Each city that I’ve passed through during my fellowship has seemed like a blur. Auckland has been no different. I have crammed as much as I can in and my time here has flown by. There is so much that I haven’t had time to do and I’m hoping that a return trip here (and to everywhere else I’ve visited) will be on the cards at some point.

Research meetings here have continued the trend of casting valuable insight into disability innovation for my Churchill Fellowship, along with meeting fantastic people that I am sure I will have ongoing connections with.

Taking a flight (for a change)

Both of my previous trips between cities have been by train and bus which while I would put into the entertainment category, they were also a bit of a slog. This trip wasn’t possible by land so I jumped on a plane out of Brisbane and flew into Auckland. The three hour flight was a breeze, especially in comparison to the last 22 hour flight from London to Melbourne.

Passing through customs was speedy and although it was quite early in the day for me, with the flight being at 9am Brisbane time, I was keen to get to the hotel after a couple of early starts without much sleep. The bus stop was directly outside of the arrival terminal and the bus I needed to catch pulled up as soon as I got there. I checked with the driver and they didn’t accept bank cards to pay for rides so I headed back inside to get a travel card.

Auckland transport system

Armed with my new travel card I was ready to make the journey to the hotel. The bus driver unfolded the ramp and I got into the wheelchair space. It was a reasonably large area, fitting my chair, scooter and (massive) suitcase in quite comfortably for the short ride to the train station that would take me the rest of the way.

Auckland isn’t a huge city and as such doesn’t have a huge, complex rail system. The four lines are easy to navigate and although it took a bit of time as I was going from one side of the city to the other, it was an easy journey. Everything was level access with lifts getting at each station and ramps that deployed from the train at each station, so there was no need to “mind the gap”. My destination station didn’t have a lift but there was a track crossing which was just as easy, maybe easier to use.

I’d travelled out to Avondale, where my hotel for the first three nights would be the Roomie Apartments. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was only a stones throw from the train station and with my suitcase now rolling on wheels that worked, it felt like I was on easy street.

I’d requested a wheelchair accessible room at the hotel, as I always do, but this time they told me that the accessible room was going to be an extra $100 a night. It was also going to be a bigger two bedroom apartment, so I assume that there may have been a one-bed accessible room that was already let out. Not wanting to fork out so much more for an accessible room, I decided to rearrange some of their furniture to make my own semi-accessible room which I could now transfer across to get in front of the sink and into the shower.

Bridging the gap by transferring across other furniture available in the room

Innovating system change

Although I’ve been left feeling a little disappointed that I haven’t been able to have all the interviews I had hoped for in Auckland, the people that I spoke to were amazing. The wonderful thing about my interviews up to this point were the breadth of what I had been talking about when interviewing people. Speaking to Jade and Red continued this trend.

I had connected with Jade from a pre-interview call with Red who recommended I speak to him because Jade works with the government on disability policy and has been doing so for the last 10 years.

It was great to hear about the different kind of approach Jade has been working on, Enabling Good Lives, that strived to change culture and was less about rule setting and more about guiding government departments toward finding their own solution by introducing a set of principles that would be empowering for the disabled community. It was also refreshing to hear that the disabled community was being empowered to lead on these actions in their local area. An interesting idea to bring people together to push for the change that they want to see.

My next interview with Red took a different look at the innovation angle. We spoke about the work he had done in setting up disability organisation The D*List and how he aimed to transform attitudes towards disability in Aotearoa through creating content that was by disabled people, for disabled people. We spoke about ingrained ableism and how it can exist in our own behaviour as disabled people, unknowingly making decisions that have been shaped by our surroundings and the ableist world we live in.

Change of hotel

I’ve really not timed this trip well with some of the artists that are performing while I’m here. It was Taylor Swift in Sydney that made accommodation difficult to find and now I was struggling because Pink was in town. I’d managed to get my first hotel for three nights, but then I had to move because it was fully booked for the weekend. This next hotel had been better about giving me an accessible room which was reassuring. With a limited number of hotel options I moved across the harbour to Bayswater, which showed a different side to the city which felt more like suburbia.

Travelling to Bayswater also gave me a chance to try out the ferry service that operates across the harbour. Starting my journey at Britomart in the CBD was great with everything easy to find in a small port of only four docking stations. The trips across the harbour are quick as well. The three ports that I travelled to using the ferry while I was staying in Auckland all had a journey time of less than 30 minutes.

As the trips were so short, I often opted to stay outside on the deck for the view of the city and surrounding islands. It was only on my last day there that I decided to head inside and found that there was a step to get into the indoor seating area. I found out a couple of days earlier that the entire fleet wasn’t accessible when I turned up to get on a ferry only to be confronted by two sets of steps, which I wasn’t going to attempt as I had my scooter with me. I had to be on the other side of the harbour in two hours and luckily the bus service got me there on time.

Dolphin safari

Visiting the koala sanctuary in Brisbane had been a lot of fun and I was excitied to check out what Auckland had to offer. When looking through passing the local port I noticed a sign for a dolphin and whale safari. This was something that I didn’t want to pass on.

I checked out the website and it stated that they were accessible if the wheelchair was less than 72cm wide. I knew that with the six degree camber I had on my axel there was a good chance that this would take it over the width limit. Bringing the spare axel that has zero camber and would make my chair narrow enough to get on the boat.

I sat on the sofa in my hotel room to change the axel over. Now I only had and Allen Key for the job and I would usually need a spanner as well. I knew this shouldn’t matter because the last time I made the change I had only hand tightened one of the bolts. However, since I’d made that change, using my chair had tightened the bolt up and I could not for the life of me get a grip on the bolt.

Sat on the sofa, I was looking round the room for something to use to get a better grip on the axel sleeve. Out of nowhere, I realised that if it was hand tightened then I wouldn’t need that much force to undo it, so my teeth my work. What came next must have looked like the most ridiculous sight as I lifted the chair up and held the axel sleeve in my teeth while I rotated the chair. It was a bit unorthodox but worked like a charm! Now the dolphin watching trip could go ahead.

There were a couple of steps to get onto the boat, one of which I bounced down myself and the next two steps I was lifted up by a couple of crew members. The back section of the boat was easy to move around so I was happy to stay there for the first part of the trip, getting a good view of the dolphins from the side of the boat.

The crew were attentive throughout the trip. When they asked if I wanted to go to the front of the boat I checked if it was going to offer a better view than I had from the side of the boat which I thought had been fairly good. They told me that the dolphins spent more time at the front of the boat because they could get an easy ride from the motion of the boat. Lazy.

Getting up to the front of the boat wasn’t the most accessible route. The ramp was narrower than the width I’d found online so it was back to what has become a regular during my travels over the years and that is getting onto the floor a lifting myself passed the obstacel then getting back in my chair. The ramp was only three metres long and then the upper deck was accessible too so only a minor inconvenience. The crew helped getting my chair to the top of the ramp as well so maybe out of my chair for a minute or so.

For the rest of the voyage I stayed out on the ship’s bow. Being at the front of the ship gave me amazing views of the dolphins as they swam directly below me. It can be hit or miss with how many dolphins you seen on the day and we were fortunate to come across some decent size pods considering the conditions. Pods of dolphins can run into the hundreds which I can only imagine is a spectacular thing to see.

We didn’t get to see any whales on this trip, but we did get to see a huge flock of Gannets diving for fish which was quite incredible. We watched on as maybe a dozen or so at a time would break off from the flock and dive into the water for their food. Incredible that they can dive at up to speeds of 140kph.

As we turned round Waiheke island the waters were smoother but the wind really picked up. Preferring the experience on deck rather than below, I asked a fellow passenger to grab my bag from the stern so I could get jacket for a little bit of protection from the elements.

Best views of the city

As I was heading toward Devonport, a small town across the harbour from the Auckland CBD, I got chatting to one of the other passengers on the ferry about the views of the city from Mount Victoria. The path leading up the mountain started in the centre of Devonport so I decided to investigate.

The mountains that I visited across Auckland are the most accessible I’ve ever seen with roads leading up to the top that have disabled parking bays. I’ve never seen such accessibility in these spaces. It’s fantastic that these views and experiences are open to more people.

Although I didn’t have a car, I did have my power assist. Pushing up to the top would have taken hours and completely wiped me out. With the scooter attachment I was up there in ten minutes or so. The scooter struggles with traction on some of the steeper paths so the best way to get up is to go up backwards. Seeing someone going up the mountain backwards in a wheelchair must have been a surprise for the other hikers!

First time jet skiing

When making the trip to the second hotel I stayed in, I took the ferry over to Bayswater as it was only a short push from the dock there and a much more fun journey than taking buses. Leaving the dock I passed a cabin with a sign “Sea Auckland: Jet Ski experiences”. Yes, please!

I’ve wanted to try jet skis forever but the opportunity hasn’t been there. Or at least it’s never been presented to me on the side of a cabin next to my hotel. I gave them a call that evening to check about accessibility. With everything being hand controlled on the jet ski and an accessible jetty to start from it all seemed kosher.

The jetty was accessible by (quite a steep) ramp and the jet ski itself was level with the jetty. After a quick safety briefing, I got down onto the jetty then transferred over to the jet ski. I was pleased to find a clip for my Go Pro already stuck to the front of the jet ski which meant I could record my time bouncing around the waves.

My guide for the harbour tour, Olly, had told me that there were rough waters today but with it being my last day in the city I didn’t have the option of postponing. I’m glad I didn’t. I had the best time bouncing over the waves in the rougher waters and getting completely drenched but had a massive grin on my face. I think I stayed dryer when I was scuba diving a couple of weeks ago!

We headed out to the the bridge that marked the end of the Auckland harbour before doubling back. We circled back infront of the CBD before going to a quieter bay with flatter water to have a “play”. And play I did.

There were a couple of times on the rougher water that I got some air time and left my seat so I was cautious with the speed, tending to stick around 40kph. I didn’t have to worry about that when I was in the bay and really went for it. The jet ski topped out at 70 kph and I had so much fun testing it.

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