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Accessibility Improves in New Zealand Tourism

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

The Department of Conservation (DOC) on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand is sitting up and taking notice of access tourism.

Knights Point 1.JPG

DOC manages more than 1.9 million hectares (about 4.7 million acres) of land on the West Coast, which is about a quarter of New Zealand’s protected public land. Within its 600 km (373 mile) long West Coast boundary are two kiwi sanctuaries, five national parks, two Wilderness Areas and a World Heritage Area. The West Coast has remarkable collection of natural features which includes rainforests, glaciers, wetlands and an ocean habitat that is home to the world’s stronghold population of Hector’s dolphin. DOC also looks after more than 150 actively managed historic places on the West Coast ranging from historic buildings to mining sites. This richness of natural and made-made heritage attracts about 1.2 million visitors per annum to the region, but to date, little attention has been paid to tourism for PWDs.

A report by Dr. Sandra Rhodda of Tai Poutini Polytechnic on access tourism on the West Coast ( and a talk given by her at the New Zealand Eco Tourism Conference in 2007 highlighted the issues for people visiting the coast with some level of disability. The report highlighted specific design elements required at sites that need to be taken into consideration where tourism operations are providing facilities for people with mobility difficulty. These include ensuring appropriate surfaces in car parks and on footpaths, providing access through kerbing and channelling, having suitable access to toilets, and removing barriers at the entrance to tracks.

The examples of issues faced by people with mobility difficulties outlined in the report highlighted the need for DOC to have a whole of site design approach when carrying out upgrades to facilities and attention to detail. As a result, DOC has carried out some projects to improve access for PWDs and is planning to undertake further work at front country sites in the coming years.

Work completed in the last twelve months includes:

knights Point car park.JPG

• Knights Point, South Westland: provision of parks for PWDs; sealing of the footpath to new viewpoint; provision of accessible toilets. The design brief included wheelchair access through kerbing and channelling (previously, footpath was gravel, there was no break in the kerbing, and no provision for PWDs parking).

• Pororai Walk, Punakaiki. New sealed car park at the eastern side of the State Highway now provides a safe access to the Pororari Walk and a picnic area which includes wheel chair access. A short walk up the Pororari River has been resurfaced providing people with limited disability the opportunity to enjoy this valley. Previously, people who use wheelchairs did not have access to this location.

Work planned for the future includes:

• Ship Creek, South Westland. Upgrade of short walks. Improve access for PWDs (mobility) to both the Dune Lake walk and Kahikatea Swamp Forest Walk. This will involve redesign of the car park, boardwalk to the beach, resurfacing of the swamp forest walk, and identifying any impediments to those who use wheelchairs e.g., lack of manoeuvrability on the track.

Lk Math.JPG

• Lake Matheson, South Westland. Development of a design for a new car park and toilets at Lake Matheson. Design elements in the brief are to cater for those with disability. The project also includes upgrading the walking track from the car park to the jetty viewpoint. Currently sections of the walk are to steep and the viewing area at the jetty needs to be improved.

• Cape Foulwind, Buller. Planned upgrade of the toilet facilities.

• Various short walks. Upgrade of two of the 6 kilometres (about 4 miles) of accessible walks to reduce grade, widen surface where required, compact surface, removal of loose material, and remove gated structures where present.

• Improving access to some of the DOC visitor centres, particularly doorways at the entrances to these buildings.

“Given that currently about 17% of Kiwis report a disability, and given that this number is probably going to rise steeply because of our ageing population, it is timely that DOC on the West Coast is improving access. Already about half of tourists in New Zealand are 45 years old or older. Because the worldwide population is ageing the same as here, these improvements can’t help but act as a draw card for both international and Kiwi tourists who need an accessible tourism product” said Rhodda.