We went over there to see our granddaughter primarily. Our ginger ninja from Ngapuhi/Scottish/Yorkshire stock.

We were yearning to be overwhelmed by her vibrancy. Of course, we were also looking forward to seeing her parents, Somer and Sharif.

Of course, Sally was excited to be doing her cutting edge PD for working smarter, faster, stronger ... Brisbane!

Read more: Northland disabled persons' advocate Jonny Wilkinson made Member of the Order of New Zealand in 2018 Queen's Birthday Honours


My expectations of the actual city were somewhat low. Maybe that results from watching years of reality TV, like Sylvania Waters, which no doubt helped to inspire that well known celebration of the mother-daughter relationship, Kath and Kim.

Noice. As a family we embraced the series so much we all had alter ego characters. Getty Images
Noice. As a family we embraced the series so much we all had alter ego characters. Getty Images

As a family we embraced the series so much we all had alter ego characters. I'm Kel, provider of fine meats and sausages. Sally, of course, is Kath-wheat, packs and boomerang pillows at the ready. Somer plays the pouty mouthed Kim, and Chyna the gormless Sharon Strzelecki. ( Of course, Kath and Kim was set in the apparently sophisticated milieu of Melbourne, however I admit it is all just Aussie to me.)

I was expecting miles and miles of suburbia and Fountain Lake malls. I anticipated vast kingdoms of unsophisticated Aussie-ana.

But yet again, I was pleasantly surprised. Brisbane city is very cool. The infrastructure that has been developed around the Brisbane River (Maiwar) is aesthetically suave and functionally dynamic.

Their accessibility is the best of any city I have been on in my travels, and, of course, I brought my trusty jalopy, my travelling mobility scooter (which admittedly has seen better days) but it didn't miss a beat.

The ease of accessibility started outside the airport where we encountered an Aussie woman whose job it was to corral new arrivals on to appropriate modes of transport.

"Hi, love, do you want a maxi? You can just stay on there, sweets, and drive right on here. Yes, stay there and I will get you one, twwezy." (tweezy = too easy in Strine.)

Seconds later, a wheelchair accessible shuttle appeared with "maxi" emblazed on the side and which cost us 20 bucks. In Auckland or any other airport in New Zealand you could be waiting hours for a wheelchair accessible vehicle, and then get your wallet gouged for the privilege.


Because Somer and Sharif were both working, Sally, aka Kath, organised daily activities for us to take our moko, Isla, on. The Koala Sanctuary, the river cruise, the Big Wheel, Seaworld, strolls around Woolloongabba were organised by Kath, with an unbridled enthusiasm which usually kicked off around 7am, with the word "RIGHT!" being shouted repeatedly.

It worked, however - we did a pack a lot into our few days over there.

What really struck me was the city river boat cruise. I always like to see a new place, whether it be a new country or city, from the water. You do get a different perspective and I find it an easier way to travel.

After navigating my scooter right on to the boat we were educated on the history of Maiwar (Brisbane) River, by the easy going, friendly, dad joke style cruise narrative of the captain.

I was really impressed with the amount of beautification of the river banks and surrounds. We are definitely on the right track here in Whangarei with our much utilised Hatea Loop, but we have a long way to go, I must say.

A common theme of the captain's cruise banter covered the devastating floods in Brisbane in 2010.

A lot of the beautification and modern infrastructure is a direct result of that natural disaster. Is that what we need here in Whangarei? The elements of doom coming into alignment, storm water floods peaking at the same time as a king tide? I hope not.

Coming home to the cold reality of the New Zealand winter, feeling the even colder reality of leaving our mokopuna behind, it was encouraging to see that construction is beginning for the Hundertwasser Art Centre.

I hope we can get some real traction in developing and embellishing our city into a modern and accessible jewel of the North. As Kath would say, "Different, noice, unusual!"
It was also heart-warming to come back to all the congratulations and well wishes from people on my appointment as a Member of New Zealand Order of Merit.
Aww shucks, thank you all so much.

■ Jonny Wilkinson is CEO of Tiaho Trust - Disability A Matter of Perception, a Whangarei-based advocacy organisation.