Brave John’s van-tastic time in Queenstown


Cerebral palsy sufferer John Birdsall can’t walk or talk – but he’s driving a van around New Zealand. 

The gutsy Englishman is in Queenstown while touring the country in a specially adapted Mercedes Vito he’s shipped out from the United Kingdom. 

Birdsall has been severely disabled since birth and has limited use of his arms and legs. He’s confined to an electric wheelchair and ‘talks’ through a keyboard. 

It’s his seventh visit to NZ but being able to zip around in his own van has opened up a whole host of new sightseeing options. 

When travelling, Birdsall sleeps in the vehicle at camp sites – he claims NZ facilities are very disability-friendly, with special showers. In contrast, Kiwi drivers “are bad” he claims. 

“I’m happy to drive 100km, [New Zealanders] are up your bum,” Birdsall says. 

So far Birdsall’s driven his van – “it freaked out Customs” – down the West Coast to hit Queenstown in time for Christmas. 

After a brief trip to Bluff, he was back in the resort to see in the New Year and plans to clock up a few adrenaline highs before heading north. 

The Nevis Arc canyon swing is top of the list. He also wanted to do his fifth skydive while in the resort but says Nzone management weren’t keen on the idea, so he’s saving that thrill for when he gets to the Abel Tasman. 

He’s also got his sights set on a Milford Sound cruise – he’s never been there before since he can’t get on a bus. 

This trip is far from the intrepid traveller’s most adventurous mission. 

Birdsall wrote a book Never-Ending Sun about travelling across Iceland on a three-wheeled trike with a top speed of five miles per hour, and by horse.