Category Archives: Australia and Oceana

Getting your head on in Australia - Rolf Potts

Vagabonding Vagabond Blogger – Our Interview with Rolf Potts

Getting your head on in Australia - Rolf PottsIf you’ve done or thought about doing any long term travel in the age of the internet, chances are you’ve heard of Rolf Potts. Rolf was blogging about travel for Salon at the dawn of the 2000′s, but he is best known for the publication of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to Long Term Travel in December of 2002. The book struck a chord with the internet generation and became a runaway hit amongst those who had missed the days of the hippie trail. The book is about taking serious time off from your normal life to discover and experience the world on your own terms. With sections on  financing your travel time,  determining your destination,  adjusting to life on the road and handling travel adversity, the book addresses travel as inner development tool rather than travel as something that you simply do.  In the spirit of Ed Buryn‘s Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa, Potts book captured the imagination of a generation that was finding its way on the internet and wandering what the meaning of life truly was.  Coming right after the dot com bust and on the eve of the financial crisis in the US and Europe, the book fit the bill for filling the gap between living to work and working to live and offered the opportunity to turn your life into your work through travel.

Since then Potts has piloted a fishing boat 900 miles down the Laotian Mekong, hitchhiked across Eastern Europe, traversed Israel on foot, bicycled across Burma, drove a Land Rover across South America, and travelled around the world for six weeks with no luggage or bags of any kind. He has also published a second book Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer and continues to travel around the world between rest stops at his farmhouse in Kansas. Rumor has it that Rolf has something new in the works for 2012 but he is keeping mum about it for now. I caught up with the vagabonding vagabond blogger via email and he kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions for Vagobond readers about life, travel, authenticity and himself.

Vagobond: What were you doing career wise before you started blogging for Salon (before the publication of Vagabonding)?

Rolf Potts: My last job before I transitioned into a full-time writing was teaching English in Korea. It was a key job for me, since in addition to earning me a decent amount of money for travel, it allowed me to live in and get to know an unfamiliar culture for a couple of years. My two years in Busan wasn’t always easy, but it was an essential experience that made me a better traveler down the line.

Before that teaching gig I hadn’t been following a single career path – I worked as a landscaper in Seattle for awhile, and I worked at an
outdoor store, selling backpacks and fly-rods, in Kansas. This was all building up to what I really wanted to do — writing — and eventually that happened for me.

Vagobond: My first book was all about living in a van and enjoying time instead of money. I understand your first travels were in a van too. What were some lessons you picked up from living in a van?

Rolf Potts:I think traveling and living out of a van during my first vagabonding trip taught me some essential lessons about minimalism and keeping things simple. Since I was sleeping in the van most nights, I didn’t have a lot of room for extra “stuff”, so all I brought were some clothes and camping gear in a couple of laundry baskets. And even the gear I had in those laundry baskets wasn’t always necessary — I quickly learned that the American road provided me with most everything I needed experientially; my gear played a fairly minor role in my most interesting experiences. This was a lesson I applied while packing for my later backpacking trips across Asia, and even my no-baggage journey around the world in 2010.

Vagobond: In Vagabonding, you wrote about the philosophy of long-term travel - has that changed in the decade since then? How has technology changed your philosophy?

Rolf Potts:I don’t think my philosophy of vagabonding has changed — and in fact I wrote it in such a way that technological and other changes wouldn’t ever alter its core message, which is about keeping things simple and seeking one’s wealth in time and life-xperiences. Those are values that would apply in the 19th century as easily at the 21st. So regardless of what new tools and gadgets arrive to make travel easier, the core principles of vagabonding won’t change much.

One interesting thing about new technology — like social media and smart phones — is that it is making independent travel a lot easier.
More people are doing it now, I think, because it feels a lot safer and easier and more accessible than it used to. The flipside of this is that the conveniences of travel are more and more making travel and extension of home. In many ways we don’t have to psychically leave home” when we travel — we can keep in such close contact with our friends, family, and social networks — and this can diminish the experience of travel to an extent. So much of what is transformative about travel comes from confronting — and working through — being lonely and bored and lost. The less we’re forced to encounter those little challenges as travelers, the more travel tends to become a consumer experience.

Vagobond: Do you see any problems with the massive growth of independent and long-term travel? What about the huge growth of tourism?

Rolf Potts:There will invariably be problems with the growth of any industry, and travel is no exception. There will also be benefits. Indie travelers spend a lot of money in the “mom and pop” economies of faraway places – which is a good thing — but the presence of so many travelers can also strain the local culture and environment. Islands are particularly vulnerable to large influxes of tourists, since scarce resources like water get diverted to tourist needs instead of local ones. I don’t think this means travel should be curtailed to these places — its an important cultural and economic force — but it does mean that destinations should take care in planning tourist
facilities, and travelers should be cognizant of the impacts they bring. In a way I think indie travelers are better equipped than standard vacation tourists to wander in a mindful way, since a vagabonding-style traveler emphasizes going slow and keeping  informed.

Vagobond: I realize I’m supposed to ask you about the best destination, your favorite country or something like that – but instead, what’s your favorite tourist area?

Machu Piccu in PeruRolf Potts:Tourist areas tend to disappoint some travelers — at least early on in their vagabonding careers — since the presence of so many tourists at these sites can be depressing and feel less authentic. But over time I’ve come to appreciate the dynamic of these places, each of which are unique to their own culture, even as they host a crush of visitors during high season. New Yorkers may complain about Times Square, but I think it has a great energy, even after having visited it dozens of times. The Champ de Mars area around the Eiffel Tower is always swarming with tourists and trinket vendors, but you’d have to be a pretty cynical soul not to enjoy a bottle of wine and a picnic there on a summer day with friends. Similarly, I found Machu Picchu in Peru to be utterly amazing, despite all the tourists there. So as much as I like getting off the beaten path when I travel, I still like to cultivate appreciation for these tourist areas.

Vagobond: What do you miss when you are on the road?

Rolf Potts:Ever since I got my home in Kansas, one thing I miss most frequently is the view of the prairie from my front deck. I know this might sound like a strange thing to miss, but over the years I’ve found that part of my enjoyment of faraway places extends from my affection for a single place that I know better than any others. When you find a way to attach yourself to a small part of the world, it can energize the way you see and appreciate other parts of the world. I have literally spent years away from my home in Kansas, but having that home gives me perspective and helps me appreciate all the other places I discover and experience in more far-flung parts of the world.

Vagobond: Do you think ‘staged authenticity’ is destroying the authentic travel experience? Is the world being Disneyfied?

Rolf Potts and EthiopiansRolf Potts:Interestingly enough, I think there’s something weirdly authentic and satisfying in “staged authenticity,” when local cultures “perform” a more colorful version of their own identity for visiting tourists. Even though it’s this absurd fake charade, it says a lot about how Westerners long for a kind of authenticity they feel they have lost, while at the same time reminding host cultures about certain aspects of their own traditions. Staged authenticity will always exist, to some extent (I’d wager it existed in some form when the ancient Romans visited Egypt), but it transforms in different ways in different places. Some cultures, like the Embera in Panama, have managed to use staged authenticity in the face of tourists not just to empower themselves economically, but to redefine their own sense of identity and pride. It’s a dynamic process, like all aspects of global culture, and no sooner do you mock a thing like “staged authenticity” than you’ll begin to see it in surprising new ways.

Vagobond: Speaking of authentic, how would you recommend that today’s travelers find a more authentic experience in their travels?

Rolf Potts:The world is chock full of authenticity; it is literally everywhere, if one would just slow down and endeavor to experience it. It’s also a phenomenon that has a lot of nuance, and what at first might seem to be inauthentic — an Ethiopian Mursi tribesman wearing Nikes, for example — might end up being a very authentic part of how that culture is living today. So the best advice I can give to travelers is to simply be where you are. Turn off your smart phone, stop chattering with your companions, leave your digital camera in your pack: Stop, look, wait, breathe in; don’t overanalyze. It’s all authentic in its own way.

New Zealand Mauao, Bay of Plenty

Maori and Glowworms – New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty and the Coromandel Peninsula

Vagobond is very pleased to welcome Katherine Rodeghier to our roster of amazing travelers. Katherine has traveled the world and knows her way around both cheap holidays abroad and the more luxurious sort of adventures that we all love to indulge in from time to time. As always, we here at Vagobond are very happy to bring you the best of travel from those who are seeing it and know how to write about it.  Judging by Katherine’s previous work and this first story at Vagobond, readers here are in for a wonderful travel treat! 

Story and Photos by Katherine Rodeghier exclusive for Vagobond

As my paddle dipped into water the color of black ink, I kept my eyes peeled on the glowing red headlamp of the kayaker in front of me. Single-file, we slid across Lake McLaren, following the verbal cues of our guides whose disembodied voices echoed over the water.

Bay of Plenty New Zealand

Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel Peninsula is one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Kayaking, always an enjoyable activity for me, takes on an added sense of adventure at night on New Zealand’s North Island. The uncertainty of navigating an unfamiliar body of water in almost total darkness has a big payoff though: the chance to glimpse some of the oddest insects on earth, glowworms.

Our flotilla of kayaks left the main channel and crowded into a narrow canyon where we flicked off our headlamps in unison. And there they were, thousands of blue dots, draping the canyon walls like Christmas lights. If you want to get all scientific, these are not worms at all, but the larvae of a winged insect similar to a firefly. They spin sticky threads hanging from the rock and switch on their nightly bioluminescence to lure prey.

Reluctantly, we left the glowworm grotto and headed back on the lake, where a full moon rose above the trees as if by magic, serving as a beacon as we paddled toward shore.

For visitors to New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty and Coromandel Peninsula, such moments of magic and mystery are not uncommon. Perhaps that’s due to the influence of the Maoris and their myths about their worship of the natural world. These indigenous people who traveled here from Southeast Asia by way of Polynesia on outrigger canoes—according to one theory—brought beliefs and traditions that enrich the Kiwi character today.

 

New Zealand Mauao, Bay of Plenty

The sacred mountain, Mauao, overlooks the beach and Bay of Plenty in Mount Maunganui. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

In the town of Mount Maunganui, a small mountain sacred to the Maoris perches on the edge of the Bay of Plenty. According to myth, the spirit of this mountain, called Mauao, dragged it here as a result of a love triangle. It had been one of trio of mountains on an inland ridge, two male, one female, but when its love was not returned, it sought to drown itself in the Pacific. Just short of shore, the spirit of the female mountain called to it, pleading with it to stop. I spent a pleasant hour on a two-mile walking path around the mountain, peeking out through overhanging trees to watch surfers and swimmers off Ocean Beach.

When the British came, first to take gold and lumber from the North Island, and later to settle there, the Maori were suppressed, their land taken, their language banned. But their culture was never snuffed out. Today 14 percent of New Zealanders proudly proclaim their Maori heritage and 37 or the 120 seats in Parliament are held by Maoris.

 

New Zealand Maori Dance

Traditional Maori songs and dances are performed for tourists at Huria Marae in Tauranga. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Maori tribal life is centered around the marae, an ancestral house used for social and religious gatherings. In Tauranga, cruise ship and tour bus passengers visit Huria Marae to share in a feast of Maori foods, enjoy song and dance, and learn a bit about Maori culture. Both men and women are heavily tattooed in traditional designs, perhaps the most unusual of which is a woman’s chin tattoo bestowed on those of high esteem, usually later in life when they are gray-haired grandmothers.

One of the most popular tattoo designs is the spiral-shaped koru depicting the silver fern as it emerges in new growth. Representing new life, or peace, it unfolds into a long, silvery frond that’s the national symbol of New Zealand and logo of its wildly popular All Blacks World Cup-winning rugby team.


I saw plenty of large silver ferns on a day spent tramping (Kiwi for hiking) through the rugged Coromandel Peninsula with one of New Zealand’s foremost nature guides, Kiwi Dundee. A rugged, weathered gent with more than 25 years of guiding under his belt, he walks and talks through the bush, peppering his comments with puns as old as he is. In real life he’s Doug Johansen. He and his wife, Jan, named their tour business Kiwi Dundee Adventures after he was given the moniker in answer to the Aussie’s Crocodile Dundee craze in the late 1980s.

Hiking in New Zealand

Doug Johansen, otherwise known as Kiwi Dundee, is one of New Zealand’s foremost nature guides. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Doug points out the massive kauri trees, cut for lumber and masts on 18th-century sailing ships, the entrance to an abandoned gold mine, and hushes us to silence to listen to the bird calls in the canopy above. He also explains the volcanic origins of the peninsula and points out Hot Water Beach where, at low tide bathers dig pools in the sand that fill with hot water from thermal vents a mile out in the bay. Hot enough to cook mussels in five minutes, bathers must add cool ocean water to bring their sandy hot tub to a comfortable temperature.

I missed the low tide, so I had my soak at the Lost Spring, a day spa in Whitianga. Owner Alan Hopping began drilling on the site seeking the hot water he knew was down there somewhere. Twenty-five years later he finally found it and opened his hot pools to the paying public in 2008.

The Kiwis love sports, nature and wildlife, all found in abundance on the Coromandel. The peninsula, just two hours from Auckland, is where the Kiwis come to play, spending their weekends and holidays at a campground or bach (beach house). Beaches are particularly attractive on the eastern side where cliffs tumble into the sea, scattering rocky outcroppings and tree-covered islands into the ocean. A favorite is Cathedral Cove, a natural sandstone arch accessible by kayak or a hike down a path from the town of Hahei. It’s part of the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve in Mercury Bay. Off limits to fishing, it’s a great spot for boating, swimming and snorkeling. Jump in and with luck you might find yourself frolicking with a blue-eyed penguin diving and dashing off shore. It’s another of New Zealand’s unusual creatures, but much more slippery and a whole lot faster than a glowworm.

If you’d like to explore the wonders of New Zealand why not check out the cost of flights using our amazing Vagobond Flight Tool.

Once you have the tickets arranged, use our hotel search engine for New Zealand Hotels to find the perfect place to stay on New Zealand’s North Island.

Australia Travel

Americans on Australia = Pee Your Pants Funny

I generally try not to do reposts here, but this made me laugh so hard that I can’t help it.  Enjoy and if you are American, hang your head in shame. If you are heading to Australia you can find the best flight deals using our Vagobond Flight Tool and search more than a  quarter million hotels using our Vagobond Hotel Search Engine.

 

Australia Travel

Extract from emails to the Tourism Agency of Australia.

> Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia?  I have never seen it rain on TV, how do the plants grow? (   UK ).
>
> A
:
We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.
__________________________________________________
>
> Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? ( USA)

> A:Depends how much you’ve been drinking.
__________________________________________________
>
> Q:I want to walk from Perth to Sydney – can I follow the railroad tracks? ( Sweden
)
>
> A
: Sure, it’s only three thousand miles, take lots of water.
__________________________________________________
>
> Q:
Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in Australia ?  Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane , Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay ? ( UK )

> A: What did your last slave die of?
__________________________________________________
>
> Q:Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia ? (
USA
)

> A: A-Fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of   Europe .
> Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not
> … Oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Kings Cross. Come naked.
__________________________________________________
>
> Q:Which direction is North in Australia ? (USA)
>
> A
:
Face south and then turn 180 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.
_________________________________________________
>
> Q:
Can I bring cutlery into Australia ? ( UK)
> A:Why? Just use your fingers like we do…
__________________________________________________
>
> Q:Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? (
   USA )

> A
: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is
> Oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races. Come naked.
__________________________________________________
>
> Q:
Can I wear high heels in   Australia ? ( UK )
> A:
You are a British politician, right?
__________________________________________________
>
> Q:Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (
Germany
)

> A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gatherers.
> Milk is illegal.
__________________________________________________
>
> Q:Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can Dispense rattlesnake serum. ( USA
)

> A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from.
> All Australian snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.
__________________________________________________
>
> Q:I have a question about a famous animal in Australia , but I forget its name. It’s a kind of bear and lives in trees. ( USA
)
>
> A
: It’s called a Drop Bear. They are so called because they drop out of Gum trees and eat the brains of anyone walking underneath them.
> You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.
__________________________________________________
>
> Q:I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Can you tell me where I can sell it in   Australia ? (USA
)

> A: Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.
__________________________________________________

> Q:Do you celebrate Christmas in   Australia ? ( France )
>
> A
: Only at Christmas.
__________________________________________________
>
> Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? ( USA
)
>
> A
: Yes, but you’ll have to learn it first