Wheelie Traveller Vanessa Waller has discovered a property that sets an accessibility benchmark.
I am in love! Her name is ‘Bimbadeen’ and she is a wheelchair-accessible property in Merimbula on New South Wales’ Sapphire Coast.
Bimbadeen is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘beautiful views’. And, for the first time, I was not forced to choose between a nice view and accessible accommodation.
It is a two-bedroom, self-contained apartment complete with kitchen, living room, laundry and bathroom, all fully wheelchair-accessible.
Unlike many so-called wheelchair-friendly accommodations, there are no slap-dash modifications here; the apartment was designed by Australia’s leading disability access architect, Harry Sprintz, and built with unerring attention to detail: durable, easy-to-clean bamboo flooring, textured paint and strong walls that can cope with additional bumps from wheelchairs.
On arrival, we were greeted by the owner, Alex Cochran, who showed us around and provided us with all manner of local knowledge.
First order of the day for my family is to choose our beds for the night. The first bedroom has two single beds, one of which is a hospital-type bed with a hoist. My husband and son decided to claim that as the boys’ room, leaving me with the luxurious solitude of the queen bed and a lovely view of the garden and lake.
The fully equipped kitchen and laundry (complete with extra toilet and basin) have quality appliances fitted at heights suitable for easy access – not that I had any intention of doing laundry while on holiday.
The bathroom is an absolute joy for wheelies, with slip-resistant vinyl flooring, stainless-steel grab rails and bars, soap dispensers, heated ladder towels, a huge shower with a gutter drain and even a portable shower/commode chair.
Everything about Bimbadeen is smart, including the apartment’s lighting system; from the bed, I could reach a control panel that allowed me to activate the bedroom, patio, bathroom and reading lights and even turn them all off at once by pressing the ‘goodnight’ button.
My husband and son headed out for a visit to Magic Mountain, just a short drive away. While not as large as some similar fun parks, there were enough rides and slides to keep them both amused for a few hours, with very few queues.
Bimbadeen is in a quiet, suburban street but on the flip side, you will need a vehicle to drive the short distance down the hill into town – unless you are a wheelie with some serious upper body and arm strength (and a daredevil attitude) there really is no option. Fortunately the driveway is level and wide so loading and unloading a wheelchair is no problem.
We tried a number of Alex’s suggestions for eating out and were extremely happy with his recommendations, particularly the Waterfront Café, open for breakfast, lunch and, seasonally, for dinner. We are all book lovers and my husband enjoys good coffee so Booktique, which combines both, became another favourite.
I was able to get my wheelchair into most places around town that I wanted to look at. Merimbula’s main street is quite level at one end and then rises up the hill, which is no problem for a motorised wheelchair or a manual wheelchair with a carer to push, but could be a little challenging if you are self-propelled.
My husband and son had fun at Bar Beach, a few minutes’ drive from town, where they body surfed on the outgoing tide, followed by snacks and drinks at the popular Bar Beach Kiosk. The owners aim to provide coffee and food that would be at home in a lane-way cafe in Melbourne.
Despite some overcast weather, we were all able to enjoy the Merimbula Boardwalk, which runs for 3.4 kilometres beside the lake and provides signs about the local marine life and vegetation. The slatted timbers of the boardwalk were fine for my wheelchair, but again, we needed the car to make it to the start of the walk.
After waking to the delightful calls of the bellbirds each morning, then getting ready in comfort and ease before heading out each day, Bimbadeen instantly jumped to the top of my list of favourite places to stay.
It will be the standard by which I judge all future properties and should be viewed by the entire travel sector as a shining example of what accessible accommodation is truly all about.