A family odyssey
During the July school holidays, Wellington parents Kate and Alex Dean took their children Zach, 16, Noah, 13, and Holly, 11 through Kenya and Tanzania, across the red-dust plains and deserted grasslands of the Serengeti. By night, they cooked by campfire and slept in tens, and during the day they spotted leopards sleeping in trees and migrating herds of elephants and giraffes. With Alex’s 40th birthday approaching, they wanted to seek a family adventure and also take the kids out of their comfort zone. “We wanted the children to realise the world wasn’t made up of countries like New Zealand and Australia; that there was a third world out there,” says Kate. As Noah told his friends in a school speech when he returned, “in New Zealand a possum in your backyard gets reported on your Facebook feed -but in Africa a lion strolling through your backyard is a daily occurrence."
A retirement trip
Wellington grandma Deirdre McFarland had dreamed of visiting the medieval rock churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia since she watched a documentary several years ago. Proposed as the eighth wonder of the world by UNESCO, the 12th and 13th century churches are hewn from a single piece of granite and are the biggest Christian monoliths in the world. When her travel companion pulled out, and then her group tour was cancelled – Deirdre wasn’t fazed about going solo in her mid-70s. “I just thought if I want to go, and I need to go – I will just go on my own,” says the retired librarian. Deirdre spent a fortnight in Ethiopia with a female guide, not only visiting the extraordinary medieval churches of Lalibela, but also driving through the Simien Mountains National Park, a rugged terrain in the Amhara Region, which is home to wild animals including the goat-like Walia ibex and Gelada baboons. The unstoppable Deirdre also enjoyed a memorable evening in Lalibela, drinking honey wine and dancing to traditional drumming in a nightclub. “Why would I just sit at home and get old when I can travel?” she says.
Wellingtonian Peter Burke had already knocked off Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mt Cayambe in Ecuador when he started eyeing up Mt Damavand in Iran - which at 5671 metres tall is the highest peak in Western Asia. Although avoided by tourists for years, many travellers are drawn to Iran with its Persian architecture, friendly people, and breath-taking scenery that stretches from snow capped mountains to deserts where Asiatic cheetah still roam. For Peter, the lure was climbing a high-altitude mountain in a far-flung country he’d never visited before. The picture-perfect mountain is the focus of several Persian legends, and has even been suggested as a resting place for Noah's Ark. “No one told me I was mad for climbing Mount Damavand, but they did seem to think I was crazy climbing a snow-covered mountain in the middle of the Iranian Desert,” says Peter, a veteran of the Hutt Valley Tramping Club.
Following an interest
Vivienne and Anna Lowe’s friends all told them they were mad to plan a trip to Uzbekistan. 'Why on earth do you want to go there?' and 'great, but where is it’, were the two responses the mother and daughter duo from Wellington received. Uzbekistan sits on the continent of Asia, bordered on all sides by the desert and mountain ranges of five landlocked countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. As a destination, it’s barely on the tourist map – it's one of the least visited countries in the world – but for Viv and Anna, it ticked all the boxes; awe-inspiring architecture (which Anna studied), a rich history that mixed Old Silk Road, ancient Islam and Soviet legacy – and perhaps most importantly, absolute uniqueness. "I've done quite a bit of travelling but Uzbekistan was by far the most amazing country I've been to," says Viv. "I would describe it as beautifully nutty."