Amanda Lowry struggled to control her emotions when she reached the summit of Mauao for the first time since breaking her neck seven years ago.
Lowry is a tetraplegic but was able to climb the Mount Maunganui mountain with the help of a new Trailrider vehicle she believes is a "game-changer".
The Trailrider, gifted the name of Te Kaiwhakatere, was bought by Tauranga City Council for $14,535 in a bid to make the out-of-reach heights of Mauao accessible to those living with disability or mobility issues.
The e-wheel hub-powered Trailrider operates with help from four people who help navigate the vehicle up and around the tracks. It is a single-wheeled mobility aid designed for rugged terrain. The wheel supports the rider's weight while the handles at the front and the back allow two, three or four helpers to guide the rider up and down tracks.
Due to Mauao's steep terrain, a minimum of four rider operators are needed.
"What's really lovely is you are surrounded by your tribe. All your people are around you," Lowry said.
Lowry scaled Mauao last week with help from partner Gemma Holroyd, their children Lola and Ziggy, and friends.
"It was the first time I've been up there since my accident, which was the beginning of a new life. It's not sad or bad. It's pretty hard but it's still full of joyful moments and this is one of them."
Lowry said the possibilities the rickshaw-type vehicle now presented for people living with disability or mobility limitations were significant. She got teary just thinking about her climb, she said.
"It meant so much to me and G. Prior to the accident we'd go up maybe once or twice a week. And now, just smelling the same smells, seeing the same familiar spots where all of these memories were made with legs. Now I got a chance to do it but in a different way."
Lowry said she had often looked up from below and seen the tiny shapes of people at the top. Now she got to be one herself. It was an amazing feeling.
"I got to go up and wave down and look out at the beautiful view. I feel so grateful. I was a little bit choked up."
Lowry broke her neck in 2013 when the-then active and keen kiteboarder hit a sandbar while surfing at the Mount. She's since pursued the Paralympics in swimming, represented the Wheel Blacks, become an ambassador for Disability Sportsfest and is also a member of the Tauranga Disability Advisory Group.
For Lowry, the Trailrider was a "game-changer for the elderly and people with disabilities because it allows us to access an environment that was always out of reach".
The Trailrider, which is available for use free of charge, was imported from Australia and its arrival in Tauranga has been a year in the making.
Council general manager of community services Gareth Wallis said the idea for the Trailrider came from conversations between the city's disabled community wanting to gain access to Mauao's summit, the Halberg Foundation, Nga Poutiriao Mauao (Mauao Joint Administration Board) and the council.
"To the people of Tauranga Moana and its visitors, Mauao is a treasure of cultural, spiritual and natural beauty. For the many people who explore Mauao every day, the challenge of reaching its summit is a source of joy and inspiration," Wallis said.
"However, for many disabled people, achieving the heights of Mauao have been out of reach. With the use of Te Kaiwhakatere, Mauao is no longer off-limits."
Wallis said the council was working towards its goal of becoming New Zealand's most accessible city, outlined in its 2013 Disability Strategy.
"There is no greater physical obstacle in the city than reaching the summit of Mauao, so if we can support people to overcome this, we believe we can continue to identify other areas of the city we can improve as well," Wallis said.
During summer there will be two time slots available per day - 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 6pm - for people to book the Trailrider.
"The hope is that the majority of people wanting to use Te Kaiwhakatere will be able to do so with the support of their friends and whānau. However, for those who do not have this as an option, we will be building and managing a volunteer database," Wallis said.
Halberg adviser Dave MacCalman was instrumental in bringing the Trailrider to Tauranga.
He said he wanted to provide opportunities for people and the wider community, including young people with a physical disability to access physical activity.
"The Halberg Foundation's vision is for an inclusive New Zealand and the Trailrider fits into this vision ... and opens the great outdoors to the wider community."
MacCalman said the Trailrider would add value to people's lives.
Halberg has helped introduce Trailriders to Otago and Rotorua, at the Redwoods Forest.
Nga Poutiriao Mauao chairman Dean Flavell said the Trailrider provided an opportunity to people who may otherwise never experience what it is to reach the top of Mauao.
Flavell said he hoped it would be used regularly.
Anyone wanting to use the Trailrider in Tauranga can contact Tauranga City Council for bookings and more information. And anyone who would like to volunteer or will need volunteer support, should email firstname.lastname@example.org.