Takapuna Beach installs Auckland's first wheelchair access mat

  • 06/12/2020

By Tess Woolcock

A popular Auckland beach is now the first in the city to have a disability access mat that allows wheelchair users to join everyone else on the sand.

And for those who've campaigned for years to make it happen, it's a life-changing dream come true.

A splash in the sea - it's an essential part of the Kiwi summer. But for Aucklander's with limited mobility, it's been off-limits until now.

After a ten year battle for funding, Takapuna Beach finally has its very own disability access mat.

Made in France and from recycled plastic, the 20-metre mat has been rolled out just in time for summer.

"It will be down now until Easter and then Easter and then it will be rolled up and stored and back down again on Labour Day," Yes Disability CEO Sonia Thursby says.

It's a dream come true for Stephanie Buttell who started the campaign a decade ago.

"I had big dreams for the community and wanted to have a beach mat put in place so that just not I but other people in the community could access the beach and be valued like everyone else," she says.

Buttell was training to be the first person with a disability to swim across the Cook Strait but having no beach access to train put that on hold.

"One of the biggest barriers in that was getting on the beach, so hopefully that will kickstart the goal again."

The mat was funded by a generous family who is also responsible for the nearby accessible playground and a bathroom facility.

It's making summer days at Takapuna Beach something these teenagers can finally smile about.

"This is like my first time! This is mean!" says Nia Lovo.

They'd like to see more mats rolled out across New Zealand to make memories on the sand accessible for everyone.

"A woman walked past us this morning with a two-year-old with cerebral palsy who will need a wheelchair when she's older and said she'll be able to swim in the sea when she's older," Thursby says.

And for those who will take their first-ever dip in the sea, it's quite simply life-changing.