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October 2005

A taste of travel in Tasmania

Greg Killeen
Information Officer
Spinal Cord Injuries Australia

Reproduced courtesy of Accord magazine, official Journal of Spinal Cord Injuries Australia.

Having a devil of time

Having heard so much about Tasmania, Australia's most southern state, as just about every person I speak with has either been there or knows somebody who has, I wanted to have a taste of Tasmania myself.

Living in Sydney, NSW, Tasmania was the only Australian state or territory that I had not visited. Having quadriplegia I always travel with a carer and fly to the holiday destination. But over the past few years I had always contemplated my options of either flying to Tasmania and hiring a wheelchair accessible vehicle on arrival, or flying to Melbourne and hiring a vehicle in Melbourne and taking the vehicle on the Spirit of Tasmania ship which takes 10 hours to arrive at Devonport on Tasmania's North Coast.

Well, I was in luck when the Spirit of Tasmania started a service between Sydney and Devonport from March 2004. I planned a one-week holiday for mid-March 2005 with a return trip on the Spirit of Tasmania III. As the cruise takes approximately 22 hour overnight it took up two days of my holiday so I needed to cram as much travel and sightseeing into the five days and nights in Tasmania as possible so I decided to travel to the two major cities of Hobart in the South and Launceston in the North and take day trips.

Although very keen to find out first-hand about Tasmania's history, beautiful landscapes and waterways, as well as its local produce, I was very aware of the usually cold climate and changeable weather. Although Tasmania is considered a relatively small state, apparently the western side of Tasmania gets approximately twice as much rain as the eastern side. But, there is a saying, "If you don't like the weather in Tasmania, just wait 30 minutes". And like most people with quadriplegia, I dislike the cold and the rain can damage power wheelchairs if it gets into the electronics. So I anxiously watched the weather forecasts prior to departure.

As usual there was a fair bit of preparation in planning the holiday, but apart from seeking information about wheelchair accessible facilities and services on the Spirit of Tasmania III, booking hotels with accessible facilities and creating an itinerary, I needed to hire an accessible vehicle as well as a hoist/lifter to traverse the bed and wheelchair. As with previous holidays, I obtained travel insurance from Cover-More Travel Insurance (contact www.covermore.com.au Tel: 1300 72 88 22).

After confirming bookings for accommodation, hire vehicle and equipment four weeks prior to departure, including locating the only mobile hoist/lifter for hire in Tasmania from Statemed (email statemed@bigpond.com.au or telephone 03 6229 4733), the hire vehicle from Wheelabout Van Rentals (telephone 1300 301 903) was severely damaged in an accident two weeks prior to my departure. As Wheelabout's other accessible vehicles were already booked, I was extremely lucky to hire another vehicle at short notice from Freedom Motors Australia (telephone 02 9673 4033). Accessible vehicle hire is also available in Sydney through Disability Hire Vehicles (telephone 02 4573 6788)

We left Sydney on the Spirit of Tasmania III on Friday afternoon 11 March 2005 and awoke to a very sunny 21 degrees Celsius on Saturday as we cruised past the Flinders Islands, Tasmanian coastline and arrived at Devonport. We drove off the ship commencing the 3.5 hours drive to Hobart to spend the first three nights in Hobart at the Grand Chancellor Hotel Hobart, located opposite the picturesque Victoria and Constitution Docks, the location of many seafood restaurants, and the remaining two nights in Launceston at the Grand Chancellor Hotel Launceston, which is located in the CBD. This made it an easy one hour drive from Launceston to Devonport on the day of departure.

Although initially concerned about the Tasmanian weather, we were extremely fortunate as the weather was fine the entire week. Every Saturday the Famous Salamanca Markets operate in Hobart.

On Sunday it reached 26 degrees Celsius and we drove the 20 minutes from Hobart to the top of Mt Wellington. It is 1,270 metres above sea level, and the view is absolutely spectacular and not to be missed. At the summit there are designated "disability" parking, accessible toilets and an accessible enclosed viewing platform with identification maps for the distant landmarks. The location of Port Arthur, approximately 100 km to the East, could be seen.

After leaving Mt Wellington we drove approximately 100 kilometres south through the Huon Valley, the home of many vineyards, apple orchards and the Huon pine, to the Tahune Forest Reserve Air Walk. There is designated "disability" parking and ramp access down to a bridge crossing the Huon River to the picnic/barbecue area.

The 597 metre long Air Walk, suspended 40 metres above the Huon River, provides a great view of the environment. Visitors can also view Tasmania's famous Huon Pine and relax in the comfort of the unique centre where they can sample a taste of the Huon Region. People unable to manage the many stairs leading up to the Air Walk can access the courtesy vehicle will provide a shuttle service. People with disabilities who can't transfer to the courtesy vehicle can seek permission to use their own vehicle to drive up to the Air Walk where there are two designated "disabled" parking spaces. However, there is another 200 metre unsealed road to negotiate to get to the Air Walk. Entry to the Tahune Forest Reserve is free but there is a fee to access the Air Walk.

On Monday we drove 45 kilometres south of Hobart following the scenic coast as far as Peppermint Bay, where there is an award-winning restaurant overlooking the Bay alongside an art and craft gallery prior to driving the 100 kilometres to Port Arthur, the former penal colony.

There is a fully accessible catamaran (including toilets) that operates a sightseeing five-hour return trip (12 pm-5 pm) between Hobart and Peppermint Bay through the sheltered waterways of the Derwent River and D'entrecasteaux Channel. The cost includes lunch on the vessel as it circles Bruny Island, or eat at the Peppermint Bay restaurant for an extra cost (visit the Hobart Cruises web site or telephone 1300 137 919).

Arriving at Port Arthur the weather changed from the sunny 21 degrees Celsius to an overcast and cool 14 degrees Celsius. As we arrived in the early afternoon, time was limited, but we were able to take in the cruise around the Isle of the Dead, the guided tour providing the history of Port Arthur and a look around, and in, some of the buildings that are all-inclusive of the entry fee. Although not all the buildings have wheelchair access and the Port Arthur pathways/roads are unsealed and a bit rough in parts, it is a must to visit with an amazing history but allow at least half a day.

There are a number of natural landscapes near Port Arthur that are worth a visit including the Tasman Arch, Devils Kitchen and the Blowhole that are in the same location.

We couldn't leave Hobart without the compulsory visit to the Wrest Point Casino where I had mixed fortunes. After leaving Hobart on the Tuesday morning we drove to Launceston via the historic town of Ross, the location of the famous Ross Bridge, for a look around.

The Ross Bridge which took the over 3 years to build and was finally opened in 1836. It's credit to the craftsmanship of Daniel Herbert and James Colbeck, both of whom were convicts and who received pardons for their work. The arches contain 186 stones depicting Celtic symbols interspersed with images of notable personalities and carvings of animals.

The Launceston shopping and business centre has good wheelchair access as the streetscape is fairly level with good curb ramps. On Wednesday we went sightseeing and drove north of Launceston through the Tamar Valley, along both sides of the picturesque Tamar River, the home of yet more vineyards.

We visited a number of places including the Hillwood Strawberry Farm where local produce of honey, cheese, strawberries, strawberry jam and strawberry wine can be sampled and purchased. Also travelled further north to Beauty Point to take in a tour of the only seahorse aquarium in Australia. There are sightseeing cruises with wheelchair access operating along the Tamar River. Both The Tamar Odyssey and Lady Launceston area wheelchair accessible. One cruise operates between George Town and Beauty Point. Unfortunately I arrived at George Town shortly after the last cruise departed.

Launceston is now home to Tasmania's second casino at the Country Club Resort located about 15 minutes from the central business district. Access is good in and around the casino with many reserved 'disabled' parking spaces near the front entrance as well as an accessible accommodation. A visit to the casino the night before returning to Sydney netted a tidy profit, which was certainly a nice way to cap off the holiday.

Overall we covered 1, 485 km during the five days and a couple more days could have made the holiday a little less hectic. Also, no matter where we went, parking was easy due to the many vacant designated "disabled" parking spaces. I also used my NSW Mobility Parking Scheme.

The Spirit of Tasmania

The Spirit of Tasmania service has been operating two ships between Melbourne and Devonport for many years with the service between Sydney and Devonport commencing March 2004.

Unfortunately, the Spirit of Tasmania website has no substantial information about the wheelchair accessible facilities services. It only states that it has wheelchair access. However, the customer service operators (telephone 1800 634 906) were able to answer all my questions including the dimensions of the bathroom facilities.

Since my holiday to Tasmania I have provided feedback to Spirit of Tasmania operators (TT Line), including providing it with a list of essential information required to enable people with disabilities to make an informed decision, and requesting that information about each ship's wheelchair accessibility be included on the website. Unfortunately, six months later this information is still not available on the website.

There are four wheelchair accessible cabins with a variety of 2,3 and 4 berths that are located on decks 7 and 8 and all are outside cabins and have portholes. The cabins include a wheel in shower, adjustable hand shower and the toilet has fold down grab rails on both sides. As the travel is only overnight, the cabins are fairly basic comprising a small desk and seat, but there is no radio, television or tea/coffee making facilities and no storage facilities apart from some clothes hangers. There is an emergency call button, but unlike the major cruise liners, there are no doctors aboard the Spirit of Tasmania ships but I was told there is a nurse on board. There is also an accessible toilet on deck 7 located next to the Bar.

Facilities around the ship are mainly contained to deck 7 which includes a bar, piano lounge, reading room, children's computer games room, cinema, tourist information service, souvenir shop, coffee and cake shop and the restaurant where both dinner and brunch are served. Dinner and brunch are inclusive in the price of the ticket and provides a variety of Tasmania produce that is provided in an all you can eat self-serve buffet. At the rear of Deck 8 is the Southern Cross Atrium Bar and another coffee and food shop.

Live music is provided at various times by a two-piece band at the Southern Cross Atrium Bar and at the piano lounge. There are a number of televisions throughout the ship and depending on the time of day will either show music video clips, the news and for the sports fan there is live sport depending on day. As I travelled on a Friday evening from Sydney the Rugby League was shown via satellite.

For people with disabilities, apart from the convenience of being able to drive a vehicle onto the ship, the ship is very accessible and there were a number of other people with disabilities on the ship. However, with all ships, for people using wheelchairs, independent access through the doors leading to the outside decks may be difficult due to the short steep ramps over the weather seal.

If you have a disability and are taking a vehicle on the ship these details are recorded on your tickets. Prior to boarding the ship you will be given a pink card to place on the dashboard to identify that you have been allocated a parking space on the ship adjacent to the lift on Deck 5. As passengers are not permitted to access their vehicles during the cruise, all necessary clothing, essentials and equipment must be taken to the cabin.

Tasmania is a great destination for a holiday due to the amount of tourist attractions relatively close to one another. The introduction of the Spirit of Tasmania service between Sydney and Devonport is certainly a good transport option for people with disabilities and their families due to access within the ship and the ease of driving the vehicle on and off.

Tasmanian access resources

In my research for information on accessible hotels, vehicle hire, equipment hire, tourist attractions and facilities in Tasmania I used the following resources:

Spirit of Tasmania
Telephone 1800 634 906
Easy Access Australia
This is virtually the bible for people with disabilities requiring accessible travel information in Australia, but unfortunately, the second edition was printed in 2000 and is out of publication. Information from it is available by contacting Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (email information@scia.org.au)
A Wheelie Guide to Tasmania
Published by the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of Tasmania, telephone 03 6272 8816
Huon Valley Access Map
Also available from the Huonville Visitor Centre, telephone 03 6264 1838
Parks for All People
Access information is provided online by Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania, or telephone 1300 135 513 to ask for the access booklet to be posted
Tasmanian Travel and Information Centres
Telphone 03 6230 8233 (within Tasmania) or toll-free 1300 655 145
Other Tasmanian websites
For more information

Greg Killeen, is the Information Officer at Spinal Cord Injuries Australia and can be contacted by emailing gkilleen@scia.org.au

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