Tag Archives: New Zealand

Our Worst Travel Moments — Caught in a Dangerous Area

We’ve had so many fantastic moments traveling the world continuously for the past five years. In spite of all the “regular” living, there have been challenging moments when things have gone wrong. To be fair, things go wrong even if you live in one place for five years.

We’re just thankful that it hasn’t been one of us waking up and asking the other “Who are you?” And we won’t write about the tsunami alert in Indonesia that turned out to be a huge wave of … wait for it … 2½ inches.

This is the thrd of a series of accounts of our worst moments. In spite of these few misadventures, we are still loving the life of continuous travel!

Caught in a Dangerous Area

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

How did it happen?
Leaving New Zealand’s natural settings.

We generally travel slowly overland or by water trying not to take many flights. While we were in New Zealand, we had our eye on a 30-day cruise up the coast of Africa. The Ebola crisis was still very much in the news and I smugly predicted that many cruisers would cancel, believing they might somehow contract Ebola while visiting one of the ports. My guess was right. Indeed, there were enough cancellations (thank you Fox News) to make the cruise line offer cabins for less than $50 per person per day. We were stoked to get on board. The opportunity to spend 2 months in Cape Town and attend AfrikaBurn was an added bonus!

We used air miles to book a flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Cape Town, South Africa, the starting point of the cruise. For our hard earned air miles, United Airlines concocted a sadistic itinerary of more than 24 hours, changing planes in Bangkok, Thailand, then Ethiopia and again in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Cape Verde off the coast of Africa.

We departed Auckland for what became the journey from hell. Our layover in Bangkok stretched to more than 14 hours waiting for a plane that maybe had mechanical troubles. Bleary-eyed and exhausted, we arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia having missed our third leg of the journey by a long shot. They announced that they were putting us up overnight in town for a flight the next day. Good. We badly needed to sleep at this point.

We were escorted to a fine hotel in the city, and by “fine” we mean the room had a bed and a bathroom. We were told emphatically not to leave the barbed-wire enclosed compound as it was just too dangerous outside. Cab drivers couldn’t be trusted and there was no place to go that was safe anyway.

At least the hotel had a bar. And, absolutely brilliant Ethiopian coffee.

The next day, the hotel jitney delivered us directly back to the airport for our uneventful flight to Johannesburg. And they already rescheduled our final leg of the journey to Cape Town.


We can’t really complain. We didn’t pay a cent to fly half-way around the world, not even baggage fees. Surprisingly, our bags made it to Cape Town the same time as us — three and half days later! We and our things made it safely to our next destination and that’s all that really matters.

Lesson Learned

We met nice fellow travelers and drank excellent coffee in Addis Ababa. It’s not a place we want to visit, but it confirms what G.K. Chesterton said, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

Met on the road in Cape Verde, off the coast of Africa.
Other Stories in “Our Worst Travel Moments” Series:


Glow Worm Stars

The unmarked entrance to one of the three Abbey Caves.
The unmarked entrance to one of the three Abbey Caves.

One popular attraction in New Zealand is the glow worm caves. In Whangarei, where we were cow-sitting, there was a free, city-owned reserve with three caves (zoom the map below for the exact location). The trails leading to the caves are well marked but the caves themselves are off the beaten path and undeveloped. It’s even a bit of a challenge to find the entrances to the caves since they’re not signed and are somewhat hidden.

The hundreds of fine rock layers paint beautiful walls.
The hundreds of fine rock layers paint beautiful walls.

We climbed down into the Organ Cave over huge boulders and followed the stream of water into the belly of the cave. The interior of the cave was striped with many fine layers of limestone rock. The rich color of the layers fascinated us. As another travel author described the orange layered stone, it was like being on the inside of a Bengal tiger. Wading through the water, we came to a cavernous space which gave the cave its name. Large stalactites hung from the ceiling and walls like an old church pipe organ. When we turned off our headlamps and our eyes adjusted to the dark, we were mesmerized by the stars of pale blue bioluminescence, the glow worms twinkling above us.

Glow worm stars in the Abbey Caves.
Glow worm stars in the Abbey Caves.

Glow worms are not actually worms. They’re the larvae of a particular fly that loves damp places. The popular fire fly is its cousin.

Distinct stone outcroppings make the Abbey Caves hike interesting.
Distinct stone outcroppings make the Abbey Caves hike interesting.

The nice thing about the Abbey Caves reserve is that the trails are a nice nature walk void of any crowds. There are hammocks of native bush and large outcroppings of stone. There are rock chimney remains of the original settler’s home on the property; a pioneer family in the late 1800’s.

Or you can visit the famous Waitomo Glow Worm caves, a standard tourist attraction teeming with tour buses, entrance fees, souvenir shops and groomed trails.


Magical Castlepoint

Castle RockCastlepoint, New Zealand, located on the eastern shore of the north island was actually named by Captain Cook himself, because the rock at the southern end of the bay resembles a castle.

We spotted the Whakataki Hotel just outside the ridge of hills that hides the beach. Unbelievably, this hotel offered free camping in their back yard for RVs, or a mere NZ$5 per night if you wanted to use the well-equipped kitchen and hot showers. This was an absolutely brilliant alternative compared to the sterile option of the postage-sized camping spot for ten times the price at the ugly Castlepoint Holiday Park down the road.DSC02628

The Whakataki Hotel is not just close to the action; it is the action in this little town of less than 2000 folks! Their lively, neighborhood bar and restaurant is the busiest local bar scene in town. We enjoyed the fresh draft beer and (unlimited) fast internet. (Very few places in New Zealand have free, let alone unlimited, internet.) We met the rowdy sheep shearers drinking away the money they just earned, the regulars eager to explain the nuances of rugby and cricket, and the friendly locals wanting to know who we were and what we thought of their quaint town.

Coincidentally, the Castlepointers were having a fishing tournament for ladies only. What entertainment!DSC02631

On Saturday night, the award ceremonies were attended by the fisher-women and their cross-dressing cohorts. Yes, really! The local tradition for the Battle of the Babes fishing tournament is for the men to cross-dress at the awards night celebration! A rock band played oldies all evening. We danced the night away even though Ivan didn’t have a dress for the event.

We walked around the lighthouse and hiked the manicured trails on the hills that surround the bay. We explored the wide expanse of beach alongside the lighthouse where the fishing contestants were wading into the surf in the hopes of reeling in the winning catch. They braved the fierce crashing waves threatening to wash them off their stance and pull them out to sea.DSC02592

At one low tide, we made our way to the rock caves beneath the lighthouse. We were forewarned that the caves are guarded by giant seals. We didn’t want to encroach their personal space because although they look like cute stuffed animals in the photo, they really were fiercely huge  and threatening creatures.

One long-time resident, Jolly, befriended us because we seemed a little different from the average tourists, I guess. He was determined to show off the local products and gifted us some very delicious hogget chops from his freezer and a freshly caught crayfish that was huge. We ate well!

We’ve added this friendly town of Castlepoint to the possible locations to settle if we can’t move one day.DSC02641