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Aotearoa: An Outdoor Paradise

Exploring New Zealand's Ninety Mile Beach by 4WD

In 2004, I emigrated from the country of my birth (England) to New Zealand, the Land of the Long White Cloud or “Aotearoa” (to use the Maori name). For five happy years, it was my home, and had work circumstances not forced me to re-locate to Australia, I would still be living there now, I think.

From the beginning, NZ was everything I wanted it to be – green, beautiful, full of space, and stress-free. It’s scenically stunning and it remains in my mind one of the most incredible places on Earth, from the lush tropical waters of the Bay of Islands in the north to the stunning glaciers and mountains of the far south. While living there, I spent every possible moment exploring, either by 4WD or on foot, having some brilliant outdoor adventures and wondering at this feast of nature right on my doorstep. The country is truly blessed.

New Zealand's roads are brilliant for motorbiking and driving

The Kiwi people were warmer than I could ever have hoped. I’d barely been in Wellington a few days when one of the few people I knew waved at me warmly from across the local New World supermarket – I could have cried at the feeling of belonging that rushed through me: something I’d rarely experienced in ten years of living in London. I quickly realised Kiwis are some of the world’s most friendly, good-natured people, quietly proud of their land, knowing that what they’ve got really is something special.

NZ feels like my spiritual home, one of the very few places in the world that feels “right” and where I ought to be. It’s quite bizarre in a way, as I have no relatives there and didn’t know a soul before I arrived. I’m tempted to look into my family tree to see if there’s anything in my distant past that could explain it – I did once hear tell of an Auntie Ida who lived somewhere Down Under…

Today is Election Day in New Zealand, and as the proud owner of a Kiwi passport, I have used my right to vote, even though I’m based for the moment in Australia. I have dual citizenship (UK/NZ) and a British accent (with a few Australasian “twangs”, so my English friends tell me!)… but my heart most definitely belongs to New Zealand. I will return one day, that’s for sure.

Have you travelled in New Zealand? I’d love to hear your impressions of the country, so feel free to post comments below!   Jeanie

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Adventure Travel

 

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Africa: Adventure’s Last Frontier

Jeanie at Dead Vlei, Namibia

I’m very lucky – I’ve travelled all over the world for both my job and for pleasure, filming, photographing and writing about different lands and cultures, fascinated by them all. But nowhere draws me back quite like Africa.

From the mountains of Morocco to the wildernesses of Namibia, for me Africa is the last continent where true adventures are still to be had. And its pull keeps taking me back there – the more I explore it, the more I want to find.

Growing up, I read avidly about the exploits of Captain Cook, Columbus, Darwin and Magellan – great explorers who, even before detailed maps were drawn, were fuelled by a desire to seek out new places and peoples and put themselves in the path of incredible new experiences.

Centuries later, the world is a much smaller place and it’s hard to find parts of the globe where I might even come close to experiencing what those explorers of old felt. But Africa delivers every time – from the eery moonscapes of the Namib Desert and Mozambique’s wild northern coast to the vast, undulating sand dunes of the Sahara, these are the places that inspire and captivate me. Whether bumping along precarious remote canyons by Land Rover or trekking on foot across endless tracts of open African desert, these are the places where my spirit of adventure soars.

It’s me versus the terrain – suddenly I’m the star of my very own Woman Vs Wild! – and I’m in awe of, indeed in love with, these endless landscapes far from civilisation. I never feel more alive than when I’m in Africa.

And perhaps that’s the point. As a city-dweller (a necessary evil of my work, alas), I perpetually long for escape from the trappings and complications of modern life – the technology, the pressures and stresses, the constant stream of information from every angle. Those African landscapes take me back to basics and remind me that, fundamentally, we are all just small human beings on a vast and beautiful planet.

So here I am planning my next escape, my next adventure… Africa awaits!

Where in the world do you go to feel the spirit of adventure? Post a comment just below!

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Adventure Travel

 

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Lesotho 4WD Adventure

Jeanie and Nissan Patrol, Sani Pass, Lesotho

Well my latest southern Africa adventure didn’t disappoint. As well as re-visiting some of my favourite places in South Africa, I made a new discovery…Lesotho. The “Kingdom in the Sky” certainly lived up to its name – driving through the rugged mountains there, often above 1,000m, I was frequently up in the clouds, quite literally!

The highlight was, inevitably, the incredible Sani Pass. If any of you 4×4 enthusiasts out there haven’t done it, put it on your bucket list right now, it’s incredible! Approaching Lesotho from South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountain region, I headed up the pass in a trusty old Nissan Patrol, through the tiny border post about a third of the way up, and then right up to the village at Sani Top. The road was one of the most precarious I’ve ever driven – entirely gravel and rocks, numerous hairpin bends and some treacherous washouts requiring very careful manoeuvring so as not to slip over the edge into the ravine below! What rewards you at the top (apart from having survived the ascent!) is an incredible view looking across the mountains - oh and the highest pub in Africa, which does a mean toasted cheese and ham sandwich washed down with cold beer. An amazing driving adventure – but not for the faint-hearted!

As I quickly discovered, Lesotho is home to the wonderful Basotho people, many of whom inhabit remote and basic villages, subsisting on what crops they can grow at such high altitude and the wares they make by hand to sell to tourists (including the distinctive conical hats and heavy blankets which are widely worn by locals in the region).

They’re hardy and friendly people, as I discovered when I got my vehicle stuck on a particularly gnarly stretch of road on the way to the Katse Dam. Having got the car jammed somehow over a boulder in what seemed to be a very remote area, local men old and young appeared out of nowhere from the surrounding mountains to help push my car off the rocks and back onto the road. Considering most of them don’t drive cars – they get around on horses for the most part – their understanding of car mechanics was pretty spot on and having assessed my predicament they set about solving it with ingenuity and determination. Wonderful to see. 

I spent some time in a number of Basotho villages, getting to know the local customs and even learning a little of the native Sotho language too. One of the poorest countries in the world, Lesotho proved to me yet again that it’s often the poorest people in the world who are the most generous – they took me under their wing, lavished me with home-cooked food and handmade gifts, and made me feel so welcome that I didn’t want to leave.

I headed back into South Africa with mixed feelings – it would be great if more tourists visited Lesotho, as it’s truly a unique but very poor country and certainly needs the travellers’ dollars; but it’s a secret gem, still off the beaten track in tourist terms, and part of me wants it to stay hidden so that it its wonderful local charm and beautiful landscapes remain as theyare forever. I for one will return, that’s for sure.

To see my Big Earth piece on how to choose a 4WD vehicle for your overseas adventure, click here: http://www.bigearth.co.uk/experts/motoring/overlandingoverseas.html

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2011 in Adventure Travel

 

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Outback Adventure

Crossing the Canning by 4WD

Well they say the Canning Stock Route in Western Australia is one of the toughest 4WD routes you can do – and they’d be right, I reckon! My latest expedition saw me joining a convoy of eight 4x4s heading across four deserts – the Gibson, Little Sandy, Great Sandy, and Tanami – along 2,000kms of some of the remotest terrain in the world.

My trusty co-driver Greg and I were in an old aquamarine Holden Rodeo - a utility vehicle at best and definitely a bit crumbly compared with the flashier Nissan Patrols and Land Rovers that accompanied us. Still, the journey started well enough as we set out from remote Wiluna, about an hour’s flight from Perth, heading northwards into the remote and unforgiving Australian outback. We bumped along gravel roads, crossed mighty salt pans and traversed sand dunes around 10m high in places. The soft dunes gave us the biggest grief, sometimes taking several attempts to cross – hmm, what gear to use, how much acceleration…?

Each night, we bush-camped, pitching our tents or throwing down swags, building a campfire and cooking much-needed hearty dinners overlooked by a dark canopy of twinkling stars. Out here, there are no artificial lights to taint the skies and the view of the heavens is truly extraordinary, as anyone who’s camped in remote desert will tell you.

Our Rodeo took a real battering along the route. Our right hand shockie fell off earlier on but, using some amazing bush mechanics, Greg managed to do emergency repairs using a sawn-off log jammed in the rear suspension and held on with a chain. That lasted 1,500kms till the shockie gave on the other side, and the vehicle was at last deemed too unsafe to continue in. The last 500kms, I hitched a ride in one of the Nissans – luxury indeed compared with the old rattly Rodeo!

Passing through a couple of Aboriginal villages en route, it was impossible to believe that any humans could survive in such remote, dry conditions – but this is their home and they’ve lived here for centuries. As we skimmed the last stretch of corrugated gravel into Hall’s Creek, 2000kms north of our starting-point, I longed to be back out in the desert again, sleeping under the stars, drinking in that incredible, untainted star-filled sky…

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2010 in Adventure Travel

 

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