This summer is the time to explore all the great tourist attractions that New Zealand has to offer. We’re celebrating some of the most accessible.
What if New Zealand became the most accessible tourist destination in the world? That’s the conversation we started in 2011, launching our organisation alongside the Rugby World Cup and looking at how the country would host the thousands of visitors with access needs. Since then, we’ve been working with tourist attractions through our One-Stop Shop to help them improve their accessibility.
Before Covid-19, tourism was New Zealand's largest export industry. And we are still open to visitors, even if the focus, for now, is on domestic tourism. This summer, we want to celebrate the access improvements made by some of our key visitor attractions. They are all very different destinations but what they have in common is their level of engagement and the positive feedback they’ve received from access customers.
So let’s hear it for the top tourist attractions around the country and what they’re doing well. Here are the top ten accessible tourist attractions by region
A collection of gardens alongside the Waikato River that showcase the story of garden design. Hamilton Gardens has a dedicated accessibility page on their website, with an invitation to phone or email for further helps. This includes information about pathway gradients and how to hire a mobility scooter or wheelchair. They also make sure that you know that assistance dogs are welcome. Their latest accessible feature is one of the first in New Zealand – a Changing Places bathroom for adults with access needs.
A tourist attraction for over 125 years where visitors travel through the caves by boat to see thousands of glow worms in their natural habitat. There are accessible toilets and café on site.
Ruakuri Cave has full wheelchair and pushchair access – in fact, it is one of the few wheelchair and pushchair accessible caves in the world. The 1.5 hour journey allows you to see glow worms right up close.
This thermal pools and spa complex has been extended over recent years with a noticeable focus on improving overall accessibility. There is good wheelchair access around the complex including a wheelchair ramp access on one pool and there are aqua chair/lifts available on many of the pools. There are changing rooms with space for caregivers of children and anyone with access needs to help with changing, showering and toileting.
Five heated pools with beachside views. Accessibility features include ramp access into the active fitness pool and hoists for other hot pools, handrails to support entry into every pool and a water wheelchair available. The website invites you to speak to our friendly staff at reception, or make them aware on your booking note, about any support you might need during your visit.
Most of the tour is suitable for all access customers. All tours are accessible to visitors using a wheelchair or with a buggy. Tours with an NZSL tour guide can be arranged in advance – there’s even a NZSL video (with captions) that tells you about it.
The Museum of New Zealand has a comprehensive accessibility page on its website, with an invitation “When you’re here ask our friendly Hosts for help at any time”. It also has a dedicated NZSL page to help visitors who are hard of hearing or Deaf to plan their visit.
There are free guided tours designed for visitors with visual impairments. Most areas are accessible to visitors using wheelchairs, mobility vehicles and pushchairs. These include cafes and stores, all exhibitions and most toilets. You can also hire wheelchairs or a mobility scooter.
A 120-metre high funicular railway ride to the hills overlooking the central city. The entrances and exits are specially designed with wide gates suitable for prams, bikes, mobility scooters and wheelchairs, and there are ramps at the top boarding platforms at all stations. It also allows assistance dogs.
These council-run pools have an all-inclusive accessibility policy with hoist and ramp access and accessible change rooms, including one designed for higher needs. Two waterproof wheelchairs are available. The centre is all on one level and easy to navigate with automated sliding doors and wide passageway.
The centre offers a wide range of accessibility features and programmes to suit all ages and abilities. The staff are warm and friendly and are well trained to respond to all access customer needs. A speaker system is used to communicate key information, and braille and tactile methods are used to indicate location. Support animals are welcomed on the premises.
Spectacular gardens with a distinctive South Pacific flavour and including 10 hectares of native forest. The gardens have accessible car parks, and wheelchairs and mobility scooters free to borrow. Most paths in the gardens are accessible for wheelchair users, pushchairs and mobility scooters, and the knowledgeable staff are able to assist visitors with access needs. Visitor Guides are available in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. All assistance animals are welcome.
An extensive collection of national and international art which, despite being housed in a heritage building, is able to provide an accessible route to most facilities. All areas of the gallery are accessible by wheelchair or by pram, and there are lifts to all exhibition spaces. The lifts have braille floor numbers and an automated recording telling you which level the lift has stopped at. Daily guided tours are available, and accompanying carers are given complimentary entry.
If you run a tourist attraction, check out our tips on becoming more accessible to all your visitors.