As winter began to close in on Sydney in late May I was looking to have a break from work and catch my breath. I knew I wanted some place warm to escape too and something that was within this wide brown land of ours as an overseas sojourn was a bit beyond me at that moment. So I looked North and decided upon Darwin as a suitable destination.
It so happens that I have a lovely friend who lives in Darwin, Peggy Dwyer, who works for the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency in the Northern Territory, therefore I had an ally on the ground who could advise me what access was like in town. She warned me that even though Darwin itself is very accessible and has ramps into most buildings there is a lack of substantial accessible transport for the greater region.
For those of you who are familiar with my travel tales you will be accustomed to my emphasis on ensuring that my needs are met long before I arrive at my planned destination. Therefore I did some crucial research to work out what agency was available to look after my care needs and whether or not there would be a company that could supply me with a shower chair that I could use in the hotel.
As Darwin is not yet aware of its need to promote itself as being an accessible tourism destination it took some research on my part to stumble across those who could provide the services I was after. Fortunately after a few hit and miss calls via www.yellowpages.com.au I was able to find service providers that gave me the confidence I needed to leave for Darwin with the objective of enjoying a warm escape.
Goods and services for special needs
The nursing agency I used is called Golden Glow (see details below) and they were first class. A woman named Elizabeth was rostered on to help me during my stay and she was very generous with her time and had that much desired combination of professionalism and practical know how to ensure that I received a good service each afternoon.
Therefore, I would recommend Golden Glow to anyone else considering a trip to Darwin if you require special needs to be met. The trick to ensuring that it works smoothly is to take the time to fully inform your service provider what it is you need done. What I tend to do is send an email detailing every aspect of the service that I require so that they know what is required and they can print it out and give it to their staff as well.
In the case of Golden Glow I did find that I had to chase them up on the telephone before I left to ensure that they had my email and details on file, which they did, as it pays to not leave things to chance.
I was able to hire a shower chair from a company by the name of Keep Moving (see below). They operate in Darwin and have a range of products such as shower chairs, commode chairs, walking and mobility aids etc. that they can hire out to visitors. I found the friendly and willing service of the team at Keep Moving very helpful.
When the distance we wanted to travel was too far to walk we relied upon taxis (see below) and there always seemed to be a ready supply available.
Before we left Sydney I ordered the interstate and territory taxi subsidy vouchers from the Taxi Subsidy Scheme. It is very important to do this before travelling interstate as it will save you quite a bit of money if you have to rely upon taxis to get you around. Sometimes the taxi drivers are unfamiliar with the scheme, as they were in Darwin at times, but with an explanation and a smile it did not take much for them to adopt the attitude that it was right to accept them.
However, if you are in a wheelchair and using an accessible taxi it is important to insist that they secure your chair with the belts. It seems that the safety aspect of strapping down a wheelchair has not quite sunk in there yet as every Darwin cabbie to a man was surprised to hear us ask: And what about the straps for the chair?
It seems that the attitude among the drivers was that if the wheelchair is a heavy electric chair with brakes that it won’t move and will be safe for the journey. As I explained to them ever so politely if we should be in an accident and the chair was not secured myself and the chair would be flung around the taxi and the end result would be a catastrophe. And thankfully each of them had no interest in arguing the point and set about discovering how to use the straps.
Our accommodation in Darwin was very comfortable and the wheelchair accessible rooms served the purpose nicely. In both places there was access to the poolside which was wonderful as a dip into the water was a welcome relief to the hot conditions. However, there were no ramps into the pools so one’s ability to get in will depend upon your own mobility or the strength of your companion.
The city itself was very easy to get around. The pathways on the whole had lots of easy to access curbs on the corners and the shops, restaurants and hotels had made a conscious effort to provide access for those of us who use wheelchairs to get around. And as I have said so many times before, these easy to access pathways are just as attractive for mums and dads wheeling child laden prams which emphasises the fiscal good sense it makes from a tourism perspective to have an accessible environment.
I stayed in the heart of Darwin which meant that I could walk to most places easily. I was only an easy stroll from Bicentennial Park which has a gorgeous esplanade that runs along the western foreshore. The park boasts super vantage points from which to see the water views and take in spellbinding sunsets that bleed deep into the evening sky.
Throughout the park there are memorials dedicated to the event which shook all Australia during the Second World War when Darwin was bombed in 1942. The plaques and information plates spaced throughout the park tell the story of that day on which a Japanese bomber sank twenty one of the forty six ships in the Harbour killing two hundred and forty three people.
Darwin’s Parliament House was well worth a visit too. It is a beautiful building and reminded me of the Australian Parliament House in Canberra, though much smaller of course. Having been opened in 1994 it is very new and has a wonderful feel about it. The Parliament House cafe was a bit of a favourite of mine as one could sit in the shade and have a good coffee and look out over the harbour and feel very at ease with the world.
In order to get to the Marina at Cullen Bay I caught a taxi although it would have been walkable had the heat not been such a killer around lunch time. It is a picturesque spot with plenty of boats moored around the water’s edge upon which the various restaurants and cafes are based. It was extremely accessible and a great place to while away a few lazy hours over lunch.
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory was another taxi ride away and was well worth the visit. The MAGNT is set in a tropical garden on Darwin Harbour at Bullocky Point and it boasts a collection of the region's art, history and culture. The natural history collection is just wonderful and certainly marked my favourite part of the museum.
The Deckchair Cinema seemed like a good attraction to enjoy one balmy evening so we set forth to take part in the experience. The outdoor setting, on the edge of Darwin Harbour is absolutely stunning. However, I recommend that you don’t try to walk there if you rely on a wheelchair of any description for your mobility. It is a long winding way down a rather steep incline that does not have a footpath suitable for wheelchairs, therefore I had to remain on the road. A taxi to and from the cinema is relatively inexpensive and certainly the safest means of getting there.
The Darwin Film Society ensure the cinema runs seven nights a week during the dry season screening a range of movies from family favourites to festivals and foreign films.
The kiosk sells wine – by the glass or bottle – beer, soft drinks and snacks as well as a range of Deckchair merchandise. The box office and kiosk open at 6.30pm every night allowing plenty of time to enjoy the atmosphere. When we were there a woman was selling homemade curries to the movie goers but I did not partake in the tucker. I was looking forward to a late feed at the Moorish Cafe in town after the film was over.
It was pretty hot when we were there and it seemed that the air did not move freely as the trees seemed to prevent a coastal breeze from cooling us all down. So when you go be smart enough to hydrate and take some areoguard in order to fight away the mosquitoes that might otherwise choose to feed upon you!
The ambience at the open air cinema is very laid back and relaxed as you would expect. Unlike the one that is held in Sydney at the Botanic Gardens during summer the crowds were not overwhelming. There are 250 deckchairs as well as about 100 straight-backed seats. Although there are designated ‘parking positions’ for people who use wheelchairs I pushed up into the gravel and stayed on the edge of the seating and half way towards the screen. This allowed me to be amongst it without blocking anyone’s view of the film.
Taking to the air: Albatross Helicopters
I was determined that I would get to see part of the Northern Territory from a helicopter. However, my desire to do so was not easily realised. The helipads are quite some distance outside of Darwin which means a taxi trip is prohibitive. However, the people at Albatross Helicopters do have a helipad at Noonamah which is roughly 40 kilometres south of Darwin. As there is no other wheelchair accessible transport I was forced to use a taxi and it cost just short of $100 one way, however, it was worth the effort.
Upon arrival I knew we had got the right crew because the Getaway team from Channel 9 were there and blasting off towards a fishing spot in the hinterland. Despite the crushing realisation that the television crew was not there for me I was very excited to get into our chopper and take to the skies!
As you can tell from the photographs the chopper in which we flew was just a small craft and there were no doors. Strapped into my seat my ability to see out was superb and as the helicopter began to lift my heart lodged in my throat!
The seventy minute flight across the flood plains and over the Adelaide River included our pilot taking us with swooping drops over buffalo and wild pigs that scattered with our presence. The beautiful magpie geese and other feathered creatures were spectacular to as they flew below us across the water.
It was exhilarating stuff and the best way to take in the sprawling vastness of the territory.
Kitchener Drive Wharf Precinct
Phone +61 8 8941 4377
Fax +61 8 8981 9755
Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
19 Conacher Street, Bullocky Point, Darwin
Phone +61 8 8999 8264
Fax +61 8 8999 8289
Spanish and North African Cuisine. Tapas available, late night kitchen.
Location 37 Knuckey Street Darwin.
Phone 08 89810010
Fax 08 89814942
Keep Moving (to hire shower chairs and other mobility aid equipment
Phone (08) 8948 5211
Golden Glow Corporation (Carers)
Phone (08) 894272756
Saville Park Suites Darwin
88 The Esplanade Darwin NT 0800
Phone (08) 8943 4333
Crowne Plaza Hotel
32 MITCHELL STREET Darwin NT 0800
City Radio Taxis
Phone (08) 8981 3777
Stuart Highway, Noonamah NT
PO Box 2157 Palmerston NT 0831
Phone (+61) 08 8988 5081
Fax (+61) 08 8988 5083
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