A beach mat trialled on Mount beaches this weekend could open a whole new world for locals with disabilities.
A strip of plastic matting gave wheelchair-bound locals an opportunity to get onto the beach and down to the water's edge.
The weekend trial was a success and Tauranga City Council was looking for sponsors to fund the installation of the mat on a semi-permanent basis.
One of the first mat users was Stacey Roche, who moved to Mount Maunganui two months ago for the beach and laid-back lifestyle.
But Saturday was the first day she has been able to get down to the water's edge by herself.
"It's so important to be able to do things for myself with no drama," said Ms Roche, who has cerebral palsy and is mostly wheel-chair bound.
"Otherwise I just have to sit in the car and look at the ocean from there."
She said the beach mat empowered the disabled and was "the best feeling ever".
Most everyone took for granted the ability to walk across the sand and dip their toes into the lapping waves but for people in wheelchairs the soft sand was almost an insurmountable obstacle.
"We've just got to get funding for it so I can come down here and do it whenever I want to," Ms Roche said.
Ms Roche was not the only one excited about the beach mat. Another wheelchair-bound user had not been to the beach since he was a kid, more than 20 years ago.
The mat was brought over on loan from Australia for a Water Sports Day put on by Hibiscus Surf School and the Halberg Disability Sports Foundation at Mount Main Beach on Saturday and Pilot Bay on Sunday.
Halberg Foundation disability sport adviser Maia Lewis said users of the beach mat would include members of the community unable to cross the soft sand.
"The mats can be used by not only people in wheelchairs but power chairs, motor scooters, prams, and elderly people with walking frames."
The demonstration was so feedback could be gathered, Ms Lewis said.
Dani Jurgeleit, council community development adviser, was there to check it out and collect feedback.
She said she was already looking for sponsors for installing the mat on a semi-permanent basis.
"It could be used at other events, different parts of the beach or at the Domain."
The council had received a quote for the mats, which come in 10m sections for about $2000 per section.
Ms Jurgeleit said access to the beach was a goal for the disability strategy and advisory group but finding funding for the mats as part of the annual council plan would delay getting mats until the middle of next year.
Instead she was talking with businesses and others interested in sponsorship.
The mats were a good investment for summer and their lifespan was seven to 15 years depending on how often they were used.
Bob Parker, managing director of Lopac, which brought the mat over from Australia, said the mats were used all over in Australia.
"Many are loaned to surf life saving clubs, who roll the mats out as part of their setting up and packing up routine."