Mt Maunganui is leading the country in rolling out an access mat, enabling wheelchair access to the beach.
Sixty metres of the 1.5 metre-wide polyester matting, that works well on soft sand and undulating surfaces, has just been rolled out at Mt Maunganui ready for summer.
Halberg Trust Disability Sport adviser Cherryl Thompson confirmed it is the first beach access mat in New Zealand. She had been “inundated” with letters of support since the mat was trialled at Mt Maunganui last summer.
Tauranga tetraplegic Amanda Lowry is one of the many thrilled to have the opportunity to again experience the joy of the beach from close quarters.
Amanda, who is parent to two young daughters, was at the mat trial last summer. She said using the mat to get down on the sand to play with her children was “just amazing”.
“I want the opportunity to get some sand in my togs and lie there next to my kids. It’s not just about disabilities, it’s about everyone. It’s about living a full life with no restrictions – no barriers. It’s about being on the beach and celebrating what it is to be a kiwi,” Amanda says.
Tauranga City Council Community Development Advisor Dani Jurgeleit says the access mat’s Australian distributor had left the model behind after the trial to give Council the opportunity to seek funding.
It was an opportunity immediately embraced by Metro Marketing managing director Michelle Whitmore who started the ball rolling with a $2,000 gift toward the mat, which cost about $15,000. Various organisations, including Harbour City Lions and an anonymous donor, met her challenge to help make the mat dream a Tauranga reality.
Michelle says she realised her $2,000 could make a world of difference if it provided the catalyst for good action. Various people doing a little bit could collectively change the world for those needing support to enjoy the beach, she says.
“We are globally recognised as having one of the world’s best beaches. The fact it has been inaccessible to so many is just wrong,” she says.
Tauranga City Council confirms the mat will be in place every day, weather permitting, over summer from December 15 through until mid-February, next to Mt Maunganui’s cenotaph. From later this year, a flag will be in place on the boardwalk, alongside the cenotaph, whenever the mat is out. It is expected to be used not only by people in wheelchairs, but for anyone with mobility challenges.
Dani says there is the possibility that more matting could be purchased. Extra metres will enable a greater turn-around and congregation area on the water front, for example. There were also the options of multiple mats at different beach localities, more “branches” off the main mat, and the possibility of purchasing floating wheelchairs, each valued at $4,000.
Those keen to get behind the project are encouraged to contact Tauranga City Council Project Tauranga manager Michael Vujnovich on firstname.lastname@example.org
Amanda Lowry is also ambassador of the Bayfair Festival of Disabled Sport – a national event which will be held in Tauranga on March 24,25. Amanda broke her neck in a surfing accident on Mt Maunganui beach in 2013.
Pictured: Michelle Warkworth and Amanda Lowry