Holly Hipwell was the recipient of the 2015 Jerry Farr Travel Fellowship - a scheme dedicated to broadening the horizons of those with ataxia, through the medium of travel. For more information on the scheme, click here.

In Holly's own words, she shares her incredible experience with us!

I have just returned from my trip sponsored through the Jerry Farr Travel Fellowship. It really was a trip of a lifetime, everything I hoped for and more! I feel so fortunate to have been given this opportunity to have so many wonderful new experiences to share with my sister Anna, who has been living in Australia.

Here are some of the highlights of the trip:

Queensland – we explored the Rainforest by the Kuranda Railway and Sky Cable, swam at the Great Barrier Reef, took a road trip to Cape Tribulation and stayed at the YHA where the Rainforest meets the most idyllic deserted beach.

New South Wales – we visited the city of Brisbane and its wonderful art galleries where I learnt more about Aboriginal Art. At the nearby Koala Sanctuary, I actually cuddled a koala, fed kangaroos and saw many other native animals.  A short road trip then brought us to Byron Bay, the surfing town known for its laid back attitude. Lots of swimming, good food and live music were enjoyed there, staying in a well-known hostel called ‘The Arts Factory’.

For the second half of the trip we flew down to Sydney and were spoilt for 9 days by my cousin Rhianne and her partner Tim.  They made sure we saw the best the city could offer. Every day we explored a different area seeing markets and night time street theatre and trying so many new types of food in the city’s wonderful restaurants. We visited the Museum of Contemporary Art and also the Art Gallery of New South Wales (my favourite). We swam twice in the harbour as the temperature rose to 40 degrees during our stay! But on cooler days we sampled wonderful wines at the nearby Hunter Valley and took a trip to the Blue Mountains.  There we terrified my cousin Rhianne by going on the steepest rail journey, travelling backwards up the mountain at 52 degrees! We took many photographs of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, but also the Anzac bridge from the apartment balcony in Glebe- an incredible view to wake up to each morning. It was lovely to get to know more about my cousin’s life and work in Australia and so sad to say goodbye.

No trip to Australia can be complete without a 'koala cuddle'! 

In Victoria -the final week of the trip was based around Melbourne. After a couple of days exploring the city we hired a car to travel along ‘The Great Ocean Road.’ I loved it- deserted beaches, driving around such winding roads then seeing the most amazing views of the ocean. We went off the main road into the national park at Gt. Otway and were lucky enough to see three koalas in the wild perched in the trees, then unbelievably spotted a very small koala in a small tree right next to the road. Lots more photos! After a sunset trip to the well-known ‘Twelve Apostles’ – rock formations in the sea- we then headed back inland the following day and over to the Mornington peninsula. This was our time to slow down for a few days, staying at a “homestay”. So peaceful, horses, alpacas and goats and a beautiful room in a straw bale house. We took a trip to a local goat’s cheese farm…a new experience tasting 10 local cheeses, set in the most beautiful countryside. Just when we thought we had seen our last kangaroo we came across a family in the deserted national park (recommended by our hosts) …and got to see a mother with a small joey, amazing!

To finish our trip, we returned to Melbourne to meet my cousin Charlotte and her partner Josh. Again we enjoyed exploring markets, trying new types of food at the Night Noodle Market and spending time with them in their home. We also visited the National Gallery of Victoria to get our last viewing of both Aboriginal and European art before enjoying a final family meal together.

I haven’t even mentioned the bonus of staying in Amsterdam and Singapore on the outward journey. Lots of sightseeing around the canals in Amsterdam and visiting the fantastic Stedilijk Art Gallery.  Whilst in Singapore I enjoyed seeing all the tropical fish at the Sentosa Sea Aquarium, a bit of a taster of what I would see at the Great Barrier Reef.

So safely back in England I have had time to reflect on the generosity of the family and friends of Jerry Farr who made this dream a reality. It is an amazing thing they do to fundraise for total stranger’s year after year and such a tribute to their son’s/friends memory. I will always remember this special journey and the wonderful time I spent with my mother, sister Anna and cousins in Australia. I feel so privileged to have been the recipient of this year’s award. My thanks go to the Trustees of the Fellowship for funding the award for myself and my companion, who’s support made this adventure possible. I would also like to thank to the team at Ataxia UK who have helped with administration of the award.

Holly.

Appendix -  Useful information for other travellers to Australia 

The flights— I flew out of my local airport, rather than London, picking up the long-haul flight in Amsterdam… this minimised my total travel time and worked very well. On the outward journey I took two long stop-overs on the journey. This was definitely preferable to the almost non-stop return journey. I chose Singapore Airlines as the routes worked well travelling into Cairns. They were extremely helpful, as were all the airlines used for internal flights in Australia.  I would particularly recommend Quantas Airlines …excellent food and staff. Internal flights were very good value, especially if booked early.

 

Accommodation –  All booked online, with lots of research to make sure the locations were very close to areas we were visiting. Wherever possible, an adapted room was chosen with an accessible bathroom en-suite or an accessible room with adapted bathroom on the same floor. Our accommodation choice was mostly shared YHA rooms…some in fantastic locations (Cape Tribulation) or offering easy access to the downtown city areas at really good value (Brisbane and Melbourne).  Staff were knowledgeable and friendly and the rooms were spotless. I would recommend them… but book early in high season to get an adapted en-suite room.

For a last minute booking we tried Airbnb, for value and to experience something different. A great choice, with the booking made on the understanding there were steps into the building. This could be managed for two nights as I was travelling with a manual wheelchair and two people to help, but not suitable for all. I also booked a motel room on the Gt Ocean Road trip, which was the size of an apartment…excellent value if sharing and worth trying.

Staying with relatives is wonderful when possible. It was great to experience their day-to-day lives and means it now doesn’t feel as if they live so far away!

 

The Road Trip

The plan was to hire a camper van to travel the Gt Ocean Road. But after considering the amount of driving on winding roads, and lifting me in/out the vehicle, we changed our plans. This was a really good decision, I got a great view from the car window, was very comfortable and had a brilliant stay at the motel en-route. Also the driving was so much easier for my companions. In addition, there was a minimum 5-day hire period and so it was more expensive to get a campervan! Petrol however was very good value, about half English pump prices.

Car hire…good value compared to Europe.

 

Activities

Most activities were pre-booked online and double checked for disabled accessibility. On the basis of doing this only once in a life-time we upgraded the Kuranda rail /Sky cable to the best ‘Gold ‘ticket and the ‘Diamond ‘glass bottom gondola, well worth it for the food/drinks and views.

We had booked to do the Gt Barrier Reef experience with Quicksilver out of Port Douglas, but due to a last minute problem with the lift (to lower disabled passengers into the water), we went instead with Reef Magic out of Cairns. No lift on this boat so I had to be carried down to the platform into the water by my travelling companions…so not suitable for most disabled travellers. However, the staff were very helpful and reassuring when I became nervous of swimming in the sea and made it possible for me to swim happily in the end.

Local knowledge really helped when exploring… from my cousins, YHA staff and Airbnb hosts. Without it, I would not have met wild kangaroos, experienced such superb food in Sydney and Melbourne and found my way around the cities so easily!