I was picked up at my lodging by Nick and Noriko from BBQ Bus at 7am. Nick is the owner/driver/tour guide and Noriko is the interpreter for the 4 Japanese who will be on the tour. There are only 7 people on this tour. The vehicle was a Toyota mini bus. I was able to transfer to the floor then transfer to the seat. Nick took the wheels off my wheelchair and placed the chair in the back of the bus. The weather was not good to start with rain and cool temperatures. But the rain would hopefully lead to many waterfalls in Fiordland National Park. We made a quick stop in Te Anau for about 30 minutes before heading out through Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound. It took about 2hrs 10min to get to Te Anau. The visitor center in Te Anau has souvenirs, an information center and a cafeteria. The visitor’s center is accessible with accessible bathrooms. After the quick stop in Te Anau, we were on our way to our lunch stop at Gunns Camp in the national park. The camp is for hikers to stay while hiking the many trails. The parking area is gravel, some loosely packed and some hard packed. I was able to get around by myself. There is one small hill to go down that I probably would not have been able to make it back up myself. The lunch cabin is accessible with a nice deck surrounding the cabin. There is a very small lip from the door frame to get in the cabin. I was able to get in to use the bathroom but it is not accessible. The door for the bathroom would not close. Even if you swing the door the other way the bathroom is still too small. We had a nice lunch that Nick cooked of chicken kabobs, lamb kabobs, sausage and salad.
It took about 1 hour to get from lunch to the boat ride with a stop at The Chasm, very strong flowing water with great rock formations. The entire path is packed gravel and uphill. Nick had to push me up the hill but it was well worth it. Once up the hill there’s wood decking to wheel on. Going down wasn’t too bad just needed to watch catching the front tires of the wheelchair on the rocks.
We had very little time at the wharf but the entrance and ramp down to the boat are accessible. The ramp up to the boat was too steep and I needed help. There is a 5″ door frame from the boat door frame to get over that I was helped by Crispin, from Sydney and a Japanese guy on our bus. A worker on the boat took me to the back of the boat to view Milford Sound but there is no outside access on the first floor. With the money I’ve spent and this may be the only time I get here, no way I staying on this level. There are 10 steps to get to the 2nd level with an outside viewing area. I get out of my chair, bumped myself up the steps and two of the Japanese girls on our bus carried my chair up. I transferred back in my chair then there was another 5″ door frame to get over. I asked some random guy on the boat and he and the Japanese guy lifted me over the frame. After a little work, I was on the outside viewing level to see the spectacular Milford Sound. An electric chairlift is probably the only solution to make getting up the steps easier. There is an accessible bathroom on the outside viewing area. Why the wheelchair accessible bathroom is on the second level up 10 steps I don’t know. There is also an upper level for viewing. The boat tour was about 1hr 45min, the weather cleared up pretty good and the views were amazing.
I left the boat the same way as I got on, help from those guys over the door frame, transferring out of my wheelchair to bump myself down the steps and help over the last door frame. The ride back to Queenstown was just over 4 hours with a stop in Te Anau.
The BBQ Bus tour was excellent. Nick was very informative during the tour and more than willing to help me out. If you are able to transfer yourself from the ground to your chair I see no issues taking this tour. I had no problem finding help getting around the boat. If you have no problem staying on the first level of the boat the trip fairly easy. The hardest part for me was having Nick push me up the gravel hill to The Chasm. Some wheelchair users with more mobility than me might be able to wheel up the hill by themselves. I might have been able to wheel up some of the hill without help but we only had 15 minutes at The Chasm. Be ready for a long day, the tour is 13+ hours. I would recommend any able body person or wheelchair user taking the tour with BBQ Bus. If you are in a wheelchair you need to be very independent for this tour but seeing Milford Sound makes it worth any issues to overcome. Accessibility wise this tour would receive a 2.5/5 rating.