Our Members - Their Stories

MDANZ members share their personal stories of living with a Muscular Dystrophy condition. 

The road to recovery - Michelle's road trip

06 January 2021
Melanie Louden

Dr Michelle Smith didn't let Covid-19 get in the way of her holiday plans. Michelle and her husband Blair switched the Mediterranean for the South Island and learnt that there are plenty of accessible options open to travellers in New Zealand who are willing to ask the right questions. 

Michelle and her husband Blair stopped for lunch at Te Mahia on Kenepuru Sound. 

While NZ is still feeling the impact of Covid-19, at least we can move around freely, although with caution and increased hygiene as our travelling companions 

Domestic tourism is our road to recovery. Taking a break and seeing our beautiful backyard is good for our economy and for the soul. It helps us heal emotionally, socially and physically.  

When I wrote this, my husband Blair and I should be cruising the Mediterranean – a bucket list trip we had been planning and saving for, for years.  

As Covid scuppered that plan, we decided to explore the South Island. Between late October and early November 2020, we spent a wonderful three weeks traversing 4000km, absorbing breath-taking scenery; enjoying wonderful experiences; catching up with family and friends; eating fabulous food and staying in some lovely accommodation. 

I love planning trips and, as usual, I did a lot of research into accessible activities and accommodations. We took our own vehicle, so that was one less thing to have to consider.  

We travelled from Hawke’s Bay to Wellington where we stayed the night before catching an early ferry to Picton. First time on the ferry, and we were most impressed with the Interislander from booking to check-in to overall access onboard. The Kaitaki is a newer vessel and the most accessible of the company’s three ferries

Our road trip saw us stop in Blenheim; Geraldine; Tekapo; Wanaka; Queenstown; Te Anau; Oamaru; Ohoka and Picton 

The Cardrona Hotel near Wanaka; a cheeky Kea on the Milford Sound road; The Old School Enfield, near Oamaru.

Wheelchair accessibility is important to us, and many questions are asked of accommodation providers. The perfect accessible accommodation is hard to find, but we hit the mark pretty close on most of our motels, hotels and B&Bs.  

We stayed in a couple of historic properties – being a trained historian, old buildings fascinate me and when they are accessible, I just have to stay in them!  

Even when not fully accessible (i.eplastic outdoor chair in shower rather than a fixed seat), such as the Old School north of Oamaru, by asking the right questions of the owners we knew we could manage with a little more effort.  

I was determined to stay in this lovingly restored historic building, and we were not disappointed.  

In fact, the owners asked my advice on the type of seating for the shower – due to the size of the bathroom and the configuration of the wet-area space it could not take a fixed seat - and ordered a height-adjustable shower chair while we were there!  

Wineries, museums, historic settlements, river walks, snow-capped mountains, vast oceans, seals, penguins, blue lakes, steamships, and gushing waterfalls only hint at the things we saw and did.  

The Old Vicarage in Geraldine; Lake Wakitipu near Walter's Peak, taken from TSS Earnslaw; Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo.

We ate at some great cafes and restaurants – Rata in Queenstown and Nin’s Bin on the Kaikoura coast were particular favourites.  

We took the scenic routes - highways 70, 72 and 8 - to get a sense of mainland New Zealand. Vast valleys and towering mountains gave way to lush farmland before changing to rocky outcrops and heather clad hills.  

So many highlights, such as the stunning beauty and the Church of the Good Shepherd at Tekapo, the majesty of Milford Sound and the little Blue Penguins of Oamaru who sat at my feet, but sadly there is not enough space to write about them here.  

However, I am happy to be contacted via the MDANZ if anyone would like further information, recommendations, or our full itinerary. 

We were most impressed by the willingness of accommodation hosts, tour operators and the general public to assist in making things work for us, particularly when accessibility was limited.  

The Dark Sky Crater Experience in Tekapo and the cruise on Milford Sound are two such examples whereby with some forward thinking and burly guides/employees to assist, experiences usually inaccessible became very much do-able. Barriers can be broken down and often there is an adventure to be had in doing so.  

Blair and Michelle at Milford Sound.

Even when accessibility was good, the friendliness and exceptional customer service we received made every experience memorable. 

We do live in a stunningly beautiful place and I encourage you to get out and explore if and when you can. 


Dr Michelle Smith is the Community Coordinator for the East Coast District of MDANZ’s Central Region and has facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy 

* This story was originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of In Touch magazine. 


For more information please contact:    
Melanie Louden 
Communications and Marketing Advisor 
Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand 
027 509 8774 
[email protected]