Award-winning writer Joanne Drayton shares her favourite travel memories
What do you miss most about travel right now?
For me travel is escape. A chance to extract myself from ordinary life. To be removed from routine. The jobs, the lists, the commitments — all necessary — but suffocating. Travel shakes off the shackles. It frees me to do new things, to think creatively and get myself and where I'm going, in perspective. The more exotic the travel context the more vivid the experience. I miss the getaway and the sense of unfolding adventure that begins in the departure lounge.
What are your strongest memories from the first overseas trip you ever took?
I was a teenager and went to Apia in Western Samoa. My parents stayed at home in New Zealand and I went with my 13-year-old brother Guy. We were often unsupervised. Too young, really, to be overseas on our own, but what an unforgettably intense experience. I remember the oven-like heat; the magnificent beaches; the beauty of the rainforests and mountainous areas; and being two crazy adolescents taking a tiny 4-seater aeroplane to Savai'i to explore the island.
What was a standard family holiday like when growing up?
My family holidayed in Golden Bay. They owned a section on Parapara Beach, before building a house there. For years we took camping holidays on our section. I remember the shimmering beach. The smell of damp canvas and steaming grass. Camping was basic in our caravanning days, but I think I enjoyed it more. The great catastrophe one year was dropping the ritual Christmas cake icing side up on the gritty caravan floor.
Who has most inspired your travels?
My adult travels have been inspired by my writing. I have written six biographies and am currently working on a history of New Zealand through the lens of The Listener. The great adventure has been to follow my subjects and their stories around the world. My partner and I followed the footsteps of trailblazers such as Frances Hodgkins, Ngaio Marsh, Anne Perry, and Peter Hudson and David Halls. Their itinerary became our itinerary. We were detectives, in a way, uncovering their movements and working out how place and environment helped shape the person they became.
What is the greatest trip you've ever been on?
Geoffrey Chaucer's Pilgrims Way from Winchester Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral, in the United Kingdom. Sue and I walked a total of 200km in the freezing cold of late December 2019 — early January 2020. I loved getting up and walking every day. I enjoyed the freedom of not knowing where we would be sleeping that night. But above everything else I adored the landscape — ever-changing and often spectacular.
And the worst?
Being kidnapped by a taxi driver and his mate in Egypt. The experience was utterly terrifying. Our lives were in danger. We had to pay a king's ransom to get our bags back and were lucky to escape the experience in one piece.
What's your approach to packing for a big trip?
Pack as little as possible and think in terms of wearing layers. Buy duck down puffer jackets — light and warm. Everything you pack needs to be essential.
What is the destination that most surprised you – good or bad?
Finland in January is magical. It's hard to believe how beautiful it is in the snow. Frosted trees; freezing breath suspended in the air; frozen lakes — it was unexpectedly beautiful.
Where was your most memorable sunrise/sunset?
The corniche in Alexandria, Egypt. The sunrise and sunsets were sublime. There is a feeling there that you can see forever — into the past and the future.
What's the first thing you do when you get home from a long trip?
Kiss my cats and thank the gods I live in New Zealand, which makes coming home almost as marvellous as going away.
What do you miss most about home when you travel?
I miss the comfort of home. That absolute sense of relaxation that comes from things that are utterly familiar. Being away is also being on guard. Thinking your way through newness takes concentration. A part of your brain is always wired. Home is a place without risk.
Where is the one destination you must see in your lifetime?
The Camino. I want to walk the Pilgrims Way from the French border to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. I love walking. Travel for me is about journey rather than arrival. The Pilgrims Way does have a destination, but arriving is less important than the journey, which is both physical and spiritual. We planned to walk the Camino in 2020, but took the Covid journey instead.
What's your favourite thing about travel?
I love the unknown and the amazing people you meet along the way while you're exploring things you have never done or encountered before.
Joanne Drayton is an award-winning writer, featured as part of the 2021 samesame but different Literary Festival programme. She presents a journey into the mind of the honoured writer Ngaio Marsh at the Ellen Melville Centre on Saturday, February 13, part of the Auckland Pride Festival. samesamebutdifferent.co.nz