My holidays: Michelle de Kretser

Author Michelle de Kretser would like to cross an international border on foot.
Author Michelle de Kretser would like to cross an international border on foot.

What was your greatest holiday?

The brief time I spent on Taprobane Island off the southern coast of Sri Lanka. There is no bridge or boat to the tiny island: you have to roll up your trousers and wade. The hotel there is a glorious, colonial bungalow built by a French adventurer who masqueraded as an aristocrat. The view to the south is ocean all the way to Antarctica - the next landfall is an iceberg. I grew up in Sri Lanka, and on trips to the south as a child, I would always gaze out at the island, which looked like something from a fairy tale, and dream about living there. It was unimaginably exciting when that dream came true - for a few days, at least.

And the worst?

A beachside holiday in northern Queensland. I was staying in a lodge full of backpackers like me, and all there was to do was swim during the day and swap our dreary travellers' tales by night. I've avoided beach holidays ever since.

If we bump into you on holiday, what are you most likely to be doing?

Walking in France. As often as we can afford to, my partner and I walk for three to four weeks in rural France. We walk from village to village, along forgotten country tracks and old pilgrim paths, staying in B&Bs or little hotels. Time slows right down, the landscape changes, we notice geology, crops, birds, the weather grows important. These holidays are magical interludes in our lives.

If we could teleport you to one place in New Zealand for a week-long holiday, where would it be?

I'd love to visit the Bay of Islands.

How about for a dream holiday internationally?

I want to visit the Italian Lakes. And I'd like to go walking there, and perhaps cross an international border on foot: something I've yet to.

What's the dumbest thing you've ever done when travelling?

On a backpacking holiday in Germany long ago, I arranged to meet an Australian friend in the small town where she was living - and then spent all day on trains that took me to a town of the same name but on the other side of Germany! If only I'd bothered to look at a map.

Complete this sentence: I can't travel without ...

... Vegemite! I dislike sweet food for breakfast, so when I'm faced with baguette and jam in France, or doughnuts in Italy, out comes my container of Vegemite.

What's the best travel tip you've ever been given?

Leave your guidebook at home.

What was the most memorable meal you've had while travelling?

Last year, while walking in the Jura, we ran into rain. We had some bread and cheese with us, but couldn't find any shelter and so had to keep walking. In the late afternoon, we arrived at the village where we would be staying the night and checked into the no-star inn. There was a restaurant attached, the only place where you could get a hot meal, but the lunch service was over, the staff had gone home, and it would be hours before dinner was available. But the manager, seeing that we were wet and learning that we hadn't eaten since breakfast, went into the kitchen herself and prepared us a dish of local mushrooms baked in wine and cream - a snack to keep us going. Naturally, there was wine to drink as well. Her kindness and those delicious mushrooms are equally memorable.

What's the best thing you've brought back from a trip?

Lavender sea urchin shells from the beach in Portarlington (Victoria).

Favourite airport to land at?

Charles de Gaulle.

What's the next trip you've got planned?

In October I'll be going to Vancouver for a writers' festival - my first visit to Canada, so I'm looking forward to it (and also slightly apprehensive about the cold).

Michelle de Kretser will be a guest of the 2014 Auckland Writers Festival, which runs May 14-18.

- NZ Herald

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