What is a TrailRider?
It is essentially a modified wheelchair with the ability to travel on hiking trails through the woods and up and down small hills with the aid of volunteers acting as “sherpas.” Affectionately described as “a cross between a wheelbarrow and a rickshaw.”
Booking the TrailRider
We were over the moon to find out that the stunning Bay of Plenty was home to two new TrailRiders. One located in Rotorua and the other at The Mount in Tauranga. This was going to be awesome in terms of inclusion for all. Although the booking system is still in the process of being fine tuned we were allowed to give a trial over the Spring School Holiday break. As a family we are so passionate about including Finlay into as many activities as we can. Bush walks and tramps are something Finlay just loves to do as well as us. This was going to be one special holiday as we were going to embark on tracks that have been unreachable with Finlay in the past.
- For any information and booking updates regarding the TrailRider in Rotorua feel free to contact the Forest Recreational Management (Forest.Recmanagement@rotorualc.nz)
- The TrailRider in Tauranga is based out at The Mount. For more information around booking, contact the Tauranga City Council.
- The South Island have two TrailRiders, both based out of Dunedin, for any information regarding how to book their TrailRiders feel free to contact Kelly Nooy from Parafed Otago (firstname.lastname@example.org). These TrailRiders do not have the power-assist option.
We had no idea whether the chair would even manage to support our Finlay’s complex postural needs. He certainly is tricky to accommodate as he is unable to perform a standing transfer, has strong hip extensor thrust and athetoid movements due to his Cerebral Palsy. The TrailRider is well designed for someone who has fairly good upper body control. It comes with separate padded cushions: a headrest, a backrest and a seat cushion. The cushions are smooth and are attached to the steel frame with strong velcro. We found Finlay’s movements a bit of a challenge at times due to the chair balancing on one wheel.
The safety restraints consist of two wide straps that click into place around the chest area and the lap. I have seen riders wearing the chest strap around their arms as well. Neither of these straps would be enough to keep our Finlay supported, so we made sure we brought our trusty Rifton Pelvic Strap. This strap easily attaches around the frame to keep his bottom planted onto the cushion. We did think another good option to bring along would be some anti-slip matting to place on top of cushion. The bottom cushion is secured on by velcro so in theory you could attach your own personal cushion from your wheelchair.
For transferring into the TrailRider we used a two-person lift from Finlay’s powerchair first removing the armrests. Although it’s far from dignified we tipped the TrailRider onto its back to secure Finlay’s pelvic strap in place. The concept works well for many transfers we make when out and about with Finlay. He has a very strong tone that is impossible to break unless he’s feeling comfortable. Therefore, tilt or tip works a treat for us with assisting him into chairs.
We were advised that a helmet was needed for the rider. We did start off trying to get Finlay to de-sensitise to wearing a bike helmet but he just wasn’t going to comply. We decided to give up, but bring it with us anyway, just in case we could convince him to wear it.
Folded down for Transport
The TrailRider can be easily broken down for transporting. It fits nicely into the back of a decent size station wagon and can be lifted by two people with little effort. Rosie (Finlay’s sister) and myself had no problem setting it up, breaking it down or lifting it in and out of transport.
Here is an uploaded video demonstration for packing it into the back of your car.
I have feeble fingers and always find putting adaptive equipment together a bit of a challenge. However, with this chair everything can be adjusted and released with ease. Locking pins are removed to collapse the chair and then replaced when it’s time to re-assemble again.
“Always make sure the locking pins are re-connected to the chair when dismantled so as not to lose them”
During the set-up we did notice that the brake cable could easily get caught up. So it’s good to keep mindful of this cable getting pinched in the folding mechanism when packing up.
The ‘sherpa’ or support walker behind the chair has the control, this was going to be me. I was in charge of handling much of the balance and assessing the need for using the power-assist. The power-assist is a small thumb throttle/accelerator on the left handle bar. In the small zip case next to the accelerator you will find the ON/OFF button, which has a red light to indicate when it is all ready to go. You will also find the Forward (FWD) and Reverse (REV) directional switch, make sure you check which direction its switched onto before you press the sensitive accelerator. On our initial approach to the track I accidentally touched the accelerator button and it lunged backwards at me as it was set in reverse. Luckily, I managed to keep hold of the chair and we were all good but it definitely took us all by surprise.
Tip: “Read properly the instructions left to you before you venture out”
Finlay’s second sherpa/support walker was Rosie, she was our guide and picked out the easiest terrain for us to negotiate. Rosie helped a lot with the balance and was very patient with me while I got used to the accelerator. I was so worried about running her over. Once I got the hang of it the power was amazing, and the TrailRider really began to show us what it was capable of.
Now the brakes, there is a slowing down brake similar to a bike brake on the right-handle bar. This is attached to the power set up and works well for heading down steeper terrain. When you want to park up and keep the Trail Rider steady there is a flip brake at the wheel. I found this challenging to put on at first but once I’d become more familiar with the chair I finally discovered the technique. It was actually quite easy and with a flick down of the brake and a tug up on the wheel using momentum I was there.
Adjustments can be made to the leg length with straps either side to keep feet secured onto foot plate. Finlay did struggle with these as his feet need a strong sense of grounding. We managed though with constant stops to strap his feet back down. I think next time we will have a better idea of what to bring to solve the feet planting challenge.
The arm rests can also be adjusted, but we did find these a challenge for our Finlay. We would suggest finding something soft to put inside the arm rest supports, maybe a towel as the metal is quite hard. There may have even been something available that was missing on the day. We did notice the velcro ties but unsure of their use.
The battery can be found on the backrest with a series of lights that show you how much charge you have. There is another small ON/OFF button next to the chairs charging port.
Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake) Track
Only 9 km south-east of Rotorua, via Te Ngae Road you take a right turn at the roundabout onto Tarawera Road. This road will take you to where you can park your vehicle in the Lake Tikitapu Scenic Reserve to start the Blue Lake Track.
You will find plenty of parking to the right of the Lake as you come along Tarawera Road and first see the Lake. This is the best starting point to start the Loop Track as it is the more scenic. It is also the side with the more challenging terrain, once you are half way around the lake the terrain becomes a lot flatter and easier to negotiate. You start the track by wheeling along the beach from the carpark.
The Blue Lake Track is a 5.5 km loop. It’s described as an easy walking track which will take you 1 hr 30 minutes to get around. It passes through stunning native bush and gives you access to some quiet and secluded beaches. I’ll let you know now that the track took us twice the advised time with a couple of trips down to check out the beaches.
“Remember to take plenty of water and something to eat.”
We were on our way with Finlay’s little brother, Lachie in charge of the camera. Rosie lead with myself holding up the rear. We noticed quite a few dogs being walked along the trail and wished our Barley, the dog was with us on this trip. Another word of warning ‘mind the dog poo.’ Lachie delighted in taking a picture of one we’d luckily just missed.
It was an overcast day so the lake wasn’t showing off its namesake colour blue. It was still beautiful though and the birdsong, light rain showers and the fact we were getting amongst the nature was everything.
Lachie was doing an excellent job illustrating the journey as we went. I might give him the reins more often.
Finlay just loves to touch the nature as he wheels passed. This was another thing we had to watch for, but we’re used to it. He was in his element surrounded by family and nature.
Lots of opportunities to view the lake and take a breather along the way.
We saw these steps at first and have to say we wondered if we could make it. By this time, however, we were becoming more accomplished sherpas. Beside the steps we discovered a dirt track leading up which the TrailRider took to very well. It would have managed the steps just fine too with a bit of power assist. The one wheel concept makes such a difference to bumping over steps, logs and small slips.
Looking around were towering fern trees. By this time light rain had started to creep in and the fern canopy kept us fairly sheltered.
We decided to follow one of blue arrows down to a beach. It proved to be a little steep and this is where the hand brake powered by the battery worked a treat.
Once we got down to the beach we all just let out a massive “wow!” It was stunning and although overcast we still didn’t want to leave. We were alone together away from all the hustle and bustle of town.
Coming back up from the Lake meant we had to use the power assist. The TrailRider is designed for this sort of terrain and I’d say once the sherpas/support walkers gain more experience it could be put to the test even more.
At the Blue Lake it is possible to take a swim, fish and boat. This is not the case at neighbouring Green Lake, as its Rotokakahi is sacred to Maori. Motutawa Island in the middle of the lake is the burial ground of many Maori ancestors. The lake is privately owned by local iwi (tribes) and no swimming, fishing or boating is permitted.
We made it to what we’d call the half-way point, from this point on the track was flatter, wider and very easy.
Just before coming out to where cars could drive in and park the track carried on down steps. Signage said that it could take strollers but at this stage we had become a little tired and hungry so chose to take to the side of the road for a bit. We came across signage that took us down a steep track to access the lake and continue along the loop track again.
After a bit of a windy track with a few steep areas we finally came to the end. We were very hungry and pretty tired after our efforts and felt deserving of a treat. We locked eyes on the food caravan on the lake front and this is where we enjoyed the tastiest burgers we’d had in a long while. Finlay was so shattered he fell right to sleep as we ate.
Handy Information and Other Tracks to Try
There is a mobility park right next to the i-site. Here you can access the “Red” track from outside the visitors centre. Follow the red arrows through the large redwood trees and over the boardwalk. The track loops round behind the i-site where you can return or carry on, onto the “Blue” track. The Blue track (Waitawa) with the power-assist of the TrailRider could be a track to try out.
On our recent visit to the Redwoods we took Finlay’s Powerchair onto the Mokopuna track. On the signage it read wheelchair, stroller friendly. We did the whole track with the Powerchair and found it very easy. I would say it wouldn’t suit a standard wheelchair without some assistance or a way to lift the caster wheels.
Redwoods is recommended to be a good starting point to test out the TrailRider before you hit the more diverse terrain.
Hemo Gorge Mud Pool – 4 km return
Park at the Te Puia overflow carpark to check out the new sculpture in the roundabout. Then go through the Hemo Gorge track (Te Ara Ahi cycleway), past the BMX track and into Waipa MTB carpark. From there enter the forest over the bridge and go up to the mud pool. Continue on round past the mud pool, keep turning to the right at junctions and this will bring you back to Waipa. Have a coffee at the Container Café at Waipa and wander back to the car. Or if you’ve had enough someone could run back through the gorge and get the car while you have your coffee.
Recommended to check out by Simon Alefosio-Tuck from Sport, Recreation & Environment at Rotorua Lakes Council
Hannah’s Bay – 1.2km loop
This reserve is between the airport and the lake, it is a 3-minute walk/wheel from where we stayed at the All Seasons Holiday Park! We did this whole walk in a Powerchair and know it will be very easy to do with the TrailRider. There is a lot of parking in this area and a mixture of boardwalk bridges and packed gravel tracks. There is also a playground that has a bridge with a ramp making it accessible to reach.
Lake Ōkareka – Boyes Beach – 1.5km one way
Lake Ōkareka is about 15 minutes out from town toward Tarawera/Blue Lake. There is a council reserve called Boyes Beach. The local community group has built a walking track that’s about 1500m long between Boyes Beach and a DOC camp. Nice walking track, I don’t believe there’s any steps in it but the start has a boardwalk which is pretty cool.
Recommended to check out by Simon Alefosio-Tuck from Sport, Recreation & Environment at Rotorua Lakes Council