The PLAN!!!

So here we are, 180 countries down and just 20 to go – it’s mad to think that I only left Shanghai just over two weeks ago, and in that time I’ve managed to visit Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia – and with any luck I’ll be in Brunei (181) before close of play tomorrow and the Philippines (182) by the end of this week (typhoons permitting).  But if you think I’m “nearly there”, think again.  Every single remaining state is an island nation and none of them have anything approaching an international ferry service.  This could take a looooooooong time.

A loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time.

Here’s a draft of a sketch of a inkling of The Plan from here to the end of The Odyssey ExpeditionBut as always, everything is open to change.

183: East Timor

There is a Pelni (Indonesia’s national ferry service) ship that goes from Denpaser in Bali to Kupang in (West) Timur.  I’ll be crossing the border, then sitting in Dili for a few days while I apply for (yet) another Indonesian visa.

184: Palau

After returning to Kupang, I will take a Pelni ship to West Papua.  From there I hope to persuade a swashbuckling yachtie to take me to the South-West Islands of Palau: only a few hundred kilometres north (as opposed to the capital Koror which is a thousand kilometres away).  I’ll then be coming straight back to West Papua.

185. Papua New Guinea

Just a case of crossing the border from West Papua.

186. Solomon Islands

If I island-hop through PNG and make it to Bougainville, I should be able to take a canoe over the short hop to the Shortland Islands and tick the Solomons off the list.  From there I should be able to island-hop via Gizo to Guadalcanal, the main island.

And here’s when it becomes REALLY tricky…

Have a gander at this map of the Pacific Island states I knocked out on the back of a napkin…

All This And MORE!!

Take a note of the scale!!! From the Marshall Islands down to Fiji I’m going to have a cover a distance approximately the same as from Darwin to Melbourne via Sydney.  This is no Caribbean Island hop, these are gargantuan chucks of bitchin’ ocean I have to cover.

The only options open to me are hitching a ride on cargo ships and cruise ships.  Cyclone season starts at the end of this month (and continues to May) so yachts are right out.  Even if someone was mad enough to take me, it would just be too dangerous – I mean, have you SEEN A Perfect Storm?  Ygads!

So here’s the sketch of how I’m going to do this…

187. Nauru

The isolated (and isolationalist) island of Nauru is really hitting hard times these days.  The rich phosphate deposits that secured the island’s finances are now completely depleted (as of this year), leaving an impoverished island in the middle of nowhere that is going to be a real bitch to get to – it’s the only Pacific Island where you need a visa and an invitation to ruck up.  Seriously guys?  Seriously?

My hope is that I can hop a supply/cargo ship from The Solomons north to The Marshall Islands, one that stops at Nauru along the way.  But these things may only come once every few months.

188. Micronesia

Micronesia (like jungle) is massive, stretching across a vast swathe of the Pacific Ocean.  The bit I’m interested in is an island called Kosrae in the far east of the nation, which I could use as a stepping stone to…

189. The Marshall Islands

I lie awake at night fretting about ever reaching The Marshall Islands.  So far from just about anywhere they cajole and torment me in my dreams.  But if this semi-mythical cargo ship can take me there, I’d be one happy Odyssey bunny.

190. Kiribati

If a cargo ship has got me this far, maybe it can take me a little further: to the western half of Kiribati.  From there at least I know I can take a Kiribati Shipping Services ship (which comes once every couple of months) down to…

191. Tuvalu

Here I’ll have to make the decision whether to stay on the Kiribati Shipping Services ship to Fiji or swing a left to:

192. Samoa

Again, this place is a little off the beaten track, but it’s position between the US Samoan islands and Fiji means that if I’m lucky, I might be able to find something that can float me to:

193. Tonga

If I get here, the hump should be over: I’ll be on the cruise ship circuit.  Hopefully in return for entertaining the troops with tales of my adventures (and possibly the odd song and dance routine), I’ll be allowed to hitch a ride on a cruise to:

194. Fiji

Fiji seems to have the best international transport links with the region, and I may regret not coming here first, but if all works out, I should be able to stay on the same cruise ship through the Fijian islands and on to:

195. Vanuatu

And then onto:

196. New Zealand

My original final destination, things have changed a little since I failed to reach Sri Lanka, Maldives and The Seychelles.  It shouldn’t be too hard to find something to ship me to:

197. Australia

Arriving in Sydney (because I owe Alex Zelenjak a pint in The Three Monkeys), I’ll be headed down to Melbourne and kidnapping my long-suffering girlfriend Mandy for the trip across the Nullabor all the way to Perth.  If I can find a cruise that is going to Europe or South Africa, there’s a good chance it will stop at: 198. Sri Lanka, 199. Maldives and 200. The Seychelles.

Then I’m done, right?  Er, right… as long as no new nations are created between now and the end of this.  Like, say, South Sudan

Eek!

CAN YOU HELP?

If you have any contacts in the South Pacific who are involved in shipping or cruises, please pass them on via the CONTACTS page.  In return for helping me finish The Odyssey in one piece I’m willing to give plenty of publicity to any company or individual that would like to get involved.

Thanks!!

AUSSIE SKIPPER REQ’D: FOR HIGH ADVENTURE

THE ODYSSEY EXPEDITION

Hi, my name is Graham Hughes. I’m a British adventurer, TV presenter and a Guinness World Record holder.  You can read more about me on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Hughes

I’m currently in the midst of a rather epic challenge – one that I hope you might be interested in joining me in: I’m trying to step foot in every country in the world, and attempting to do so without flying.  I’m doing this to raise funds and awareness for the international charity WaterAid.

I work with Lonely PlanetNational Geographic and BBC Worldwide. The first series of my self-filmed TV show, Graham’s World, is currently showing on the Nat Geo Adventure channel (Foxtel) and I was the star guest on Channel Nine’s Today Show last Saturday.  You can watch the interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeaR_RW7Zu4

Over the last two years, I’ve managed to visit an incredible 184 countries around the world, from Uruguay to Iceland, South Africa to Turkmenistan; on my own, on a shoestring and without flying.  With only 17 more countries to visit, I’m now setting my sights on the Pacific Ocean nations of Oceania.

BUSINESS IN GREAT WATERS

I’m looking for somebody – it could be you, a friend, a colleague or your mum – who owns their own sailing ship and is looking for an epic adventure on the high seas.  While I’m happy to pay for food, drink and fuel, but this would not be a commercial enterprise – I’m seeking somebody who wants to do this for fun, a bit of fame, to raise money for the charity WaterAid… and claim their very own Guinness World Record: THE FASTEST SEA JOURNEY TO EVERY COUNTRY IN OCEANIA.

From Australia, one amazing journey will take us to Papua New Guinea, Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand… and back to Australia.

FORTUNE AND GLORY

Of course, this would be no small undertaking.  We are talking here of a journey of over 10,000 nautical miles.  It won’t be easy, but then Guinness World Records never are!

I travel solo, I don’t have a film crew or any bulky equipment.  I have extensive sailing experience on the open sea, having been first mate on international voyages in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.  I’m aware that for many boat owners, their vessel is their home and I’m more than happy to meet any prospective skippers in person before they reach a decision.

I’m not looking for anything fancy, fast, luxurious or even particularly comfortable, the only requirements I’ve got are that the ship be sea-worthy, insured and fitted with an international distress beacon in case of emergency.

I’m also open to the possibility of doing a smaller leg of the journey, sayAustraliato PNG to Palau and back. (Although they’d be no world record for you in that!)

I’m ready to leave as soon as possible from anywhere in Australia.  Would YOU be interested in stepping up to the mantle?  Prove to your family and friends that your boat is more than an expensive toy: show them that it’s an expression of freedom and adventure, feel the call of the ocean, leave all you troubles behind and join me on the voyage of a lifetime… fortune and glory await!

I anxiously await your call.

Graham Hughes
Sydney, Australia
10 Aug 2011

Days M111-112: The Mandster Cometh

Mon 16.01.12 – Tue 17.01.12:

Mandy, my long suffering girlfriend, had arranged to fly over and meet me in Auckland around 4pm today. By that time I had just about shrugged off my hangover from the night before and was almost looking human. I went to the airport to meet her (the airport being located a thousand miles away from the city, as always, but then who wants to live under a flight path?) and after two months of trundling around the Pacific on my own, it was wonderful to back in the arms of my beloved, even if it was only going to be for the next 10 days.

We had NEW ZEALAND to explore and PETER JACKSON to stalk!! But being Graham and Mandy, we decided to spend our first evening going to the cinema to watch the new Sherlock Holmes movie. Funny that – when Mand came to meet me in Egypt in January 2010, we went to see the first Sherlock Holmes movie. Maybe we should make this some sort of tradition.

The next day we jumped on a ferry to explore Devonport on the other side of the bay, mounted Mount Victoria, a rather nice extinct volcano with a lovely view out over Auckland city, and then, for no other reason than it was being shown the oldest purpose-built cinema in the Southern Hemisphere, we went to see Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia at the Victoria Theatre. Urk. I hate Lars Von Trier at the best of times: a misogynistic goon whose idea of a film is to have horrible people do horrible things to each other for two hours and then for everyone to die at the end. Why you would want to waste your time watching this garbage is not for me to judge, but I’m nothing if not a well-informed critic: I don’t dis films I haven’t bothered to watch. With the exception of anything to do with Glee.

That night Mand and I stormed the pub quiz at Father Ted’s, coming one question away from beating quite literally everybody else in the pub. No prize for second place, unfortunately, but we managed to make the most of it before launching ourselves HEADFIRST into the sing-where-you’re-seated karaoke. Our rather unique version of Proud Mary (was that originally Credence or am I dreaming?) actually had people dancing. I even got asked to sing another song by a punter. A bit of a coup for Monsieur Tone Deaf here, maybe I should have been a rockstar after all.

Days M115-117: High Tea in Mordor

Fri 20.01.12 – Sun 22.01.12:

Lake Taupo is one of those must-see sights in New Zealand, and it’s not hard to see why. Situated slap bang in the middle of North Island, you’d be a fool not to stop off here on your way between Auckland and Welly Town. Today the weather was as fine as fine could be. After a lazy morning, Mand and I went for a walk around Haka Falls, a stupendous piece of natural engineering: gigalitres of water THUNDERING through a narrow chasm, one that looks at once exciting to try to go down sitting on a big rubber donut, but one that your common sense circuits are screaming DON’T BE AN FOOL, HUGHES!!

At the falls I was jabbering away into my camera (as I have a tendency to do) and a lady standing nearby asked Mandy if I was making a TV show or a really good home movie. Mand explained what I was doing and the lady, Natalie, asked if we were hitting Wellington any time soon. Yeah – we’ll be there next Monday. Would you like us to show you around Miramar (the peninsular that Peter Jackson has his home, film studios and special effects company in). Hell yeah! We swapped details and told her we’d be in touch.

After our walk, we headed back to the resort for a private spa. The water is naturally so hot that you’re not allowed by law to stay in the spa for more than 15 minutes since there’s a good chance you’ll overheat or even die. Which is not a good look.

All this luxury…! I totally don’t deserve this, but I better start getting used to it: next week I leave New Zealand on the Sea Princess, a five star luxury liner, lightyears away from the floating nightmare that was the Shissiwani II.

The next day Mand and I visited the awesomely-named Craters of the Moon, just north of Lake Taupo. What started as a geothermic cock-up (the power station down the road caused the craters to appear in the 1960s) is now one of the top unnatural wonders of the world.

In the afternoon we jumped in our little car (which in hindsight we should have called ‘Bertie’) and headed towards MOOOOOOOORDOOOOOOR!! Well, the volcano south of Lake Taupo that doubles as Mount Doom in the movie. It was a spectacular day weatherwise, I wish we had realised how rare a spectacular day like this could be, I would have taken more photos of Mount Doom.

That night we stayed in a place called ‘National Park’ which is quite a clever name for a national park, I have to admit. The place we stayed in was not as luxurious as the Lake Taupo Resort, it was more of a base camp for backpackers, ramblers and ‘trampers’ (as they say in New Zealand) looking to scale the mighty volcanoes nearby.

Far too much like hard work for us lazy badgers, Mand and I elected to just do a one-hour waterfall walk the next day. We might have done more, but the weather turned and we found ourselves struggling to see through thick fog and valiantly attempting to fend off the drizzle with a little umbrella. We dried off the best we could and then and then headed over to what looked like the Overlook Hotel from The Shining… for a spot of high tea. No, seriously, high tea with cakes and scones and stuff. It was all incredibly posh, looking out of the wonderful 1920s glass windows at Mount Doom, growling at us through the fog. I could quite imagine Gandalf sitting there in this exquisite dining room, puffing away on his pipe and commanding The Eagles to go rescue Frodo and Sam from the erupting volcano out yonder. And The Eagles yes I mean the band wot sung ‘Hotel California’.

After our marvellous tea, it was back in the car and Welly Town here we come!!

Day M123: The Sea Princess

Sat 28.01.12:

So let’s go. The ship leaves today for Australia in a roundabout kinda way. Why the hell am I going back to Australia? I hear you cry. Simple really, the only ship that goes to Nauru leaves from Brisbane next month. After the P&O cruise last November, I made a few friends in Carnival, the guys who look after Princess, P&O, Costa, Cunard and all that lot in this neck of the wood, and asked them (nicely!) if they’d let me stowaway on one of their ships to Oz from NZ. To my delight (and surprise) they said yes, so long as I did some publicity for them along the way. I HEARTILY ENDORSE THIS PRODUCT AND/OR SERVICE.

As the Scarlett Lucy only goes to Nauru once a month and I had already missed the January sailing, why the hell not eh? For that matter, why not take a cruise that stops in at Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin along the way? I’m in no hurry. So long as I get to Brisbane by Feb 20 I’m quids in.

And so, in a nutshell, that’s how I managed to blag myself a free cruise. One that should have cost me thousands. Hey, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know…!

But before I was due onboard I had some old friends to catch up with. I don’t know if you remember Kerri and Andrew, but I certainly do. They were the wonderful yachtie couple that rescued me from Antigua all those years ago. Man, that was THREE YEARS AGO. THREE YEARS!! When I started this adventure I was 29. When I finish I’ll be 33. So. Frikkin. OLD!!!

Kerri and Andrew were in town for the Seafood Festival, and being a lover of all things seafood, I elected to join them for a few hours. It was great to catch up with some bona fide Odyssey Heroes (there’s a part of my website that’s WAY overdue for an update!). They left on the 3pm ferry back home, I ran to the Queen Street Backpackers, picked up my backpack and checked onto the incredibly large cruise ship just waiting for me in the port.

If you ever come to Auckland, come on a boat. Seriously, it’s walking distance to the city centre. The airport is MILES away!

And so I was allowed on board, dressed like a travelling clown, not only that but I was SPOILED. Like, seriously SPOILED. My room had champagne on ice, a free mini-bar and a bunch of flowers waiting for me. Damnit, why isn’t Mandy on board with me? The nameplate on the door said “Mr. Graham Hughes and TBC TBC Guest”. That could have been Mandy. Thinking about it, it could have been YOU.

I familiarised myself with the booze and, given my computer, old Dell Boy, had finally had the gonk, asked if I could perhaps borrow a laptop for a few hours. No problem, here you go, give it back when you leave. Seriously? Yes, seriously. And the internet? Normally charged at $2.75 a minute? Oh yeah, that’ll be free for you.

I almost burst into tears. Free cruise, free booze, free food, free internet, free laundry? Are you kidding? Life is sweet man, life is SWEET. I don’t care that I don’t own a house, a car, a telly or a coffee table. I don’t care that I’m never going to play for England or be a rock n’ roll star. I don’t care that I’ve earned less than £50,000 so far in my entire life put together. I don’t care that people have lined up to screw me over, use my unique abilities to line their greasy pockets. I don’t care that I’m never going to achieve all that I want to in life (there’s not enough time) RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW… I F—ING RULE!!

 

That night the ship pulled out of Auckland and I waved a fond farewell. But this would not be the last I’d see of New Zealand: the ship was due to visit Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin before I could kiss goodbye to this great southern island, country number 194 of The Odyssey Expedition. Do you know what country 36 was? Iceland. Country 131? Djibouti. Country 180? Brunei. We’re getting there, my fellow Odysseans, only SEVEN nations left now: Nauru, Palau, Micronesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles and South Sudan.

BRING IT ON!!!!!

Days M127-128: The Auld Alliance

Wed 01.02.12-Thu 02.02.12:

Christchurch is not somewhere for holidaying at the moment, and since the major earthquake last year, cruise ships have been calling at the place down the road, Akaroa. What’s interesting about Akaroa is that it was intended to be the beginning of a full-on French colony that was to encompass the whole of the South island. Could you imagine? Two New Zealands: a British north one and a French south one. Eek!

Luckily for New Zealand, before the first French colonists arrived, the British had signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori tribes, giving them power of attorney (or something) over both islands. Yeah, I know you think that’s a bit mean saying they were lucky not to be colonised by the French, but ten of the richest countries in the world were British colonies and ten of the poorest were French colonies. Just sayin’…!

The French colonists were allowed to stay, so long as they didn’t try to impede British sovereignty and shaved their armpits. So Akaroa has this charming Frankish feel to it, a bit of Gallic oh-la-la that I found quite endearing. The lovely architecture helped.

It therefore seemed fitting that the next day we would call into Dunedin, the place I should have been last week for Burn’s Night. I had stumbled around Auckland asking all and sundry if anybody had haggis on the menu. It wouldn’t have been hard in Dunedin: the city was founded by Burn’s Nephew. Seriously, there’s a massive statue of the great Scottish Poet himself in the middle of the town square.

The options on the table for Dunedin included a trip to the chocolate factory (BRING IT ON!!) or a tour of the local brewery.

So then, Speight’s brewery it is. A fine old-fashioned brewery still using the traditional big wooden vats. The best bit? At the end of the tour you get left in a bar, five beers and one cider on tap and you can drink as much as you can in 20 minutes. Oh boy.

Upon seeing the massive queue for the bus back to the cruise, I opted to (cheekily) sneak onto the P&O bus which was going to the berth next to ours. With a little time to kill, I sauntered over to the village next to the port in order to grab a cheap bottle of wine, since you’re allowed to bring on board one bottle a day. Fortunately for me, I happened to stumble upon a few buddies from the cruise and asked them (very nicely) if they wouldn’t mind carrying a bottle each on board for me. They didn’t mind at all, and I was stocked for the next few days.

Back on board the ship I proceeded to maximise the boozy advantage and slipped effortlessly into the beer vortex. Goodbye New Zealand, my sweet little 194th country. NEXT UP: THE RETURN TO OZ!!!

Day M181: How The South Pacific Was Won

26.03.12:

The Pacific, south of the equator line, is now complete. Yes, there were a handful of territories – Niue, Tokelau, French Polynesia, Pitcairn & Easter Island – that I skipped, but if the purpose of this adventure is to have great stories to tell the grandkids, I need to finish this quest so I can work on spawning future generations of argumentative scouse dingbats to tell the aforementioned great stories to in the first place. Happily, I did get to visit the French territories of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna (both of them!) and the US territory of American Samoa, bringing my ‘territory tally’ up to 9.

Here’s a rough map I knocked together of the route I took, including ships and dates. Clicky for biggie.

How I Visited Every Country In The Pacific Without Flying

MASSIVE THANKS must go to the cargo kings of the Pacific Ocean – Swire, Neptune, PDL, PIL, Reef and the cruise queens – Carnival, Princess and P&O. Alex Pattison (Swire), Rowan Moss (PDL), Captain Hebden (Neptune) and David Jones (Carnival) in particular went that extra mile to help this raggedy stranger take a giant leap forwards in achieving his dream.

Finally, hats off to Captain Bernie Santos of the Papuan Chief, Captain Don McGill of the Southern Pearl, Captain Andrey Verkhovsky of the Southern Lily 2 and Captains Sireli Raloka and Bob Williams of the Scarlett Lucy. It was a real honour to sail with these guys.

All in all, a pretty successful five months! I only wish I had known (at the time) that the Scarlett Lucy came into Honiara on the way to Nauru. Had I know that, and had Neptune been happy to let me on board last October, I could have jumped off the Papuan Chief and jumped on the Lucy, cutting out the massive backtrack to Australia from New Zealand – saving myself at least a month’s worth of travel.

But then I wouldn’t have scored a free ride as a VIP on a cruise ship, so I’m really not complaining!!

As I keep saying, there’s no manual for this type of thing – it just goes to show that good information is priceless. Now, with Nauru out of the way, I must turn my attention north to Palau and Micronesia.


The Cap Serrat left in the wee small hours of the morning, and the only other ship that will get me to Taiwan (in time to make April’s one and only ship to Palau and Micronesia) leaves from Townsville, 1,300km north of here in just three days time, and I still haven’t got permission off the owner to board the vessel. This is cutting it tight and making a huge gamble – if I don’t get on the Mell Seringat on Thursday I’ll have lost another month.

After saying my goodbyes to Captain Bob, Rusi, Peni, Cookie, Douglas, Bese, Labe, Ricky, Meli, Patrick, Peter, Hendra, Daniel, Asi, Manasa, Martin and Chief Tarawa – I reluctantly disembarked the Scarlett Lucy, my home for the past 34 days. I set course for the Mission to Seafarers in order to take advantage of the courtesy bus that takes salty seadogs like meselfs to the nearest town, Wynnum. A train ride to Brisbane city’s south bank, a rather unfortunate looking set of nuclear bunkers that substitute for a cultural quarter. A good place to run to when the North Koreans attack, and also there’s free internet.

After trudging through my back-log of emails and correspondence, it became clear that I was no closer to being allowed on this ship than I was 24 hours ago when I was in the middle of the sea. Tomorrow I’d have to make the decision whether to head up to Townsville anyway, but today I could (kinda) relax. I met up with Crystal, a mate off the Pacific Pearl, and we settled in for an evening of pizza and beer before I crashed on the coach. The Pacific Ocean is magnificent, but dry land does have its bonuses.