May, 2010

May 10

A review of Clark Bay Cottages – Narooma

This post appeared in a different version in the magazine Out & About With Kids – highly recommended. Visit

The advertising flyer for Clark Bay Cottages says ‘another day in paradise’ and that parallels my memory of Narooma; the town where I grew up, but then spent 20 years away. Those memories were long before having kids, long before our son, Daniel, was diagnosed with Autism, and long before I used a wheelchair. I was fascinated to see how it would work now.

Clark Bay Cottages

Clark Bay Cottages

Family holidays can be a challenge for us, especially finding suitable accommodation. As well as needing wheelchair access, we need to satisfy Daniel’s sensory needs. He loves water, so we need a pool. He loves being in the bush, so we look for a bush setting. Above all, he needs space – to run, jump, yell … and just to be free and safe. Clark Bay Cottages are ideal. The pool is gorgeous, looking as it does over Wagonga Inlet; one of the prettiest stretches of water you’ll find. There’s also a mechanical hoist into the pool and spa. The entire place is ramped, allowing a wheelchair user to explore any part of the facilities, including the games room and tennis courts.

Clark Bay Pool

Clark Bay Pool

Clark Bay is set on 20 acres of partially-cleared temperate rainforest, so there are many places to bushwalk, explore and just be close to nature. It is incredibly quiet. Often, the only sound is bellbirds calling. We noticed how calm and relaxed Daniel was there and wondered how much the stress and noise of the city affects his behavior.

Narooma also claims to have the mildest climate in the country, and it’s a claim I believe.

The four cabins have been built on ‘universal design’ principles, which means they are completely wheelchair-friendly, including rails in the bathroom, wheel-under kitchen benches and one cabin has a hoist from bedroom to shower. There are many other thoughtful touches, including electromagnetic cooktops, fully adjustable kitchen benches, 1/4 turn batwing taps and electronically adjustable beds. Despite these excellent facilities, nothing about Clark Bay Cottages is unsuitable for families without special needs. For most families, it’s just a great place for a holiday.

The town of Narooma is also a surprise. It’s a hilly place, but the local council and businesses have done a great job of making nearly everything accessible including shops, cafes (including some very good coffee) and services. Every park we visited (there are several excellent playgrounds and picnic spots right by the water) had accessible toilets. A special treat is the boardwalk that has been built from the centre of town, north to Bar Beach; a distance of six kilometres. It’s all accessible and hugs the water the whole way. While undertaking this walk, our kids were fascinated to watch a huge Stingray feeding in the shallows.  

Narooma is a little far from Sydney (5 hours drive) to receive weekend visitors. And that’s part of the beauty of the place. Life moves at a different pace there. Once you’ve arrived, reward yourself and stay a week.

May 10

Million Paws Walk – Sydney Olympic Park

They call it the ‘friendliest event of the year’ and this is one case where the spin meets the substance.

Let me explain.

I walk our dog, Blossom, a 2 ½-year-old Golden Retriever, most days. She’s a good girl now, well past her rambunctious puppy stage, and unless she spots a cat sunning itself, is happy to trot along at a fair pace beside my powerchair. She rarely pulls, sits for road crossings, and joyously says hello to any dog we pass on the footpath (even the small yappy ones who look more like lunch than dogs). People often mistake her for an assistance dog, and she plays along.

The bane of any trip is when she stops to answer the call of nature. Remarkably, she manages to do this nearly every trip, no matter of the time of day or night, or when she has previously eaten. She seems to bottle it up all day. I’m a responsible dog owner, so I always carry bags and a pooper scooper, as I can’t reach the ground from my chair. But it’s a bit of a business, requiring dexterity, especially in a wind. And all the while I’m trying to coordinate bag and scooper, Bloss stands impatiently, whimpering as if she has no idea what has possessed me to stop and pick up this rubbish from the medium strip.

It’s funny, but no-one ever stops to offer to help with this task, even other dog walkers passing by. That’s fine; I don’t ask for help, but it is surprising. In the rest of my life, people offer help all the time. If I stop to adjust my feet on the footplate, someone appears and asks if I’m ok. Ditto if I get a text message and stop to answer it.

Which brings me back to the Million Paws Walk.

This year, as Bloss and I were travelling just in front of ANZ Stadium, en route to the starting point, she stopped and squatted. As I reached for my bags, a guy came out of nowhere and said ‘no problem mate, I’ve got it’. I thanked him profusely and we continued our journey. The friendliest event of the year had lived up to its slogan.

The Walk is held at Sydney Olympic Park, so as well as being dog heaven, it’s a wheelie paradise. Everything is accessible, there are accessible toilets everywhere, there are even places to stop and recharge. The Walk takes you from The Overflow, out through the Wetlands, and back past the Brickpit. It’s a pretty 4km walk, on a stable dirt surface, all with a gentle gradient, and easy in a chair or on a scooter.

Back at The Overflow, there are displays and dog washing, and lots for the kids to do. All up, it’s a great day out for the whole family, regardless of whether they have 2 or 4 legs, or wheels.

May 10

The Perils of Sleeping on Trains…

My train trip to the office takes about 40 minutes. The other day – caused partly by lack of caffeine – I decided to recline my chair and have a quick snooze. Just in case, I set my phone alarm for 30 minutes hence. I was aware of people coming and going from the car as we stopped at stations, so I must have been sleeping very lightly. I could hear people around me talking. Then, I heard one say ‘do you think he’s dead?’. I was surprised, amused, but chose not to open my eyes. As we pulled into Central, one of the chatterers jumped off the train and alerted an attendant – there was a dead man in a wheelchair on the train! This broke me out of my slumber, and I was very much awake. And alive. But it was too late. Railway staff were everywhere. I was asked by everyone if I now felt ok. I was told the ambulance was on the way. Thoroughly flustered, I managed to type ‘I am fine. I was ASLEEP’ and showed it to anyone who would look. Things calmed down, and everyone left. I closed my eyes, but not to sleep. I just wanted to be left alone.

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