When Occupational Therapist Marina Hanger found herself designing and leading wilderness and adventure programmes for people with visual impairments, she had no idea it would result in her running her own business.
Ability Adventures was founded in 2008 as a way to support people with disabilities and older people to enjoy the adventure of travel. As tour planner, Marina now focuses on creating tailored accessible tours and disability travel services. “I love the fact that I get to break down the barriers that prevent people from experiencing all that New Zealand has to offer,” says Marina, who has over thirty years’ experience as an occupational therapist working with people with a wide range of disabilities. “I prefer to find solutions to overcome obstacles, which comes from my background as an OT.”
Marina’s occupational therapist experience plays a huge part in planning a tour or holiday itinerary with suitable activities and as well as accommodation, travel, and dietary needs. Knowing what needs there are to be considered and how to identify solutions allows people to go beyond ‘playing it safe’ with a cocooned trip.
One such trip involved a family from Sydney who wanted an inclusive family holiday to enable the whole family to interact and participate equally in the experience. The brief was for an 18-day tour of the South Island of New Zealand with four young children, one adult who is a wheelchair user with a significant physical disability, as well as another adult.
The trip was 8 months in the planning and involved a lot of communication to establish both the specific needs of each family member and what types of things would make the trip truly memorable for everyone.
The holiday encompassed the lower half of the South Island beginning in Christchurch, taking the Lewis Pass to the West Coast – Wanaka, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Dunedin, and back to Christchurch.
Because the family lived in an apartment in the centre of a large city, Marina could tell they would get great pleasure from some of the simpler things like boiling the billy for a cuppa and having picnics in the bush, exploring trails, staying in small country towns. “It’s about putting the experience first and then finding a way to make it happen.”
The range of activities included swimming in hot thermal spas, kayaking, helicopter rides over Franz Joseph glacier, bushwalking, BBQing, picnicking, gondola rides, boating, and more. In almost all activities the wheelchair user was involved.
At first, the clients thought Ability Adventures was very ambitious with the itinerary they were presented, but their misgivings were soon set at rest.
“It takes an enormous amount of trust to book a holiday with an overseas tour company. This is particularly true when a member of your party has a substantial disability. Concerns ranging from the suitability of the transport, accommodation, bathroom access, activities all play a big part in the decision-making process. Ability adventures surpassed all of our expectations and some. We would recommend Ability Adventures to anyone wanting a fully inclusive holiday experience.” Jess and Rob Silberstein (Australia).
Another of her most memorable assignments is when Marina organised a tandem biking adventure for a group of three blind and vision-impaired friends.
The 5-day trip began near New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki/Mt Cook in the South Island’s Southern Alps and finished 300km away in the seaside town of Oamaru. The ride followed an epic mix of off-road tracks, purposed built cycle trails, unsealed and sealed roads, past stunning glacial-fed lakes and snow-capped peaks before following along the country’s main Hydro-Electric System through to an incredible area of rock and fossil formations.
The group was supported by 3 pilot riders and a support vehicle/driver. “The cycling was predominantly downhill, descending 780 meters over the course of the trail before reaching the Pacific Ocean at the finish,” says Marina who organized and led the journey.
Although by the end everyone was grateful to be sitting on something other than a bike seat, all were buzzing from the challenge and excitement of the trip.
“You should always be testing your limits, or you will never know what you are capable of.”
“Thank you so much for a fabulous, fun, physical, and exciting week. It exceeded our expectations. See you on the next trip.” Love Sue, Den, and Gary