As an accessible tourism consultant - and someone with Multiple Sclerosis – I know that when you’re disabled it’s a lot easier and cheaper to stay at home. However a family trip overseas made me realise that we were making memories that our boys would cherish for life.
These days accessibility is a priority, not just for the disabled, but also for the elderly, families with strollers and other people with mobility issues - and attractions and accommodation operators are moving to make their businesses available to everyone, not just the able-bodied. Sydney stacks up very well against other cities around the world for accessibility, and that no longer means expensive.
Here are a few tips on travelling around Sydney when you are disabled…
In one way, Darling Harbour is like Tasmania… there’s a lot to do in such a small area and nearly all of it easily accessible. Disabled parking is available at the big parking stations and also at the Maritime and Powerhouse Museums (it is necessary to book ahead). Both the monorail and light rail are accessible, with lifts to all monorail stations.
The monorail is a great way to get from one side of Darling Harbour to the other (if going say, from the Maritime Museum to the Aquarium), but once on it, why not do the full trip around the city? It’s a unique view of Sydney. The Darling Harbour boardwalk is an easy and pleasant stroll for people in wheelchairs and all the shops are accessible… a very pleasant change from Bowral, which can be a bit of a struggle!
The main attractions, including the Powerhouse Museum, the National Maritime Museum, the Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife World and the IMAX Theatre are all accessible - although you will find it a bit tricky getting into the Russian sub… and it’s even trickier getting out! Contact the venues before visiting, as most have special rates for disabled visitors and in some instances carers are free. Some have wheelchairs available and most also have accessible toilets.
While the Chinese Gardens are not listed as accessible, I found the parts that I could get around most enchanting - and just sitting in quiet contemplation by a calm lake in the middle of the city is a special experience.
Assistance was easy to find at Darling Harbour and the website offers maps and further information.
Right next door is Paddy’s Markets and Chinatown; with many accessible shopping and yum cha opportunities. Paddy’s Markets also have factory outlets and restaurants upstairs, which are accessible by lift. However we found only one Japanese restaurant that was accessible, called Nagoya, in Harbour Street opposite the Entertainment Centre. Teppanyaki BBQs are set into each table, there are many Japanese enjoying the food and it isn’t expensive.
My wife and son quite easily pushed me in my wheelchair all the way from here to Circular Quay. On the way, we were impressed not just by the accessibility of most shops, but also by the quality of the footpaths and road crossings. At too many major cities in Europe and the UK we found not only footpaths worse than goat tracks, but road crossings that had a lip on one side - but not the other!
I suppose we could have taken the easy way and used one of the many accessible buses or taxis. In fact 30% of Sydney’s buses are now accessible for wheelchairs or strollers, as are the trains.
We travelled by rail from Bowral and if you let the guard know (preferably by calling the station in advance) a ramp is put out for your carriage entry and exit.
The cost is low too - if you’re on a disability pension the cost of a trip to Sydney is $2.50, and that includes all your public transport once you get into Sydney.
Many overseas tourists visiting Sydney comment on the accessibility of the Manly Ferry and it is a delightful yet inexpensive way to see Sydney at its very best.
Getting over a hump on the entry ramp was a little bit of an effort, however once onboard the ferry was very easy for my wheelchair and I was able to move about freely inside and on some outside sections to take in the spectacular views.
The accessible toilet onboard is good too - but remember to put your brakes on when going past the Heads!
Once at Manly, both the wharf precinct and the shops around the Corso are nearly all accessible. Be careful where you stop your chair, as there are little fountains that spurt up randomly from the pavement and give you an unexpected cooling off! We walked along the beachfront and then out along the path to Fairy Bower at the south end of Manly Beach. This is a very pleasant stroll and not too strenuous (in most parts) for your pushers. Keep an eye out for the cute brass sculptures along the way.
We had a marvellous time in Darling Harbour and Manly, but Sydney has so much more for us to cover in our next trip. Stay tuned!
About the Author
Bruce Mumford lives at Burrawang in the NSW Southern Highlands with his wife Louise and sons, Ashley and Rohan. He was formerly an English, History and Drama teacher at high schools in Forbes, Nowra and Moss Vale. In 1990 Bruce was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and he is currently a Disabled Travel Consultant. Since Bruce's retirement from full-time teaching, the family has travelled widely in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and overseas.
Bruce Mumford is a Disabled Travel Consultant...