Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has officially declared 2023 the Year of Accessible Tourism. This is part of the Towards Tourism 2032 strategy to make Queensland a destination for people of all abilities. Following are some of the best accessible experiences you can already enjoy in the Sunshine State.
The Esplanade, Cairns
If you’re looking for a relaxing start or finish to your day, The Esplanade in Cairns is the perfect walk or wheel. The atmosphere is vibrant with people exercising, taking in the view over the mud flats and having picnics along the length of the boardwalk. If you’re looking to cool off, check out the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon; with lifeguards on duty this is a safe and lovely spot to spend some time, and there’s an accessible bathroom nearby for MLAK key holders.
Pelican Boat Hire, Noosa
You can’t miss Pelican Boat Hire: it’s located on the Noosa River foreshore, right near The Big Pelican. This family-owned business has been helping locals and visitors alike get out on the water for more than 60 years, so they’re as knowledgeable and experienced as they come. They have a variety of options available; we love the pontoon-style boats that are flat with ramp access, and easy to drive after a quick tutorial (no boat licence required). They’re open seven days a week year-round, and always ready to welcome your family for a fun day on the water.
Australia Zoo, Sunshine Coast
A visit to the zoo is fun and educational for people of all ages and abilities, but Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast is something special. When you visit Australia Zoo, you’ll be helping develop wildlife and wilderness conservation, with a portion of proceeds directly supporting projects including helping to protect crocodiles, tigers, wombats, elephants and cheetahs. It’s also easy for wheelchair users to get around, and the enclosures offer great viewing for all heights. Be sure to check out the accessible Wildlife Hospital, and get up close to some of the beautiful animals who are there for rehabilitation and health care.
Undara Experience and Lava Tubes, Mount Surprise
In Far North Queensland, you’ll find one of the most surprising accessible experiences the Sunshine State has to offer. The world’s oldest and longest lava tubes are a hidden gem, four hours’ drive from Cairns and well worth the detour. Right there, in the Undara Volcanic National Park, you can sleep in a restored Queensland rail carriage from the 1900s, watch an outdoor movie by firelight, lounge by the level-access pool, and of course tour the precious ecosystem of the Lava Tubes. Contact Undara Experience prior to your arrival to arrange a guided tour of Road Cave which has ramp and chair lift access.
Tin Can Bay, Gympie
Tin Can Bay is a tranquil Queensland getaway spot, 210km north of Brisbane. The waterways are ideally suited to boating and sailing, even fishing if you’re keen to give it a go. First-timers should check out SailAbility, a volunteer-run organisation dedicated to facilitating sailing for people with disabilities. They operate out of Tin Can Bay Yacht Club, and their knowledgeable volunteers and safety officers will help you arrange a sailing experience that is suited to you. They have a Pelican pool hoist to help with transfers in and out of boats, and a range of other assistive devices to help you make the most of your time on the water.
South Bank, Brisbane
You’ll be spoiled for choice of accessible activities and attractions on Brisbane’s South Bank. The Parklands have beautiful gardens, a free outdoor swimming pool, water play, paths for walking, wheeling or cycling, picnic areas and restaurants. The Collective Markets feature an exciting range of arts, craft, homewares, collectibles, exotic items, designer fashion and much more. There are several art galleries and museums in the area that offer a variety of accessible experiences, and the guided tour of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) is well worth checking out. Make the most of all of it with the Brisbane Greeters service; their Greeters receive special training support across the city and can tailor the Brisbane Greeter experience to special needs requirements.
Queens Park All-Abilities Playground, Toowoomba
Queens Park and Botanic Garden in East Toowoomba is a wonderful place to explore with beautiful gardens, paths and an all-abilities playground. One of the most exciting features is Neos, the part-electronic game and part-competitive sport that can be played solo or in pairs. There’s also a solar-powered piano, a Liberty swing, and heaps of other accessible options for fun. The park has large stand-alone disabled bathrooms, nearby disabled parking and lovely concrete paths for easy access. The all-abilities playground is located near the car parking area off Lindsay Street. Barbecue facilities and picnic tables are also available, making this the perfect spot for a family day out.
Sea World Whale Watch Cruise, Gold Coast
Whale watching is always a bit of a gamble – it’s up to the whales whether they want to come up and say ‘hello’ – but if you’re willing to take the risk, you must try the Sea World Whale Watch Cruise. Unfortunately, the experience isn’t suited to power wheelchairs, but with a manual chair you can access the boat via a ramp and move around the decks. The crew are more than happy to lend a hand if you need assistance getting around the vessel, as well as providing informative commentary throughout the journey. Be sure to book ahead of time to guarantee an accessible spot, and take a Travacalm tablet if motion sickness is a concern.
Surfing, Coolum Beach
If you’ve always dreamed of hanging ten, Coolum Surf School offers a wonderful opportunity to do just that. The school offers private lessons with accredited instructors, any time of year from sunup to sundown. Coolum Beach has Australia’s warmest waters, so it’s a great option even in the off season. Prices include all the gear you’ll need – wetsuit, soft learner boards, and supports, all you’ll need to bring are your swimmers and a can-do attitude. Email them ahead of time to arrange a lesson that caters to your specific needs (and maybe even request professional photography, if you want a special souvenir).
Australian Age of Dinosaurs, Winton
If you’re travelling with kids (or kids-at-heart) who are going through a dinosaur phase, the Australian Age Of Dinosaurs in Central West Queensland is a must-visit. The area is known as the ‘palaeontology capital’ of Australia. Not only will you get up close and personal with incredible fossils, you’ll have the opportunity to prepare and preserve specimens in the museum laboratory. All areas of the museum and laboratory are accessible by wheelchair and table heights can be changed for the Prep A Dino program if required. There is also a great visual story available to download before your visit, as well as audio, large-print, and tactile guides. Find out more on their website.
Where To Stay
- Novotel Surfers Paradise offers accessible accommodation in an ideal location to get to all that the Gold Coast has to offer (and we highly recommend the buffet breakfast to fuel up for the day)
- Barney’s Place is an award-winning accessible property on the Gold Coast. The house has been custom designed for wheelchair accessibility and along with its exceptional internal features, it boasts not one but two pool hoists allowing guests accessibility to both the heated pool and spa.
- Hibiscus Lodge 1 on Hamilton Island is a spacious apartment in an accessible location, right near Catseye Beach and the island’s main facilities. If you’re looking for fully accessible facilities, check out the Reef View Hotel nearby.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Cairns has two accessible rooms on the ground floor of the hotel. These rooms have the option of a standard interconnecting room if you are travelling with family or friends. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and accommodating, and always happy to go the extra mile.
- The Westin Brisbane is a luxury 5-star hotel that ticks all the boxes for accommodation needs, including a swim-up pool bar (yippee!) with hoist access.
When To Visit
If you’re travelling on a budget, you’re going to want to avoid school holidays and other peak times. To make the most of outdoor activities, visit between June and October to avoid the summer heat and beat the rainy season (November to March).
This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits. You can subscribe to the magazine here.