A whole new way to travel
IMAGINE walking the streets of your hometown when you can no longer walk, or seeing some of the great places and art of the world when you can no longer travel.
Perhaps you'd like to live out a childhood dream of flying to the moon, or swimming with whales.
It's all possible at The Entrance through the technological magic of virtual reality.
It's the vision of Jason McDonald, a social worker of more than 30 years and NSW director of aged and disability care service Life Without Barriers.
He emphasises that this is not gaming (although games are also available) but an emotional and potentially therapeutic experience for all ages.
"For older folk it can be something amazing," Jason said, telling of a Maltese grandfather who was able to walk the roads of his childhood and show his children and grandchildren the house he grew up in.
"He thought he could never go back there and would never see it again - everyone was in tears, including," Jason said.
Jason first experienced VR almost 30 years ago and loved it, despite the fact the actual quality was "horrific - pixelated, fragmented and ghosting".
Instead of just watching something on a screen, it feels like you jump inside this 3D world where you can move around at will, even picking things up.
When a friend suggested a few years ago that he take his kids to experience VR in Newcastle, he jumped at the chance to experience it again, and couldn't believe the difference.
He recalls the owner's seemingly exaggerated question, "are you ready to have your mind blown?" Jason admits that's pretty much what happened: and he could immediately see the opportunities not just for a business but for virtual reality to change people's lives.
"It was breathtaking," he said.
After a lot of research and development, the purpose-built Central Coast Virtual Reality opened 12 months ago, and Jason said people's reactions have been overwhelming.
"It is so inclusive - it lets people with disabilities experience a level of freedom, of locomotion they never have," he said.
That includes a wheelchair-bound woman with MS who was able to climb Mount Everest, dive underwater and experience a roller coaster again.
For those who remember watching Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon on crackly black and white TV, you can take Michael Collins' seat and fly with Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in a crystal clear, multimillion-dollar 45-minute recreation of the experience.
You can also fly in a Lancaster bomber in a mission over Berlin, enter a submersible and explore the wreck of the Titanic, visit Versailles or the Louvre, and get so close to Monet's work you can see the cracks in the paint.
For those with phobias, the experience can even be used in desensitisation, introducing you to spiders or birds gradually in a controlled setting.
With 100 choices, it's the most extensive range of VR experiences in Australia, but it doesn't costs the earth - a 15-minute experience is $20, 30 minutes $30 or 60 minutes $50, with people in wheelchairs half price.
And for those who are unsure, you can even have a free trial of the underwater ocean experience which changed Jason's life, The Blu.
Go to www.ccvr.com.au, phone 02 4334 1841 or visit CCVR at 26 The Entrance Rd 10am-6pm Wednesday to Sunday.
•As a special February offer, Seniors who mention this article will receive a 50% discount Wednesday to Friday.