Ask Lonely Planet: Travel queries answered

4 comments
Food allergies can be sorted easily in English-speaking Singapore. Photo / Singapore Tourism Board
Food allergies can be sorted easily in English-speaking Singapore. Photo / Singapore Tourism Board

My grandma dreams of travelling to Africa. She is 85 years old and quite fit. She saw a documentary about a train that travels through the middle of the continent and she hasn't stopped talking about it since. Could you recommend some places for her to visit? Ideally she'd travel in a guided tour with people of a similar age and fitness level.

- Kirsten

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

Without knowing the specific African country and train journey, we can't really help with specifics. We can, however, suggest some memorable train journeys and useful resources for planning her trip.

Although not great in number, African railway journeys can be amazing experiences, full of cultural exchange, amazing landscapes and crazy stations where all kinds of goods are hawked at train windows.

Train travel is safer and usually more comfortable than road and, therefore, is a good option for the elderly, although outside southern and northern Africa trains can be very slow, with long delays common.

One of the most famous train journeys is the Rovos, between Cape Town and Pretoria in South Africa, with extended itineraries as far afield as Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Swakopmund in Namibia.

Traversing savannah, canyons, deserts and cities, they are incredible trips, but expensive.

Other epic journeys include the Marrakech Express from Madrid in Spain through to Marrakech and Fez in Morocco, and the Shongolo Express that takes in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia.

Arguably the best online resource for rail travel is seat61.com, by train-spotter extraordinaire Mark Smith.

It's jammed full of useful information, tips and suggestions for just about every track on the globe.

Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum is also a good place to glean knowledge from fellow travellers who have caught an earlier train.

There are a number of companies that offer tours. In New Zealand, there is Adventure World. Great Railway Journeys, based in Britain, is helpful, too.

Plan meticulously to avoid scary emergencies

I have read that the real Mount Sinai (where Moses received God's Ten Commandments) is in Saudi Arabia and not in Egypt. Is it possible to visit the Saudi Arabian Mount Sinai? Are there organised tours to that destination? Do NZ passport-holders need a visa to visit Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

- Sanjeev Damle

The mountain in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, claimed by some scholars to be the real biblical Mount Sinai, is Jabal al-Lawz. In the northwest of the Kingdom, close to the border with Jordan, it is 2580m high and overlooks the Gulf of Aqaba and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

In a country synonymous with red tape, Saudi bureaucracy is said to be at its most opaque when applying for a visa. However, the process does appear to be easing.

See the Kingdom's New Zealand consulate website for authorised agents listed under the Consular Services section. They can help you obtain a letter of invitation, a visa prerequisite.

Alternatively, call the consulate for the latest information; it can change often and without notice.

Independent travel in the Kingdom is not particularly easy.

Your best bet for a hassle-free trip is to go on a tour. Authorised Saudi operators that can also help with your visa include: Al Shitaiwi Travel and Tourism, Jawlah Tours, and Sadd Al-Samallaghi.

While none of these companies advertises trips to Jabal al-Lawz, they do cover the northwest of the Kingdom.

Currently, NZ citizens can be issued with a tourist visa on arrival in the other countries you mention. However, it is always best to check first with the country's local embassies or consulates. The government website: mfat.govt.nz will point you in the right direction.

It's also a good idea to check for travel alerts prior to planning any trip abroad. See safetravel.govt.nz for more details; there are warnings currently for all of your destinations.

Travelling with allergies

My two-year-old daughter has allergies to egg, dairy and nuts and we are planning to meet another family who are coming from the UK. Can you please advise us on suitable family destinations that cater for children with allergies?

Ideally, we were thinking Southeast Asia - not ideal for allergy-sufferers due to the language barrier - or the USA.

I have searched the internet and, quite frankly, I am scared to have to rely on the word of hotels and airlines. I would like the option to buy food, know what's in it and cook myself.

I am also wondering what the requirements are for taking food into another country, as I would like to take specific foods with us.

- Simone Antcliff

While identifying ingredients and communicating your requirements will undoubtedly be easier in English-speaking countries, this doesn't mean you can't travel elsewhere.

Companies such as Select Wisely sell cards that list the ingredients you wish to avoid and questions for hotels and restaurants translated into over 50 languages. Other cards provide instructions for emergencies, with the option to customise them with specific messages at additional cost. Such cards would certainly be helpful in Southeast Asia.

To ease your concerns, you may wish to limit yourself to destinations where high-quality medical facilities are readily available. Singapore is a good option, being well-developed and English-speaking. Singaporean beaches aren't exactly dime-a-dozen, so you may want to hop into Malaysia where they are plentiful and English is also widely spoken.

Another great English-speaking option (around nine hours' flight from Auckland) is Hawaii, where there's plenty of scope for lazing on the beach. Australia is also worth a look: it may not be exotic, but it will likely tick all of your boxes and perhaps your friends are harbouring a desire to see this side of the world? Once they're in Australia, they might as well cross the Tasman and visit New Zealand, too.

Most countries have at least some restrictions on what food items you can bring in, with some - such as Australia - being particularly strict. To find out about other countries, look at the respective immigration websites (eg ava.gov.sg for Singapore and hawaii.gov for Hawaii).

- NZ Herald

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