Ahipara man Kevin Griffiths has an international reputation as a very talented artist, who paints by holding the brush in his mouth.

Locally he is also known as a very keen recreational fisherman, and that's the passion that led him to design an all-terrain wheelchair.

A standard wheelchair is very little use on sand, so Kevin set to work with his fitter and turner brother, Dave, at Waipu to build a six-wheel-drive 'go-anywhere' all-terrain electric chair that can handle a variety of surfaces, from sand and rocks to mud and farm land.

The brothers have already sold 80 6X6 Explorers around New Zealand, and five in Australia.

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New Zealand mouth painting artist Kevin Griffiths has helped develop a 6-wheel-drive 'go-anywhere' wheelchair
New Zealand mouth painting artist Kevin Griffiths has helped develop a 6-wheel-drive 'go-anywhere' wheelchair

Priced at $28,000 plus GST, each chair is tailored to suit the needs of its owner.

Its top speed is walking pace, akin to a 4WD vehicle in low range, so it can crawl over most rough terrain.

It can be fitted with a 2500lb winch to both the front and rear, which can be used by a companion to clear obstacles or pull it up steep inclines.

Kevin said the development of the 6X6 Explorer began when he and Dave imported a very expensive wheelchair, which they believed could be improved significantly, from the United States.

"We wanted it to be powerful enough to plough through sand so I could go fishing, so we have gone for a six-wheel-drive driven by high-torque electric motors," he said.

"Comfort was a big consideration, so we have installed an Auto Sport seat that makes the user feel like they are sitting in an armchair on wheels. It has fold-up padded armrests and a low front foot rest area , and has been set up so it is easy to access from a wheelchair. The user is securely belted in by a four-point safety harness.

"As well as people who have suffered a spinal injury, we feel it is also very suitable for the elderly, such as those who have had a stroke, or farmers who are no longer able to ride a quad bike," he added.

Fellow Mouth and Foot Painting Artist member Kerrin Tilley has a 6X6 Explorer, which means they can go fishing together when he visits him at Ahipara from the Bay of Plenty.

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Meanwhile, Kevin continues to earn his living by painting landscapes that are sold around the world as Christmas and special occasion cards, jigsaws, tea sets, address books, calendars, serviettes and place mats, gift tags and wrapping paper.

He has been mouth-painting for more than 25 years, after breaking his neck and losing the use of his hands as the result of a swimming accident when he was 13.

He continued his education, however, and became interested in various forms of art, and has travelled extensively around the world.