground floor rooms were superb. Dashing back to Auckland, we presented ourselves to the Returned Servicemen's Club, RSA. We had a great reception, introduced to the multitudes, drink and food at rock bottom prices. A great late night.
 

Syd & June at the train station.

Syd and June at the station.

Saturday 14 February.
Taken to the train station early. What a superb place, brand new and totally wheelchair friendly. Train was half an hour late. June ramped aboard. Plenty of room for chair and legs. Off to Wellington The staff were attentive, sights terrific. Food good but they ran out of gin. Twelve hours aboard, stopping at stations to allow the smokers a quick dash out to feed their habit. June became an expert at leaning out of the carriage door. The only criticism we could make was that the toilets are impossible for the disabled. June did well with the indwelling catheter. We have it down to a fine art emptying the bag. The day changed, and the rain got heavier and heavier. We were met by Ivan, Phil's Wellington manager. He drove us the 10 miles to Lower Hutt where we stayed at the Flag Inn Angus Motel, which is attached to a huge hotel. The unit was well appointed but was over furnitured. June hit every sharp corner, so it ended up like a field hospital. The wind and rain sounded awful. A quick meal and bed.

Hutt to Christchurch
Sunday 15 February

Rain, Rain!. Lord what rain. This was really bad, had to pick the hire car up at 8am, as the man was coming in specially to let me have it. Took a taxi to Damn Cheep Rentals. I couldn't see across the road. I huddled in a shop doorway until the man arrived. Got a beat up Toyota Bluebird that really ran well. In the pouring rain, or was it a tempest, we tripped down memory lane in the city of Lower Hutt. We visited Days Bay, where in the 70s we made our own beach. The waves were nearly coming over the top of the car. Not much sunbathing this day. We just got out as the police were closing the roads. Off to Riverside Drive, our past house. The rain was getting worse and the wind had reached tempest velocity. Took pictures and wondered how the houses would fare in these conditions. The Waiwhetu Stream was always notorious for flooding.

Looking around the area, it had not changed much except the local school has gone, and there were more houses. The toasty pie shop was miraculously still operating. Shops were open on Sundays. That was new. Finished the afternoon off in a shopping centre, A lot of people braved the storm. Ivan appeared to escort me to return the car. Ha! Flat battery. They were not fazed in the least. Said it would be picked up when the storm abated. Ivan stayed for dinner at our suggestion, then he said it was on the company. What can you do with these people?

Monday 16 February
The weather is worse; it has never given up. Made phone calls to confirm the next leg. A short flight and a train journey. All flights and rail cancelled. All roads from the Hutt Valley into Wellington were blocked with trees, debris and floods. Got a full refund and rescheduled to get to Christchurch tomorrow via Air New Zealand. Not a great deal to do, booked another night, paddled out, June's wheelchair aquaplaning through the city centre. Found a welcoming Irish bar, spent a convivial few hours there. Another good dinner at the hotel. Not a wasted day as it gave us a quiet period to relax before the next onslaught in the South Island.
 

Syd relaxes at the River Avon.

Syd relaxes at the River Avon.

Tuesday 17 February
We were up early, Ivan on time to take us to the Airport. It is unbelievable that it is still raining, but the wind has dropped. A very slow drive, as the roads were single traffic in places. Thankfully, we were well in time for the 35-minute flight to Christchurch, which was an hour late arriving. Booked into the Sherborn Lodge, the day being fine and sunny. What a change. Picked up another Toyota Bluebird nearly 20 years old. Cars don't rot in New Zealand. Parked up and walked in the city centre. I can see why they say Christchurch is the most English of cities. Punting on the River Avon was a surprise. Did all the touristy things, even finding an English pub selling quality ales. We stopped at a bakery, bought the best meat pies ever. Stocked up the gin, ending a superb day.

The next few days of the diary cover Christchurch to Franz Josef.

Wednesday 18 February

 

June hiding in the flower display at Christchurch Cathedral.
June hiding in the flower display at Christchurch Cathedral

Up early, we were served a great breakfast, which is most unusual for a motel. The weather was fine, enabling us to find the route to Arthur's Pass with ease. A few miles on the pass, then the rain started with a vengeance.  Arthur's Pass is totally spectacular. Waterfalls, rushing rivers, huge rainbows. It took around four hours to get over the Pass with little or no traffic. We stopped to take in the views albeit getting soaked in the process. A strange road system on the outskirts of Greymouth. Rather unnerving to be nose to nose with a goods train on a bridge. He was bigger than us, so we backed up rapidly.

Arriving in Greymouth, we booked into the Highpark Moto Inn, which is the best laid out wheelchair friendly so far. The places appear to be getting better as we get further on our travels. Even the taps were situated at waist level to enable anyone in a chair to operate. In the rain, we walked a mile or so into the town centre. Did a bit of grocery shopping and found the local RSA. What a terrific welcome we received from the old boys. It was well supported and everyone wanted to know where we had come from. We spent several hours in terrific company. Found a Chinese restaurant tucked away and decided it must be good as we were the only occidentals. We were not wrong. A quiet little town but full of character. We had told the old boys we wanted to see the blow holes and pancake rocks the next day. They told us the best times when the blows were best.

Thursday 19 February


 

 

Pancake Rocks

 

Blowholes at Greymouth

The day was dry, so we departed early to view the Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes. A wonderful drive with views of raging seas, huge rocks and rain forests. The ferns and greenery were breathtaking. Maybe it is better to see it after a rain. The rocks and blowholes far exceeded our expectations, with the majority of tracks suitable for wheelchairs. Special car parking places for the disabled were provided, which was a blessing in a very busy area. Many hours were spent watching and listening to the roar of the sea bursting some 50 ft. through the blow holes.

Plenty of outlets on the road for food, drink and souvenirs. Onwards next to Shanty town. This is a very well laid out old town from the gold mining days at the turn of the 19th century. This finished the day's tour, which was just as well as the rain started heavily. Beating a retreat to the RSA, we were fed and watered, but by now the weather was again a tempest. Very soporific, as the rain hammered on the roof. A good night's sleep.

Friday 20 February
Off early with the sun shining, heading to the glacier town of Franz Josef. A lovely drive, but with long stretches of empty road there is an abundance of traffic police. It appeared in a half hour stretch, there were just us and the police. The drive was alongside lakes and mountains. Plenty of viewing places. Arriving at the Terrace Motel, we had the most wonderful reception from the owners. Lovely wonderful people, who couldn't do enough getting us settled in. Another well laid out unit, but the gravel made wheeling very difficult, and the shower was more of a dribble. Booked for a helicopter flight next day if the weather is permitting over the Milford Sound.

Looked around the town, really not impressed, pure tat. We searched for a wheelchair friendly walk. Being pointed in the right direction and checking the maps, we found a walk. Getting on to the path, was a trial as there was a right angle wooden gate that would not allow a chair through. I bypassed it on the side, so with some difficulty we got on the track. It was a lovely walk, not easy but most pleasant. We got half way along the track about a mile when we were faced with a steep rocky incline. We tried with no avail to ascend the incline. A total impossibility. We retraced our steps having some luck in fellow walkers starting out help us through the gate. We are not enjoying Franz Josef. Things got worse when we tried to get into the local large hotel for a drink. A posh establishment, with six steps up to get in. There was no access whatsoever. I was not surprised when they told me they had never had a disabled customer. Lots of people offered to help to carry June inside, but that was not the point. We declined. The rain started again, so we bought loads of fresh veggies and had a cook in.

Saturday 21 February
Rain, rain and more tempest. We had a complete day off. Nothing flying so did not get to the glaciers or the sound. We walked to the town centre in the pouring rain and spoke to a helicopter pilot, who redirected us on the last leg of the trip via a more spectacular route. We made arrangements to stay at a place called Geraldine and not Dunedin, but that is way into the future. Sat around the motel reading, talking and listening to music. Not a wasted day, as it was a time to chill out.

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Click for Syd & June’s other adventures:

New Zealand Part II

East Coast Of America (Boston to Richmond and return)

Chicago and Las Vegas

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