Basketballer, traveller and paraplegic Eamon Wood on his adventures backpacking around New Zealand
What are your favourite memories from childhood family holidays in NZ?
I remember how free it was, as kids, we would be running/wheeling through some bush or swimming in the rivers – total freedom. We could get in the car and drive an hour and be somewhere new, even the rest areas were a place to explore. We moved around a lot as children so it felt like we were always on a family holiday, we were lucky to get to experience different off-grid living, towns and cities throughout the South Island and what they all had to offer. I remember pushing 5km or so from our house in the country with my brother and sister into the Owaka township along a gravel road, stopping to explore the creeks along the way.
Where is your favourite off the beaten track/secret spot in NZ to get away from it all?
When I came back from my overseas vagabonding and backpacking, I ended up living in a small beach house in Birdlings Flat, Banks Peninsula. There was one secret spot where I would ride a quad bike up a few times a week, up these hills and through farmers' gates where I would be overlooking the ocean and the Southern Alps. In winter I would sit on my quad bike and watch the sun go down over the alps, it was amazing how far away from everything I felt. The reason it was so special was that this is what I imagined it would look like at the end of a classic beautiful New Zealand hike which, because of the chair, I hadn't really done much of. Every time I went up, the horizon, ocean and colours were always different.
If you were heading on a family getaway now, where would you go?
In the winter, it would have to be Central Otago for that fresh brisk air and awesome scenery… and a chance to hit the ski fields with family and friends. There are also some awesome DoC campsites down that way.
In the summer, it would be the Marlborough Sounds, out in the kayaks in the Kenepuru Sounds, then in the evening a wine or beer surrounded by that thick native New Zealand bush. It is so great to be able to have a strong connection with nature and the outdoors and to be able to escape the race of life and slow it down.
What's your dream NZ road trip?
I am lucky enough to have done my dream NZ roadie, which is the beautiful South Island. I even wrote a book about it 'A Backpack, a Chair and a Beard', where I hitch-hiked over summer around the South Island and camped at DoC campsites and friendly strangers' houses. It was a bit of a novelty for people to see a person in a wheelchair hitch-hiking around the place.
I started in Christchurch and did a figure eight, through Arthur's Pass to the West Coast and then south to Wānaka and Queenstown, across through Cromwell and back up the east coast to Blenheim and Marlborough Sounds. There were just so many places that you could be on your own, looking out at some wild bush, river or ocean.
Most nights it was an adventure to find the next DoC campsite, and there were some that I would end up at and think how have these stayed hidden paradises - like the Kinloch DoC campsite just outside of Queenstown. I went out seeking some adventure along with some time to be among the landscape of Aotearoa, and I found it.
If you could choose one ultimate, luxury, dream holiday in NZ, where would you go?
I love the idea of the off-grid luxury accommodations that are spread out around New Zealand, like the PurePods – where I can lay in a bed in a room mainly of glass looking out at the stars or overlooking the ocean. I would pick somewhere up the top of the North Island as I haven't visited anywhere up past Auckland – this would be a dream holiday. I have done enough camping and sleeping outside on the ground, it would be amazing to stay in luxury accommodation enjoying all the scenery and sounds of our native land while having all the facilities.
Eamon Wood is a finalist for the 2020 Attitude Awards in the Sporting Endeavour Award. He has been a T12 paraplegic since he was 4.
The Attitude Awards will be celebrated on December 2 in Auckland, with a one-hour special on December 13 on TVNZ.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com