Changing Places New Zealand Our Travels Waikato Region

New Zealand’s First Changing Place at The Hamilton Gardens

On our return trip to Auckland after visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata, we decided to stop for lunch at the popular Hamilton Gardens. We knew this was the location for New Zealand’s first Changing Place and we needed to pay a visit. It was a perfect half-way point on our journey and a convenient stop just off the main Highway 1 running north via Hamilton.

There are two entrances: Gate 1 which is the main entrance with the larger carpark capacity and then Gate 2, the next entry on leading to a popular playground equipped with plenty of well marked mobility parks and the Changing Place bathroom.

We had our registered electronic tag with us that allows access to any Changing Place built in the country. If you haven’t registered for your own electronic tag you can ask at the Reception Gift/Souvenir Shop to borrow one.

We registered for our electronic tag to gain access to the Changing Place in Newmarket, Auckland. The freedom it is beginning to give us is life changing, a total game changer. We just place the electronic tag against the sensor pad which opens the wide sliding door to welcome you in. The cost is $120 for a life-time registration, but you can easily obtain funding for it from various different providers. A full list of funders can be found on the Changing Places website.

These facilities need to be locked to keep them free from vandalism and mis-use. It is easy to see why when you see the specialised equipment inside. The equipment has to be maintained and remain in good working order.

“We wouldn’t want little Johnny playing ‘flying fox’ on the ceiling track hoist”

Many standard accessible toilets are doubled up as baby change facilities. This means often young families mistake the Changing Places signage as a disability toilet and a baby change facility combined. Once these facilities become more established nationwide I am sure this confusion will become less and less.

The Height-Adjustable Change Bed

Once inside the room you will be greeted with a unique Hamilton Gardens themed mural all around the walls. Did you know that in every Changing Place built you will find Charley? A little girl in a wheelchair, who inspired every bathroom to be built.

Charley, is the beautiful daughter to Jenn Hooper, the lead designer and founder of Changing Places New Zealand.

Everything inside this bathroom facility has been carefully considered for both the disabled person and the caregiver. You will find visual guides are used a lot more than words themselves. Let’s face it, who has time to read every instruction when you are seeing to someones care or being cared for. A simple button with a ‘Warm Me’ illustration is self-explanatory enough for finding where to put the heater on.

Changing Places NZ bathrooms include us in society and enable us to have good lives. Thank you for making us feel welcome Hamilton and following Universal Design and EGL principles.

Height-adjustable basin

Finlay’s favourite bit of the room is the height-adjustable basin. He can wheel right underneath, turn the lever tap on by himself and see himself clearly in the mirror. The tap is on a sensor, so will turn itself off automatically after a set amount of time. It seems like a simple thing to do to come up to a sink, turn on a tap and wash your hands. However, with physical challenges the right equipment makes a world of difference.

This bathroom could only have been designed by a caregiver, the eye for detail for all practical inclusions are ergonomically well thought out. The space allows for safe circulation when providing for personal cares. The bathroom includes a privacy screen around the toilet, so the utmost respect is considered for both parties. The toilet is accessible from both sides with liftable arms making assisted transfers a breeze. Large buttons for easy flushing and a toilet roll at your finger tips. The toilet is even height-adjustable which happens to be New Zealand’s first one ever installed. The ceiling track hoist reaches across to access the entire bathroom area, from wheelchair to change-bed or toilet.

Next to the height-adjustable change bed is signage that is easy to follow, with trouble shooting visuals on how to use the specialised equipment. The change bed even comes with a detachable shower hose for extra hygiene needs. Water disposal flows beautifully through the shower tray down into a convenient drainage system leaving the floor dry and free from slips.

NB: Changing Places do not provides slings for use, so it’s important that you have your own with you.

You will find plenty of bins to dispose of personal care items such as pads and sharps along with handy hooks and shelves to place items on. Again, everything is carefully located for easy grabbing distance to keep the users safe from any injury. A safety gate is available on the change bed if needed.

The height-adjustable toilet, change bed and basin.

The Standard ‘Accessible’ Toilet

Now you will find a whole load of other standard accessible toilets located elsewhere in the Hamilton Gardens. We thought it would be helpful to check out the pre-existing standard accessible toilet located around the corner to the new Changing Place addition. The comparison to the Changing Place standard couldn’t be more different. This one been doubled up as a baby change facility which seems to be common practice in many places. The hardest thing is both users, disabled and babies can utilise these rooms for longer periods and both users need them to be available for when the need arises. We find this particularly challenging when staying at Holiday Parks and needing to use the shared toilet and shower facilities. The bathrooms are always occupied by the families who make up the majority.

The first thing that strikes you is the heavy hinged door and the sloping entrance way. To be able to hold onto your wheels as brakes and grab open the heavy door, would take some skill and strength. Once inside the large nappy bin is taking up all the transfer space for the toilet. To wash your hands afterwards you have to wheel to the basin further away to find the soap. Once you’ve got the soap on your hands you have to place your soapy hands on your wheels to access the other basin to find the towels. Its use for an independent wheelchair user is far from easy.

The Beautiful Hamilton Gardens

This attraction isn’t just home to a Changing Place. It has a wheelchair accessible restaurant overlooking the lake, lot’s of activities and events happen here, plenty of parking and beautiful themed gardens to explore. This is the best place to stop, picnic and unwind from a drive.

You can explore themed gardens inspired from all over the world or stumble on creations like the Surrealist Garden.

There is something to marvel everywhere you turn and challenge your imagination.

You might visit for a wedding or be here for a concert or gardening contest.

The Waikato River flows right beside with heaps of places to enjoy a picnic beside.

There are plenty of picturesque walkways that you will find easy to navigate around with a wheelchair. You can feel like you are in the heart of the sub-tropics in one moment to feeling like you have wandered amongst Bonsai trees in Japan.

The Enabling Basin

We took a short video of Finlay having fun at the basin. Seeing him engage with this simple activity filled both of us with joy, it proves how easy it is to give independence if you choose the correct equipment to enable it to happen.

“Enabling is providing good access, universal design and inclusion”

Kimberly Graham GYW
Our Finlay enjoying his ability to wash his own hands.

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