Each week, we share travel tales from people in the Kiwi travel business. This week Winston Aldworth talks to Brent Narbey.

The first time I nearly died was in Africa, on the Zaire River, which was then called the Congo River. We paddled from a place just outside Kisangani and were attempting to get down to Kinshasa, the capital. This was 89, and the country was run by a chap by the name of Mobutu, who was a notorious dictator. We lived in a mud hut for six weeks before we started. Their latest bit of technology was an empty sardine can with corrugated cardboard and fat dripped into it, and that was a lamp.

We were on a side tributary of the Zaire River and we were stupid enough to believe that we could handle weeks on the river. We bought a pirogue — a large wooden, high-sided canoe — and myself and my girlfriend at the time, Emma, attempted to go down this river. At night we'd sleep in the boat — or try to — and we'd hear crocodiles splashing in the water around us.

I went from 11 stone [70kg] to six. When I got back to London, I spent six weeks in St Pancras Tropical Diseases Hospital. I basically had two big worms living in my intestines and they were attached to my insides by these big hooks. The only way to get rid of them was to take this acid tablet and burn the hooks off.


The second good brush with death came when me and some mates bought an old German MAN truck and put an ad in the TNT magazine and we got a bunch of passengers to drive across the Sahara with us. We drove through North Africa, navigating on old French military maps, as we tried to cross to Mali. But we realised we were lost, and the worst thing was that our water tank, which was aluminium, split and we lost all our water. So there were 19 of us and we only had 100 litres in drink bottles on board and we had no idea where the border was.

We came across an abandoned mining station, so we stayed there for two days, hoping a military patrol would come along. But without water, we were worried we'd die of thirst. So we all urinated in a bucket and rigged up a system to boil it and try to siphon water off from the liquid. I was the sucker who had to taste it. And you know what? It tasted like piss.

Brent Narbey.
Brent Narbey.

The most recent time I nearly died was last year on the Landsborough River — a beautiful bit of water down in the Southern Alps. Our raft went through a grade-four rapid just fine. The next raft flipped — so as we tried to pull these other people out of the water, we hit a rock and flipped. I got caught underneath the raft, pinned against a rock and winded, so I was sucking in water and vomiting all at once. I was down there for about 20 seconds. Not a great experience.

The best bar in the world? You'd have a hard time finding a place better than Gordons Wine Bar, in London.

We've had First Light Travel in New Zealand since 2001, bringing visitors here and setting up self-drive tours or private guided groups. For people who want to see something unique in New Zealand, I'd say go to the Catlins coast and get to Stewart Island if they can. I'd also say South Canterbury — get out to Peel Forest, which is a beautiful, untouched forest. Forget the Milford Track, because of the numbers and because other tracks need a break. For families, do the Hollyford Track, the Ngai Tahu huts are brilliant. And the history — both Maori and Pakeha — is incredible.

If you've travelled a lot in the developing world, then without a doubt you've eaten dog or cat. They'll tell you it's chicken or lamb. I'm pretty sure I've eaten camel. But, mate, it's all protein.

This year we're taking our daughters up to Japan and then we're going to the Calgary Stampede — cowboy boots, linedancing, bourbon, Cadillacs with big bull horns: It'll be great. Our girls are going to be pretty well travelled — it's been my passion throughout my life and I want to pass it on.

Further information: see firstlighttravel.com