Tasmania is known for natural beauty and a lack of overdevelopment, seen as a scourge in other Australian states. But is it more accessible than the rest of Australia?
Peter Cook put the state to the test.
Known as The Apple Isle, Tasmania’s vistas vary wildly from the east to the west.
The West Coast is known for the rugged beauty of Cradle Mountain, Lake St Claire and the coastal haven of Strahn. The region is famous for spectacular vistas and refreshing mountain trails.
Limited mobility is no barrier to entry
National Parks Tasmania has rated each wilderness trail for accessibility. You can view the entire list here.
You can book a free TrailRider (all-terrain wheelchair) at Cradle Mountain, Mount Field and Freycinet National Parks. Bookings need to be made 7 days in advance.
The TrailRider can be used on a range of designated walking tracks that are not accessible to conventional wheelchairs. You will need two reasonably fit operators to assist the rider on easier graded walks and more on difficult tracks.
Nearby Queenstown offers the sobering reality of the boom and bust of mining towns. Queenstown once had a thriving 10,000 strong population supported mainly by the Mount Lyell copper mine and the nearby Henty Gold Mine. At the 2016 census, Queenstown had a population of 1755.
The mining and mass logging of centuries past created a surreal “moonscape” on the hills encircling the town. Nature is slowly creeping back. And this town is home to a proud community of artists and makers who love to display their wares.
You can visit smaller towns
We have been visiting Tasmania for more than 40 years. We’ve done the big landmarks. Our latest travel passion is to find little treasures off the beaten track.
New Norfolk, on the east coast, is one such gem. It’s known locally as “the capital of the Derwent” and it’s a great place to soak in Tasmania’s heritage.
New Norfolk is a quaint little town with so many hidden secrets.
The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is about a 20-minute drive from New Norfolk, at the Moorilla winery.
MONA is the largest privately funded museum in the Southern Hemisphere. It attracts about 350,000 visitors each year.
The galleries have air-conditioning and wheelchair access, with open walkways and lifts to reach each level.
It’s also home to the only five-star heritage property in Tasmania- Woodbridge on the Derwent.
John and Laurelle purchased the circa 1825. property in 2003 when it was sadly in a state of disrepair.
They could not have been more helpful with our booking.
Accommodation booking sites tend to use the terms “disability friendly” and “wheel chair accessible” very loosely, and with very little detail. We spoke directly with Laurelle, openly sharing my level of disability and the equipment we were bringing with us.
We took our own carer on this occasion, so additional accommodation and bathroom facilities to accommodate the three of us were a priority. John and Laurelle were extremely supportive during our research; they are true professional tourism operators, but more importantly, parents with their own personal experience of travelling with disability.
Laurelle quickly recommended the Captain Roadknight Room. The room was at ground level and within easy reach of the entrance door. It had wide passageways and ample room to negotiate a turning circle.
The room itself was spacious and beautifully decorated truly reflecting the early 1800s. Floor space and access to the bathroom was quite sufficient and again, turning circles were not a problem. Seating was comfortable and I had no difficulty going through my daily rehabilitation, which included a sit/stand regime to transfer to the chair.
The bathroom was open and beautifully lit by natural light streaming through a window overlooking the magnificent gardens and the Derwent River. The shower recess had no lip or hob, so while I did not need a shower chair, the shower was large enough for both me (seated) and the carer. Handrails provided great assistance, both in the shower and beside the pedestal.
We dined in true five-star fashion at The Pavilion, a spacious dining room again overlooking the Derwent River and decorated with the atmosphere and ambience of Raffles in Singapore.
The Pavillion serves local fresh fruit, baked treats and produce. It also has fresh daily juice and freshly brewed coffee.
The tastefully decorated restaurant has ample space to manoeuvre and transfer to a soft comfortable chair to enjoy breakfast and dinner. Yes, we chose to enjoy a light dinner each evening, and of course with a glass of the locally produced wines.
You can access The Pavilion via an undercover pathway from the hotel’s main entrance and from the hotel rooms. Unfortunately, two steps on the pathway were non-negotiable in my power chair. The option for me was the gravel driveway between the entrance to the property and the accommodation wing.
Fortunately, the driveway was compressed from the weight of vehicles and provided good traction.
If you travel to New Norfolk, you should visit the Willow Court infirmary. It formed a substantial part of a mental asylum built for sick convicts in 1827. Later, it would be rebuilt to form the Royal Derwent Hospital.
In 2015, the owners of “The Agrarian Kitchen” farm and cooking school (at nearby Lachlan) realised the economic potential of the building as it offered expansive space, large windows and pressed metal ceilings. In their minds, it was ready-made to create a dining experience.
The “Agrarian Kitchen Eatery” commenced trading in June 2017. The journey of the “Agrarian Kitchen” is indicative of the pride that exists across Tasmania, to passionately maintain the history and the heritage through magnificent restorations.
Given its previous life, the building is ideal for wheelchair access. Wide Ramps, spacious floor areas and accessible conveniences are all feature due to the previous use.
The big question
As we crossed Bass Strait coming home, asked myself: Is Tasmania truly “disability friendly”?
Tasmania is no different to the rest of Australia. It embraces increased disability traffic stemming from the rollout of NDIS. Residents and councils are beginning to question the level of infrastructure and the support network required when the government is investing $4.5 billion a year in the NDIS.
Yes, the infrastructure and recognition of our needs when we travel remains a work in progress. However, I am hopeful we are in a much better position today that we were 20 years ago.