Accessible adventure travel experiences around New Zealand

America’s Cup Sailing, Auckland. Photo / Chris Sisarich, TNZ

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Adventure abounds for the young at heart, writes Briar Jensen

Studies show that adventure is not only good for the soul (and bragging rights), it benefits physical and mental health too, especially as we age. And there’s no need to let limited mobility hold you back – some tourism operators have inclusive options for a range of abilities, including wheelchair users.

As the saying goes, “adventure is an attitude”, so get your attitude on and spice up your next sojourn with one of these suggestions.

Steve Fell at U-Drive. Photo / supplied, Highlands
Steve Fell at U-Drive. Photo / supplied, Highlands

Need for Speed – Muscle Car

Let your inner hoon loose in a Mustang and fang it around world-class Highlands racetrack, 40 minutes’ drive from Queenstown. The 5.0L V8 custom-built, production-based muscle car has hand controls, making it suitable for people with limited leg mobility too. With a professional driver by your side talking you through the purpose-built track, you’ll be taking the corners like Greg Murphy by the end of seven laps. If you’d rather sit in the passenger’s seat, leaving the driving to a pro, opt for the Supercar Fast Dash. In either a Ferrari 488 GTB or Porsche GT3, you’ll scream around the track reaching speeds of up to 225km/h.

Queenstown's iFLY simulates freefall. Photo / Supplied
Queenstown’s iFLY simulates freefall. Photo / Supplied

Freefall fantasy – iFLY

Fancy the feeling of freefall but find jumping out of a plane at 15,000 feet a leap too far? Then try iFLY. This indoor vertical wind tunnel simulates freefall, although you’re not actually falling, rather floating or flying on a powerful blast of air that will still have your jowls flapping. Once you’ve “flown” a couple of times you can increase the adrenaline by wearing virtual reality googles to simulate a skydive over Hawaii or Dubai, or base jump over alpine mountains. With no jumping involved it’s suitable for people of all abilities and iFLY Queenstown pride itself on helping people “fly”, regardless of any physical challenges.

Sunset sailing, Auckland. Photo / Explore Group
Sunset sailing, Auckland. Photo / Explore Group

Learn the ropes – Sailing

Experience the excitement of an America’s Cup yacht. Okay, not the current foil-canting flying machines that require crash helmets and Olympic agility, but NZL 41, built and raced by Japan for the 1995 challenge, where it came second to Team New Zealand in the Louis Vuitton Cup. At 24m long with a 34m mast she raced with a professional crew of 17. Now novices can choose to grind the winches, tack the sails and take the helm (or just hang on) during a two-hour sprint around Waitematā Harbour. Prefer to leave sail handling to the crew while you sit back and sip wine? Then step aboard a purpose-built 50-footer for an afternoon cruise around the City of Sails and under the Auckland harbour bridge or watch the city skyline light up during a sunset dinner cruise.

Oar-some adventure – Kayaking

Getting out on a lake, river or bay under your own steam gives a fresh, waterline perspective on the terrain. With no motor to disturb the local inhabitants, it’s excellent for wildlife watching and immersing yourself in nature. Kayaking tours start with a quick paddling lesson, then you’re off. If your knees are up for it, consider SUP – stand-up paddleboarding. Paddle Board Rotorua take kayak tours past steaming cliffs on Lake Rotomahana at Waimangu Valley, or into glow-worm caves on Lake Okareka. Paddle Wānaka has a half-day tour around Lake Wānaka shoreline with its magnificent reflections of surrounding mountains. R&R Kayaks has tours to secluded beaches in Abel Tasman National Park. All these companies have options for guests with limited mobility and Moana in Nelson offers SDP (sit-down paddleboarding) for wheelchair users through Makingtrax.

Balooning over the Canterbuy Plains. Photo / David Wall, TNZ
Balooning over the Canterbuy Plains. Photo / David Wall, TNZ

Basket case – Ballooning

Pre-flight preparation ups the anticipation on an early-morning balloon flight. Huge fans, hissing gas and roaring flames transform limp fabric into a plump, lightbulb-shaped balloon. From inside the basket, lift-off is so gentle you may not even realise you’ve left the ground until it starts to spread out below you. Float over the patchwork of paddocks in rural Canterbury with Ballooning Canterbury or take off from Hamilton for a flight over the Waikato River with Kiwi Balloon Company. Flights are weather dependent so allow flexibility with dates and be prepared to get up before dawn.

Quad biking fun at Hanmer Springs. Photo / Hanmer Springs Attractions
Quad biking fun at Hanmer Springs. Photo / Hanmer Springs Attractions

Four-wheel fun – Quad biking

Off-road adventure with a throbbing motor between your thighs – that’s the thrill of quad biking. Expect a bumpy, dusty, muddy, wet and exhilarating ride. Modern quad bikes are lighter and easy to handle, even for novices. But if you can’t swing your leg over to straddle the seat, some companies offer buggy rides along the same track, like Hanmer Springs Quad Biking. Their scenic alpine route has you juddering down rocky inclines, swooshing through braided streams and swerving through forest tracks. In Nelson head to Cable Bay Adventure Park for a 14km route taking in farm, forest and coastal views.

Paragliding over Christchurch. Photo / Makingtrax, Supplied
Paragliding over Christchurch. Photo / Makingtrax, Supplied

Harness the wind – Tandem paragliding

Once airborne you truly soar like an eagle on the thermals when paragliding. When you are suspended in front of your pilot, the sense of weightlessness is exhilarating. Relax into your harness and absorb the birds-eye vistas – over mountains, valleys or coast. Stick with a gentle joyride or ,if you’re up for some thrills, let your pilot know and they’ll happily oblige with aerobatic spins and turns. Don’t forget to smile for the obligatory mid-flight photo. Wānaka Paragliding at Treble Cone, Coronet Peak Tandems and Christchurch Paragliding work with Makingtrax to tailor experiences for people with specific mobility requirements.

Inclusive and accessible – Adventure for all

Makingtrax Foundation is a Kiwi charitable trust founded by Jezza Williams and connects travellers to inclusive adventure companies. The website lists vetted providers who offer accessible or inclusive options, from rafting to canyon swings, but Williams, who uses a wheelchair himself, says with an open-minded approach anything is possible and he’ll help facilitate it.

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