The inspiration for Intrepid Journeys came from producer/director Melanie Rakena's passion for adventure travel. Having experienced the exhilaration of backpacking to far-flung corners of the globe, Rakena convinced TVNZ that the idea of taking local celebrities off the beaten track and out of their comfort zone, was a good one.
The result was the genre-defining Intrepid Journeys, which lasted for nine seasons. The format involves piggy-backing for two weeks alongside a celebrity traveller — from All Blacks to music legends and ex-Prime Ministers — in a rough and ready destination. Making popular personalities the presenters for the show was a canny decision; it was a point of difference for an adventure travel format that might have easily been consigned as ‘niche' by television programmers.
The entertainment value of seeing your favourite celeb facing physical challenges — crouched over a toilet with Delhi Belly, or blistered from walking in the Himalayas rather than down the red carpet — is enticing.
But the achievement of Intrepid Journeys was to mix that voyeuristic pleasure with unforced and observational engagement with the local culture. Unlike most travel shows (which often feel little more than destination infomercials), here the presenters' experience of the country's history, culture and people feels authentic, and often intimate and moving.
As Rakena's company JAM TV said in the publicity: "Although they are celebrity travellers, they travel and live as the locals do — ride bumpy local buses with chickens and goats, stay in ethnic villages and eat traditional food which stretches the palate. As a result they are able to reflect on what is special about their lives in a Western and privileged world."
The presenters are a conduit (generally sensitive and insightful) to real knowledge and understanding of places, lives and events foreign to Western culture; "other cultures and countries that may otherwise only be seen on the news when all hell is breaking loose." This is a special achievement in a ratings-dependent primetime slot.
As JAM TV put it: "It is not a Survivor-style manufactured challenge show. It is about meeting real challenges in the real world, travelling to lesser-known places and then getting around the way locals do... by foot, bus and camel."
It could be described as The Amazing Race without the race and the results make for, well, often amazing television.
Eschewing 'all expenses paid' style spa and beach breaks, Intrepid Journeys' destinations included Bolivia, Borneo, Cuba, Iran, Libya, Mali, Mongolia, Myanmar(aka Burma), Nicaragua, Tibet, Uganda and Yemen; countries with interesting and troubled pasts and presents. In these countries the ‘world famous in New Zealand' celebrities were just another Western face.
Over nine series, the personalities featured included John Banks, Danielle Cormack, Dave Dobbyn, the late Ewen Gilmour, Karyn Hay, Kim Hill, Paul Henry, Paul Holmes, Chris Knox, Michael Laws, Marcus Lush, Robyn Malcolm, Anton Oliver, Rawiri Paratene, Te Radar, Tim Shadbolt, Pio Terei, Jeremy Wells and many more.
Melanie Rakena has also taken a number of television journeys within New Zealand, usually accompanied by presenter Marcus Lush.
- Paul Stanley Ward has studied at Oxford Univeristy, lived and worked in New York, and written short films that have screened at festivals in Melbourne, Venice and Cannes. He was Founding Editor of NZ On Screen.