Long-running travel series Intrepid Journeys took Kiwi celebrities (from All Blacks to music legends to ex-Prime Ministers) from the comfort of home to less-travelled paths in varied countries and cultures. The Jam TV series debuted in 2003 on TV One. With its authenticity and fresh, genre-changing take on a travel show (focusing on personal experience rather than objectivity), Intrepid Journeys was a landmark in local factual television. It managed to achieve the rare mix of high ratings and critical acclaim.
Peta Mathias gets off the plane at La Paz, Bolivia — and the world's — highest airport. She steps straight into poverty, altitude sickness, stunning scenery and likable people. Her Bolivian experience includes sub-zero temperatures, uninspiring food and the infamous mining town of Potosi. But as she writes in her diary, adventure travel means, "no skidding over the surfaces, no observing through Prada sunglasses, no shirking from the reality of the culture. In that sense the journey is unforgettable because it's so intense and puts you right up against the wall."
Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt ventures into the wilds of Borneo for this full-length Intrepid Journeys episode. His time in the jungles of Malaysia's Sabah region proves to be both beautiful and frightening; his sleeping arrangements are "pure unadulterated hell". After pushing himself to the limit climbing Mount Kinabalu and encountering a lethal pit viper snake, Shadbolt is moved by visits to sea turtles on Turtle Island, and the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok. Orangutans are endangered in the area because they are losing their forest habitat to palm oil plantations.
Kerre McIvor (then Kerre Woodham) hits Cambodia in this full-length Intrepid Journey. After sampling Vietcong tunnels in Vietnam, the self-confessed lover of home comforts crosses the border and confronts Cambodia's rough roads. Feeling guilty about complaining in a country that has endured so much, she is moved by the strong and joyful spirit of the people: 'they don't need pity, they just need a break.' Woodham visits former Khmer Rouge prison S21, makes a friend at "the Queen of Cambodian ruins", Angkor Wat, and has a memorable visit to an isolated, decaying French hotel.
In this full-length Intrepid Journey actor/director Katie Wolfe takes her "appalling sense of direction" to China, a country caught between old ways and new. Wolfe travels by plane, boat, cyclo and train, which she calls "the perfect way to travel". She does three days in the Blade Runner-like cityscapes of Shanghai, where she meets an 86-year-old dancer, and visits the Forbidden City of Beijing. Wolfe also heads up the Yangtze River, visiting ghostly cities and apartment blocks, drained of people by major dam construction — before stumbling upon a most effective way to haggle.
Radio veteran Kim Hill finds herself among the politics, cigar smoke and dancing in Cuba, in this episode of the long-running travel show. During a 15-day visit, a series of seemingly random encounters take her off the beaten track to Hoodoo ceremonies, the Bay of Pigs and the sad spectacle of Guantanamo Bay. Hill conveys a textured perspective on life in Castro's Republic, and calls it "a strange mixture of Soviet style communism and Latin American hedonism".
Broadcaster Karyn Hay makes a "life enhancing" journey to 'Timor-Leste', not long after the withdrawal of UN Peacekeepers. Hay reads up on its war-riddled past and encounters mozzies and leaky boats, eats buffalo and snow-peas, and learns about the widows and guerilla fighters who resisted Indonesian occupation. She is transported beyond the troubles to wonder at ancient cave paintings, bathe in turquoise waters, and reflect on charming children and the hope that eco-tourism will offer a better life for a nation she senses is still "in shock".
Whanganui Mayor and radio host Michael Laws visits Ecuador in South America for this Intrepid Journey. He is challenged by the tough travel conditions, and moved by the poor and difficult lives of the locals, but also manages to have some fun learning to salsa dance (this was before his Dancing with the Stars training); trying on panama hats (which, contrary to their name, originated in Ecuador); and shopping. In the city of Cuenca, Laws is surprised to find the presence of armed guards and police everywhere makes him feel safer than usual.
Before he went Off the Rails Marcus Lush went off the beaten track to Egypt. He takes on a camel and donkey, drifts down The Nile aboard a felucca, samples the local fast food and deals with a dose of ‘Nile Belly'. Ancient treasures and stunning desert landscapes don't hide a more problematic recent history. But the warmth of the locals - Muslim or Christian - makes Lush a convert. When Lush tries the local Cairo barber he loses some eyelashes ("when in Rome") but nevertheless finds the whole Egypt experience to be an "eye opener."
On a two week journey through India, Pio Terei discovers that if you want to relax, you should probably visit another country entirely. From Delhi to the deserts of Rajasthan, this full-length episode sees him trying every mode of transport — including tuk tuk, camel, elephant, motorcycle and train. Along the way he floats up the sacred Ganges River, visits the Taj Mahal, buys a Pashmina shawl for his wife, and eats a meal cooked in a dung oven, traditional-Rajasthani style. He also greets a great many locals, and remains upbeat despite the challenges of travelling in a very different culture.
Musician, DJ and accomplished sailor Andrew Fagan heads to Indonesia with guitar in hand — plus some miniature sail boats. The trip includes an active volcano, a dodgy riverboat, the peaceful vibe of an Islamic festival, and some catchy Fagan tunes. The result is a standout episode, thanks partly to an enthusiastic and straight-talking host: a man who makes the most of each moment, without turning his head away from the realities of poverty, or the after-effects of terrorist bombing. Warning: animal lovers may want to avoid certain scenes.
"I've never really travelled much, let alone somewhere as challenging as Kenya." Actor and paraglider Peter Elliott lands in Nairobi, and is overwhelmed after meeting inhabitants of a massive slum on the edge of the city. Then he sets off on safari across Kenya, visiting an orphanage for young elephants, camping near crocodile-infested rivers, and spying all kinds of wildlife, all the while dealing with an unfortunate run of the runs. Elliott also gets to meet the inhabitants of a Maasai village. He feels better for the whole experience.
Media satirist Jeremy Wells travels through Libya and coments on what he sees with his trademark impassive delivery. He dresses in traditional male garb, takes in Tripoli's ancient medina, dines in traditional Berber settlements, and journeys through the Jebel Nafusa highlands. On the way Wells rides an angry camel, complains about the lack of women, holds hands with a man, and recounts Colonel Gaddafi trivia, musing with deadpan gormlessness, "he must be nice because nobody seems to have a bad word to say about him."
In this full-length episode, Lisa Chappell travels to Malaysia at the edge of South East Asia, and starts to wonder if she might be an inside-at-home, rather than intrepid, traveller. The geographically-impaired, self-confessed snake-phobic actor journeys into one of the world's oldest rain-forests, meets the nomadic Orang Asli people and enjoys a walk, 45 metres above the forest-floor. Things go downhill when she injures her back on a boat trip and tries to finish the trip early, before rediscovering the travel bug, shortly before flying out of Kuala Lumpur.
Comedian Te Radar is a natural for Intrepid Journeys - his own TV sojourns have already taken him to Palestine and East Timor. In this episode Radar travels through the landlocked African nation of Mali, much of which lies in the Sahara. On his way to the legendary city of Timbuktu he visits a festival in the desert, has a close encounter with a baby scorpion and grooves to the local drumming. Along the way, cameraman Bevan Crothers captures eye-opening imagery of brightly clothed locals and a lime-clad Te Radar, against sunlicked desert sands.
Changing Rooms star Donald Grant Sunderland visits Mexico, Guatemala and Belize for this episode of Intrepid Journeys. This excerpt features the Mexican town of Merida, where the TV interior designer is impressed with the architecture and design of his guest house, which dates back to the 1600s. Sunderland also goes shopping for food at a street market, where he samples tamales and cactus fruit (apparently with some ill effects later in the journey). Sunderland also visits the beautiful Uxmal Temples, Mayan ruins dating from 600 BC.
Hugh Sundae travels to the world's second-largest landlocked country: Mongolia. Normally unenthusiastic about travel or partaking in foods doused in yak butter, Sundae discovers that the presence of a camera adds courage to his journey. The courage proves helpful while sharing accommodation and food in a series of gers (also known as yurts) — portable houses used by the nomads of Central Asia. Sundae's trip includes camels, wrestling, Mongolian throat singing — plus trying to survive a meal made from sour milk and curd, without causing offense.
In this full-length episode of Intrepid Journeys, Dave Dobbyn arrives in the Kingdom of Morocco, and finds himself bowled over by the sites, sounds, the sense of living history, the friendly people — and the sugar-heavy local tea. Uplifted to heights both spiritual and comedic, he wanders the world's largest medieval city, in Fez; visits Hassan ll Mosque in Casablanca, one of the world's largest, and finds himself donning a British accent as he starts a camel trek in the Sahara. From Casablanca to Marrakesh, the journey offers Dobbyn a sense of delight and creative renewal.
Jon Gadsby visits Myanmar (formerly Burma) and discovers an achingly beautiful country. But behind endless golden temples and scenes from Kipling, Gadsby finds "a place of contradiction" where many live in abject poverty, controlled absolutely by their military government (most famously the ongoing house arrest of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi). When Gadsby visits, it is not a country to be travelled to lightly. He finds the locals to be open and willing to play host; yet he is struck overall by their "sad beauty".
Anton Oliver, the thinking person's All Black, travels to Nepal to experience the Annapurna Sanctury and walk the famous Annapurna Circuit. Oliver is the ideal candidate for a journey that requires fitness of body and soul. In this particularly intrepid journey, Oliver's experiences range from poverty and pollution to the heights of ancient Himalayan trekking routes. Oliver hooks [sic] the viewer into the places he visits with insightful and entertaining meditations on the unique culture and environment.
In the show's first visit to Nepal, Shortland Street actor Craig Parker sets off backpacking for the very first time, armed with good advice - to switch off the judgmental Western part of his mind. His destination is a country on the slopes of the Himalayas: half the size of New Zealand, home to 20 languages and 24 million people. Along the way Parker experiences a limb-stretching Nepalese barber, witnesses the funeral pyres at a Hindu temple, and tramps along the Helambu trek, which takes him to the same altitude as Aoraki-Mount Cook.
While Rawiri Paratene was directing TV's Korero Mai, conversation turned to Intrepid Journeys, and he mentioned offhandedly that he'd love to be a presenter. At the end of the day Paratene got an urgent message to call his agent: the Intrepid producers wanted him to guide an episode. Weeks later he found himself in Nicaragua, engaging with the people, places and troubled history of the country. But as this excerpt shows, it is the children who will live on in his memory. Paratene proves himself a generous host, revealing something of himself as much as Nicaragua.
In Peru, beauty and poverty go hand in hand. Westie comedian Ewen Gilmour begins his Peruvian journey in Lima, the capital - which he describes as a "sprawling, largely chaotic urban mess". Locals offer drugs and warn of muggers, but there are lighter moments when Gilmour entertains an enthusiastic audience in the city's historic centre, despite speaking only un poco Español. Later the former stonemason is impressed by the precision stonework in the ancient hilltop city of Machu Picchu, and visits locals who live on floating islands of reeds, on Lake Titicaca.
Trainspotter Marcus Lush trades the Raurimu Spiral for Russia's Trans-Siberian Railway where he is served peas in oil. He takes in a vast country wrestling off shackles of communism, where beer drinking on buses on the way to work equates with capitalist freedom. He visits Moscow, St Petersburg and Vladivostok, and inbetween discovers that much of Russia still follows traditional customs: emphasising respect, sharing food, drink and ciggies; and he concludes: "I'd rather be a peasant in Russia than live in a trailer park in Detroit."
This Intrepid Journey sees comedian Rhys Darby taking a Rwandan OE. In the excerpts Darby makes lots of friends in the markets of capital city Kigali, then heads on a jungle adventure. Far from the New York office of his Flight of the Conchords character Murray, he searches for critically endangered mountain gorillas. Darby is guided by François — a personable and entertaining park ranger, fluent in primate dialect — whose aping gives Darby a run for his money in gorilla impersonation. Darby is quietened by a sombre genocide memorial, and a 200 kilogram silverback.
Actor Danielle Cormack travels through Jordan and Syria, and discovers a different reality from western perceptions of the Middle East. Cormack engages with countries awash with ancient history, warm people and picturesque vistas. Highlights of Cormack's trip include visiting the natural wonders of the Dead Sea and the desert valley of Wadi Rum. She stays in a Bedouin tent, and witnesses the man-made spectacles of Petra — the ancient rose city carved out of stone — Roman amphitheatres, and the Crusader castle of Crac des Chevaliers.
In this full-length Intrepid Journey, Paul Henry brings his straight-talking style to Tibet. Entering Tibet after three days in Kathmandu, Henry encounters dodgy plumbing and the occasional surveillance camera, though he finds a certain romance in the dirt. Henry makes no effort to hide his feelings on yak butter tea, fights altitude sickness en route to Mount Everest base camp, and visits Potala Palace — ex home to the Dalai Lama, now "a mausoleum to old Tibet". For Henry, now is the best time to visit, because "Tibet is being snuffed out. This is just going to be another corner of China."
Playwright Roger Hall visits Uganda in Africa for this Intrepid Journey. He finds the going tough at times, particularly some rough accommodation and worries about malaria, but delights that he got to see lions and gorillas in their natural habitat, and is moved by the efforts of the Ugandan people to triumph over their "hideous recent history". This excerpt sees Hall white water rafting on the Nile, and getting a memorable warning speech about one of the rapids by a guide. He "loses his Nile virginity" after getting tipped out, and ending up under the raft for a few scary seconds.
Robyn Malcolm is the well-known Kiwi, and Vietnam is the far-flung place in this full-length Intrepid Journey. Writes Malcolm in her diary: "I expect to be enchanted, challenged and scared several times a day." If drinking snake wine, taking a pee in a corn field and witnessing the ceremonial sacrifice of a pig fits the bill, her expectations are fulfilled. Although some of the homestays are lacking in mod cons, Malcolm is glad for the experience. She also talks to Jimmy Pham, who runs the Koto cafe which trains street kids, visits the DMZ, and falls in love with the ex port town of Hoi An.
Veteran broadcaster Paul Holmes brings his trademark stream of introspection and acerbic wit to the ancient cultures of Yemen in the Middle East. Holmes gets a lot of mileage from the country’s many curiosities: soldiers on patrol holding hands; the high volume manner of daily conversation and the ubiquitous Khat, a chewing plant known for its amphetamine-like effects. This excerpt sees him changing into an outfit that has more in common with the locals, and suddenly feeling much more welcome than before.