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My Experience Backpacking Australia’s East Coast as a Wheelchair User

Say g’day to Charlotte! A 26 year old from Belgium, who’s just finished her first experience backpacking Australia’s East Coast as a wheelchair user. Charlotte’s motto is ‘Everything happens for a reason’. After becoming paralysed at the age of 17, she therefore believes that becoming an advocate for people with disabilities is her purpose. Charlotte wants to share her story and hopefully inspire others to travel and explore.

We had the pleasure of hosting Charlotte at Wake Up Sydney during her travels. Now, we’re even luckier to have her share us in on all the details of her East Coast Australia backpacking trip. From her itinerary, to where she stayed (including what accommodation she found to be accessible and wheelchair-friendly), and her insights along the way, Charlotte has written all the details below!

Charlotte’s Australian Itinerary

As the airplane touched down on the sun-kissed runway of Sydney Airport, I couldn’t contain the mix of excitement and nervousness that surged through me. My journey to Australia was a leap into the unknown. A leap that, as a wheelchair user, carried a unique set of challenges and triumphs. The purpose of my trip was to reunite with my childhood best friend. He had embarked on a two-year adventure Down Under. As I arrived into Sydney, my heart raced with anticipation for the moments of joy, the new territories I was about to explore, and the unique bond with my best friend that transcended time and distance.

Sydney

Time spent: 7 days

In the heart of Sydney, my wheels found a welcoming home at Wake Up Hostel. It was a haven of accessibility, fun, and newfound friendships. Navigating Wake Up Hostel was a breeze, thanks to well-designed ramps, accessible bathrooms, elevators and spacious common areas that catered to guests with diverse mobility needs. The accessible accommodations were thoughtfully designed, ensuring that every aspect of my stay was comfortable and convenient. The hostel’s commitment to inclusivity extended beyond their infrastructure — it was also the staff’s attitude and the vibrant community that made me feel at home.

My best friend and I started exploring the city by using the tram to get up to the waterfront. Navigating Sydney’s public transport as a wheelchair user was surprisingly smooth. They have accessible features and well-designed facilities, making my journeys hassle-free.

The Sydney Opera House, was my first must-see stop in Sydney. After exploring that area I went to the Royal Botanic Garden which was super beautiful. It was also easy to navigate, thanks to the well-maintained pathways that made the exploration remarkably wheelchair-friendly.

We also went on a trip to Manly Beach by boat which provided a unique perspective of Sydney’s coastline. Manly offered a day of relaxation by the shores to prepare for a very challenging event later that week… I was joining my first ever marathon!

Joining a local marathon not only tested my limits but also connected me with a community of fellow enthusiasts. The city’s commitment to inclusivity and accessible arrangements seamlessly blended with the marathon madness, creating an atmosphere of shared accomplishment. Navigating the challenging course proved exhausting. But the cheers of fellow participants and the supportive atmosphere pushed me forward. The motivation among runners, combined with the breathtaking cityscape as a backdrop, made every challenging moment worthwhile. Crossing the finish line in my first-ever Sydney marathon was a personal triumph. It made my trip a winning game already.

After the marathon, it was time to rest up a bit. We took a road trip to Palm Beach and spent a few sunrises and beach days at Bondi Beach. We also ended up doing the Bondi to Coogee Costal Walk. This walk was not at all accessible and very challenging. But with strong friends who pushed me and carried me where the steps were too high, we made it work!

Rolling through Sydney’s lively streets, I found a city that welcomed everyone. My trip full of good memories and shared adventures. Saying goodbye to this friendly place, I take with me not just memories of famous spots, but also the kindness of the people and the unforgettable Sydney marathon.

Byron Bay

Time spent: 6 days

Nestled in the laid-back vibes of Byron Bay, my six-day stay at The Surf House unfolded as the perfect next chapter in my Australian journey. This welcoming haven was very accessible. It offered a clean, prime location for exploration, full of engaging activities, becoming a hub where newfound friendships blossomed.

Ascending to the iconic lighthouse was a highlight. The trails were accessible but steep, making the journey do-able with a little push from my friends. The trek rewarded me not only with breathtaking coastal views where we got to see dolphins and whales but also a delightful encounter with a koala, adding a touch of Australian wildlife magic to my Byron Bay experience.

A lot of exciting beach days followed. Byron Bay’s beaches have a relaxed atmosphere and inclusive facilities, which became the backdrop for lazy afternoons and vibrant sunsets. Playing games at the hostel pool, talking for hours to new and old friends and listening to live music of street artists made every day feel too short.

Taking a break from the sun-soaked days, shopping in Byron’s eclectic markets and boutiques became a delightful pastime. The accessibility of local shops ensured that I could indulge in the town’s unique offerings, from handmade crafts to beach-inspired fashion.

Exploring the local nightlife added a dash of excitement to my evenings. From live music in beachside bars to the vibrant energy of dance floors, Byron Bay’s accessible nightlife showcased the town’s diverse and inclusive spirit, allowing me to partake in the lively atmosphere.

Back at The Surf House, evenings were equally entertaining as I engaged in friendly games of pool with fellow travellers. The hostel’s communal spaces facilitated games and daily ‘Happy Hour’. It was like a social hub where stories were shared, laughter echoed, and friendships flourished.

Surfers Paradise

Time spent: 1 day

Our day in Surfers Paradise was spent shopping, exploring, and chasing sunsets. Navigating the vibrant streets, we immersed ourselves in the area’s charm, culminating in a serene sunset by the lake. However, we struggled to find an accessible hostel and ended up spending a night in a unaccessible one. This made Surfers Paradise a destination best enjoyed for its daytime allure rather than overnight accommodations for wheelchair users.

Brisbane

Time spent: 3 days

Spending three days in Brisbane was a delightful break from the coastal towns in our Australian adventure. A bit outside the city’s bustle, we found some peace and quiet in the PA Apartments. These apartments had great wheelchair-accessible facilities. While a bit more expensive, the break from hostel life was a needed retreat, providing comfort and relaxation that allowed us to recharge for the last stop ahead.

Embracing the city’s urban charm, we wandered through the streets, discovering the vibrant culture of Brisbane. The adventure kicked off with a visit to the enchanting Fairy Pools. This is a hidden gem that welcomed us with refreshing waters and a touch of magic. A ferry ride along the Brisbane River provided a unique perspective of the cityscape, offering a picturesque journey as we hopped from one riverside spot to another.

As evenings descended, we found ourselves at Felons, a captivating bar nestled by the water. The combination of Brisbane’s skyline, the cool river breeze, and the lively atmosphere at Felons created the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable night.

Noosa

Time spent: 5 days

For our five days at Noosa Heads, we nestled in the Serenity Apartments which was unfortunately also not that accessible. There were a few steps to get into the building as well as to get to the pool. But due to a last-minute booking, we didn’t have another option so we made it work anyhow.

Besides this minor inconvenience we had an amazing stay in Noosa. We embarked on a memorable hike up the national park. Each step not only revealed breathtaking views but also treated us to a marine spectacle: we saw whales, dolphins and turtles exploring the ocean.

Renting a boat for a day became a highlight of our stay. We navigated the crystal-clear waters and enjoyed refreshing swims in the rivers of Noosa. We also got to explore the Botanical Garden, did a BBQ on the beach, went out to brunch a few times and went for several walks through the town.

Evenings in Noosa brought a different kind of magic as we explored the vibrant nightlife. The accessibility limitations of our accommodation faded into the background as we embraced the lively atmosphere and shared in the joy of newfound experiences.


Navigating challenges, embracing unexpected moments, and forming friendships along the way, my Australian adventure was a mosaic of experiences that transcended the limitations of accessibility. For me, it proved that the true essence of travel lies in the unstoppable spirit to explore, adapt, and find joy in every journey.


Travelling to Noosa and Australia East Coast as a wheelchair user backpacking tips recommendations where to stay accessibility
About Charlotte Aelbrecht

Charlotte is a 26 year old girl from Belgium. Besides playing wheelchairtennis and going out with friends she loves to travel and explore the world, always searching for a piece of untouched nature, a new culture and a new story to tell. Her motto is ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ After becoming paralysed at the age of 17, she therefore believes that becoming an advocate for people with disabilities is her purpose and wants to share her story and hopefully inspire others to travel and explore. 

accessibility, accessible travel, east coast australia

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