Walk in my Wheels

Access. Awareness. Support.

Byron Bay Rainforest Resort - Time for a Change

We were fortunate enough to stay at the Rainforest Resort on the outskirts in Byron Bay, a complex of 9 small huts amongst remnant coastal rainforest. The remarkable thing about this property - aside from the beautiful setting – is that each hut is wheelchair accessible.

 The open air porch of our cabin looking out to dense rainforest

The open air porch of our cabin looking out to dense rainforest

The original concept and initial three huts, an open air cabana and roll-in pool, that were built in 1987 were the result of Phillipa Nickol's vision, initially opening as the 'Wheel Resort'. Phillipa was an amputee herself, and had an awareness of the real lack of accommodation facilities at that time for people with disability. The huts were designed with a “South Sea Island village huts” feel in mind by well-known local architect Christine Vadasz.

In 1991 Catherine Carter – a wheelchair user as a result of a traumatic brain injury - took on a half share of the property, becoming full owners with her husband Murray in 1995. Six more cabins were added over the years, the Cabana was enclosed and improved upon, the paths around the property were paved, and air-conditioning units were added.

Catherine too was passionate about the vision for accessible accommodation, she was an outgoing person who continued to swim and ride horses post injury, although her mobility slowly decreased over the years. Sadly Catherine passed away almost three years ago and her husband Murray has been running the property with the help of the Assistant Manager, his 13 year-old daughter Cinta (an official title she has held since she was seven).

Murray admits the resort gets mixed reviews with many finding his “lack of anal retentiveness” in cleanliness and property maintenance not to their liking. Others, like us, have enjoyed the feeling of staying in a tropical hideaway and feeling like we have our own little oasis.

In his time Murray reckons he's learnt a thing or two about people, finding it interesting that although people will readily complain about many things, one thing that he doesn't hear much of is complaints about guests' dogs (the resort is pet-friendly) despite having a few “mangy mongrels” stay at times.

Since legislation was brought in for new accommodation facilities to need to provide an accessible room/unit the Rainforest Resort has catered less and less to those with disabilities as other resorts have been built in the area, and the majority of their guests are 'regular' travellers, often with dogs. Due to feedback from those 'regulars' they've shied away from installing further disability related features in rooms (such as ceiling hoists) so that the huts don't develop a “institutional feel”.

After almost 25 years, Murray has decided he's had enough of the “warts and all” 24/7 lifestyle of being a live-in resort owner and manager confessing “I'm pretty due for a break... I haven't had a proper holiday in all this time.” The property went to auction at the end of November and the paperwork is being finalised at present in the handover to the new owner.

Murray will be there until the end of January 2016 and then... well he's planning to take that well-earned break, time with Cinta, and may even write a book on climate change.

We are certainly hoping to stay again later this year – we have our fingers crossed the new owners will continue with the resort as it has been run with a relaxed, chilled feel and letting the surrounds speak for themselves – although maybe with a little of a refresh to the rooms and facilities.

Have you stayed here before? Tell us what you thought. Would you be sad for it to be closed down or luxury-ified?