Jezza Williams has an impressive haul of experiences and accomplishments jammed in his travel pack, most likely alongside a skydiving parachute. He’s been an international river guide, ski patroller, canyoning guide, rafting and kayaking specialist and parasailing instructor. Not to mention Jezza’s role as founder and head of Making Trax, a pioneering non-profit that connects travellers with inclusive and accessible adventure experiences in the New Zealand wilderness.
Whether it is travelling from London to Mongolia in a Toyota Yaris, or organising a seven-day adventure through class five rapids on an African river, Jezza Williams has been pushing limits his whole life.
“I don’t travel because it is easy,” he says. “To ‘adventure’ is to undertake a task without knowing the outcome; it is about learning from doing, about expanding our horizons.”
Following a severe canyoning accident in Switzerland when he was 35, Jezza had to push the limits even further to get back outdoors doing what he loved.
“I went in and I started adapting bits and pieces, including harnesses, so that my body – which is C5 tetraplegic – could actually do all these activities.”
He was lucky to have a network of mates, strong resolve and insider knowledge, he says, because upon first looking into the industry there wasn’t much available for someone with tetraplegia. Drawing from years of experience as a river guide, Jezza started up a website and began running small expeditions for people who inquired.
“I’ve always appreciated giving an experience to somebody who hasn’t been able to have that before. Being in this position, I thought – of course! I can open up this industry in a way not many others can because they don’t have the knowledge, they don’t like taking risks or they don’t know the industry as I do.”
It wasn’t long before, in 2012, Making Trax was born.
The non-profit inclusive tourism organisation operates on four main principles: information; education; cooperation and adaption if absolutely necessary.
When it comes to the ‘information’ side of things, travellers can visit the Making Trax website for an expansive directory of providers who have the Making Trax seal of approval. Jezza has done extensive work reviewing the offerings of these companies, educating them about best practice in adapting to client needs and helping them vet their services for different participants.
Jezza emphasises that Making Trax is not a booking agency, but rather a facilitator.
“People can organise their own trips,” he says, “but if they need assistance or want information, it is easy for me to give them a few pointers. I’m the link between the company and the client.”
Most of the activities, equipment and their providers come personally tested by Jezza. Sea kayaking is a top recommendation of his, especially in Abel Tasman National Park or alongside seals in Kaikoura.
“It is a piece of cake because we’ve got harnesses that are fully releasable, very safe and stop abrasion and pressure on your skin,” says Jezza. “I use them myself.”
Other popular choices include rafting, canyon swings, helicopter rides, paragliding and, of course, snow sports with New Zealand’s ‘phenomenal’ adaptive ski programs.
“There are so many different experiences that we can provide for clients,” says Jezza. “And if they want to do something that’s not even on [the Making Trax directory], I can organise it.”
One experience recently coordinated by Making Trax has turned out to be a particular hit. Jezza’s team has helped fly clients with mobility restrictions in a helicopter over the Southern Alps and up onto Franz Josef Glacier. “We have a wheelchair that I’ve made with skis on it, which can break down. You just bring the cushion from your wheelchair, then get out onto the ice and experience a freeze in the middle of winter.”
The modus operandi of Making Trax is addressing adventure experiences on a case-by-case basis. It recognises that travellers with disabilities know their own bodies and can make their own decisions provided that they, and the companies they use, have the correct information. Making Trax is a pioneer of the ‘inclusive tourism movement’, which Jezza ardently distinguishes from accessible travel.
“The difference is that we look at everybody,” he says. “I want anybody off the street to go into an outdoor business and be able to enjoy an experience safely, practically and easily.”
The emphasis is not on barriers but rather on being flexible and making things work even if they initially appear inaccessible.
Paragliding or skydiving might not be deemed ‘accessible,’ but they are inclusive, Jezza says. That is, they might pose some difficulties for people with disabilities, but that doesn’t mean those people are excluded from participating. In fact, for a keen skydiver with mobility restrictions, all it takes is a harness that holds your knees to your chest.
With inclusive tourism in mind, when we asked Jezza to pick an awesome adventure destination outside of New Zealand, he didn’t skip a beat in naming Nepal.
“I’d call it that Kathmandu, Nepal is more inclusive than Christchurch, New Zealand,” he says. “Definitely not as accessible, but more inclusive. You can have a driver who will look after you. You can get guides who are worth their weight in gold. Everything is made possible because of the people who are willing to help.”
He also gushes about the diversity of adventure experiences available, ranging from rafting to paragliding and everything in between. “You can go down and check out the jungle, which is 75m above sea level, or you can go right up to Annapurna and into the hills.”
When it comes to wilderness and adventure travel, however, there’s no one place that Jezza lauds above all others. He says it is about “understanding that everywhere you are, there are opportunities. It’s just the way you look at the opportunity.”
This is what Jezza and Making Trax does; offer people an open-minded, solution driven approach to adventure, whether they are seeking one or hoping to provide one.
“I realise it is not always easy,” says Jezza, “the thought of doing something you haven’t done before and the anxiety of organising it. You think, why would you?”
So, to get to the nitty gritty of inclusive adventure travel, why would you? And why should you?
“Because it is a tool, it is an experience, it is a memory,” says Jezza. “[Adventure travel] is a place to push your limits. You will lose a pair of shoes or you’ll wear out a pair of tyres, but you’ll never lose an experience. Freedom to adventure, that’s what it’s all about.”
This article first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.