Thursday, 2 April 2015

Our experience :: living in NC with a disabled child (part 4)

Here we are on my final post about our experience of being expats in New Caledonia and how we manage daily life with our six-year-old son who has Cerebral Palsy.

You probably thought I'd forgotton about this post, being the final one in this series. To be honest, I'd put it off because right now endings are very much front-of-mind for me. This week I've had a girly sook twice after dropping the kids at school, thinking about how our time here is ending soon. 

Ilot Maitre
Back to business. So far I've covered school, which occupies much of Jack's time, and therapy. Today I will finish off with briefly covering the general topic of accessibility on this particular French tropical island.

So, accessibility.

As I touched on when writing about school, most of New Caledonia is not built with wheelchairs and prams in mind. Think broken or non-existent paths, heavy doors, narrow supermarket aisles. One of our local supermarkets has an upstairs section with no lift access. So I can only go to this supermarket with Jack if laundry and bathroom items aren't on the shopping list. Or alone (which, let's be honest, is the preferred method of shopping when you have small kids).

Riding bikes in the tropic rain
I also discovered that I couldn't take Jack with me into the local post office. Once up the small ramp I am greeted by two heavy doors. While battling to hold these two doors open, which would be threatening to flip me back outside, I swallow down expletives as I try to push a loaded stroller plus a whining toddler into a space about 2 metres square, already full of a queue of people. Visiting the post office is another Mummy-only event.

I only know of a couple of walking, waterfall or lookout attractions which have paved or smoothed walking tracks but none outside Noumea. We've carried Jack into only one waterfall on the east coast, which is a shame because there are lots of stunning waterfalls in that region. 

In all the time we've been here we've not visited the iconic lookout Coeur de Voh (Heart of Voh), less than an hour from where we live. The image features in lots of tourist advertising for New Caledonia but Jack is too heavy to carry such a distance (I take solace in the fact that apparently it's not as good from the lookout and that you really need to take a helicopter flight to see it).

Beach wheelchair on Amedee Island
This is not a whinge, just a fact which needs to be understood and expected. It's a shame but there it is. We would encounter similar problems worldwide however I know that National Parks in Australia and many other parts of the world increasingly have wheelchair access to allow everyone to enjoy their beauty. I do hope this catches on in New Caledonia very soon.

On the bright side, destinations such as the Noumea Aquarium des Lagons and Parc Zoologique et Forestier have good wheelchair access. We also had a really great experience at Phare Amedee where there is a beach wheelchair available to borrow through the tour company which totally made our day (I wrote about that experience here). The glass-bottom boat and boards with viewing windows for observing coral and fish were also great. 

Front row at a local music event
It's always worth asking about access for handicap√© or chaise roulant, most places will do their best to accomodate with assistance on and off boats, accessible rooms and alternative entrances where possible.

In Noumea, one of our favourite things to do is just walk the fabulous promenade. It stretches all the way from Baie de Citron to  Anse Vata and beyond. Any time of day this is easy to navigate with a wheelchair or pram (except for days where there is a swim or cycling event, then nobody can navigate it!). The beaches are idyllic and shaded, full of families enjoying the clear water. Picnics are everywhere. Groups of men play petanque and cafes are close to hand. We love to go out to dinner and then work off the icecream with an evening stroll, admiring the twinkling lights and spotting the occasional cruise ship leaving port. And it's totally free and accessible.

The Aquarium
We know that the world is full of obstacles for Jack. Some are small, which we will overcome. Some are going to be too big to beat. Others will take more effort, and with lateral thinking, persistence and team effort we can conquer them. This is life. Deep, huh?

Ultimately New Caledonia is a great place to visit or live for a while. I really encourage it. It has made us better people in countless ways exactly because it has tested us. I guess that must be a positive thing or I wouldn't be tearing up every morning at the thought of leaving.


  1. So glad to have found your blog. What a great title for it. Thanks for bringing some of these things about handicapped access. I've noticed it too while traveling, but mainly around the United States. New Caledonia sounds like a great place through your eyes. Not perfect, but every rose has its thorns.

    Brendon Hudgins @ MedCare Pediatric

    1. Thanks for your lovely comments Brendon. Even here in Australia, the challenge to navigate life on behalf of our disabled child is ever-present. When it gets tough, we try to think how disappointing it would be to constantly be missing out on the wonders of life and the world if we always give up? Thanks for reading my blog.