Everybody loves a holiday or day out in Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast region. So if you’re lucky enough to visit as part of your job, you’ve really hit the jackpot. Spinal Life Australia Advocacy Officer, Lachy Chapman recently found himself in exactly that position, when he was asked to create the Sunshine Coast Accessible Tourism Review (released April 2021).
The brief? To review some of the tourism offerings in the Sunshine Coast region (in this case, mostly in the hinterland region), and then provide feedback about their accessibility.
The goal is for this feedback to be used by the local Council, tourism operators and others to help make changes that will make the Sunshine Coast region an even more accessible destination in the future. It’s a win-win: not just for people wanting to enjoy an accessible holiday, but also for local businesses who might not currently recognise the economic potential associated with accessible tourism.
We asked Lachy to list some of his eye-opening and hugely helpful findings here:
Lachy’s top 5 accessible things to see and do on the Sunshine Coast right now
- Australia Zoo
Located in Beerwah, about an hour north of Brisbane, everybody knows of Steve Irwin’s extraordinary legacy. The award-winning zoo is enormous and you’ll need one or two days to fully experience it. The good news is, they’ve clearly gone to a lot of effort to make everything as accessible as possible, all while preserving the natural landscape. It’s relatively easy to get around in a wheelchair as there are very few steep hills, but there’s a safari shuttle if you want help accessing the zoo’s more remote areas. The famous Crocoseum arena features a lift to the upper level, plus accessible seating and big screens for people with vision impairment. We also experienced animal encounters with meerkats, koalas and giraffes, all of which were accessible to me in my manual wheelchair. It’s obvious that a lot of thoughtful planning has taken place in order to make the zoo as inclusive as possible. australiazoo.com.au
This charming little town surrounded by rainforest and perched on the Blackall Range is about 90 minutes from Brisbane. It’s a fantastic place to visit, with an old-fashioned vibe and lots of arts and crafts galleries, fudge and sweet shops, and cafes for high tea. Don’t miss the beautiful Russell Family Park – it’s a lovely place for families, with a large children’s park and several areas where you can enjoy a barbecue or picnic, and it’s almost completely wheelchair-accessible, with pathways winding through the trees and around a large lagoon. There are still improvements to be made in Montville, but it’s far more accessible than I had imagined, especially considering the natural terrain and ‘vintage’ style of the town.
- Queensland Air Museum
Australia’s largest heritage air museum is located in Caloundra, and is an absolute must, even for people who don’t consider themselves to be aviation enthusiasts. You’ll need at least two hours to fully appreciate everything on show here, including a real F-111 and more than 80 other aircraft. This fantastic museum boasts good accessibility features, and the whole thing seems even more impressive when you learn it’s a not-for-profit, community-owned museum run entirely by volunteers. qam.com.au
- Sea Life Sunshine Coast
Located in Mooloolaba, this award-winning aquarium is a delightful, family-friendly experience. Fascinating exhibits include a colony of the smallest species of penguin and an 80-metre-long ocean tunnel where huge rays and grey nurse sharks swim all around you. There’s designated accessible seating at the must-see seal presentation, and at the interactive Tidal Touchpool you can actually touch marine creatures. Although this is inaccessible to wheelchair users, staff placed some of the sea stars and sea urchins into a container and brought the exhibit to me, which was very thoughtful and inclusive, and I’m sure children with a disability would be delighted by this hands-on experience.
- Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve Rainforest Discovery Centre
Overlooking the Glass House Mountains, the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve is a truly special spot in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. The gateway to this precious 55-hectare reserve – one of the last remaining pockets of the subtropical rainforest that once covered the Blackall Range – is the Rainforest Discovery Centre. It’s a new building with very good accessibility, and thanks to the well thought-out design I was able to partake in most of its multi-sensory, interactive displays and activities. There’s lift access to the upper level, where you can take in the breathtaking views from fixed binoculars. They even have some at just the right height for a wheelchair user – this is very rare to see and I was delighted to be able to enjoy them with my son.
Lachy’s top 5 changes to make things on the Sunshine Coast more accessible
- Eumundi Markets
The historic town of Eumundi is famous for its artisan markets, where you’ll find all sorts of locally made and grown products, food and drink stalls, seating areas and local musical talent. Set among Heritage-Listed fig trees, most of the market is shaded so it’s pleasant even on a hot day. The south corner of the original market area has a good accessible bathroom, wide pathways between vendors and good-quality ramps to access the different levels. But as you travel north towards Caplick Park and across Napier Road the stalls are closer together and cluttered, and the pathways become narrow – if you’re using a mobility device, it’s tight. The path to the Pavilion Markets, across Memorial Drive, is dangerously steep, making this section completely inaccessible. These areas need addressing to make the markets truly accessible. eumundimarkets.com.au
- Alexandra Headland beach
The great beach at the family-friendly coastal town of Alexandra Headland was the only one reviewed for this report, but we give very similar feedback at nearly every beach we visit: there’s room for improvement when it comes to accessible beach matting, beach wheelchairs and providing surf lifesavers with quality training so that they have a better understanding of the needs of people with a disability. At Alexandra Headland, the council has invested in beach matting at the patrolled beach, but it wasn’t out when I visited. When I asked why, the surf lifesavers said there’s no need for it, as two different kinds of beach wheelchairs are now available. This perfectly highlights why education is so important. Beach wheelchairs are fantastic, but they don’t negate the need for beach matting: without it, you’re still completely dependent on others to get down to the beach. And the matting isn’t just for wheelchair users: it also helps the elderly and anyone else who struggles to walk safely across soft sand. The purpose of beach matting is to make the beach truly accessible to everyone.
- Mary Cairncross Rainforest Walk
I’ve already sung the praises of the Mary Cairncross Rainforest Discovery Centre [previous page], and was looking forward to getting out onto the Rainforest Walk. There are several options, depending on your level of ability, including the 1.3km wheelchair-friendly Pademelon Loop which has no steep hills and is step-free. This is a beautiful walk, with tree ferns, towering native fig trees, regular sightings of native birds and pademelons, and volunteer guides to answer questions and point out interesting things you wouldn’t normally notice in the forest. Unfortunately, the 1.7km Rainforest Loop is not wheelchair-friendly, with a small section that features three or four small sets of stairs. Making this walk 100% wheelchair-friendly is definitely on my list of things to change.
Famous for its rolling hills and breathtaking views, Maleny is a quaint and eclectic town in the Blackall Range, about 30km southwest of Caloundra. But for wheelchair users, Maleny is a difficult place to navigate. The main shopping and dining precinct is located on a very steep hill, and many shopfronts have step entrances. Some cafés and shops are accessible via narrow laneways or quaint staircases, which fit with the style of the town but make accessibility in a mobility device very difficult, if not impossible. And everywhere other than this small shopping and dining precinct can be difficult to access thanks to a lack of connecting footpaths and curb ramps. Improving accessibility to this area as a whole should be a priority of the council.
I loved my skydiving adventure with 1300Skydive. From my physical assessment prior to the jump to the big day itself, the entire team were amazing and extremely accommodating. Skydiving was an incredible, breathtaking experience and I had a big grin on my face the entire time. We landed on the beach at Currimundi Lake, where extra staff were on hand to help lower me to the ground, and a beach wheelchair helped me off the sand. My partner met me there with our car, as the small bus that transports skydivers back to the base is not accessible for wheelchair users. This is one thing that could be remedied, but the main thing is the need to dispel the misconception that people with a C-spine injury can’t participate like I did. It’s simply not always the case. We need to work together and educate operators to help make this amazing experience available for more thrill-seekers with mobility impairments. 1300skydive.com.au. Lachy’s review was funded by a grant from the Sunshine Coast Regional Council.