Flight or … ferry, train, freighter … UK to the Antipodes Part II

This is the story of my journey to a family reunion in New Zealand in January 2020. I’m in the UK. How to travel without burning av gas?

(Please find Part I here.)

Once I established my travel would be by train and sea, I turned, with some trepidation, to The Man in Seat 61. The Man lists each step of the travel.

I hasten to add the trepidation was not due to any doubt about his veracity and, in fact, I wrote him an email thanking him for making even imagining this journey possible. He wrote back, saying, ‘Enjoy your trip!’ I felt a long way away from actual travel. I didn’t even have a ticket or a visa or immunisations or those … unknown unknowns … like a destination.

First things first. Following his suggestions, I was almost certain I would be travelling from Singapore to Australia by freighter ship. These ships are cargo carriers; they’re already going this way, there’s no song and dance, it’s a working transporter. They take few passengers and those passengers are left to themselves, pretty much. Sounded ideal. The carbon is already spent before I got involved. I would just hitch a ride. (For something like $4,000 Australian dollars).

To begin, The Man advises getting in touch with these lovely people:

http://www.cruisepeople.co.uk/

http://www.travltips.com/cruises/freighter/overview.php

or

http://www.freightercruises.com/

And, I’m not sure how I discovered these kind people:

https://www.globoship.ch/tour/grosse-asien-australien-asien-reise/

Reading through these websites reassured me that freighter travel was safe, comfortable and within my physical capabilities. I sent emails to all concerned and within a week had four quotes from Singapore to Australia.

They were all within much of a muchness but there were certain differences. It will depend on what you want to do and where you want to go as to what you choose. Yes indeed. Just where did I want to go in Australia? Fremantle? Adelaide? The next stop, surprisingly, was Sydney. Then the ships seem to loop back to Melbourne after that.

The Man in Seat 61 blithely recommends travel through several Asian countries to arrive in Singapore. So many different languages, borders and currencies – I imagined basic survival was going to be taxing – especially as a vegan!

I found it difficult to visualise where I would be going. I needed support. I went to the library.

Lonely Planet guides for planning
Off to the Brighton-Hove Library!

Then I called in to international company, STA travel, a travel agency that helped me plan my initial Gap Year – three and a half years ago in Australia. Way back then I booked a flight from Melbourne to Madrid via Hong Kong (to revisit my childhood). A simple year away in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago and working in a school in Catalyna evolved over time, not only because I was reluctant to return south by air, but also because after the Camino I decided to develop a writing project. This project eventually needed research across France, England and Belgium. So much travel, so little time! The Gap Year stretched and stretched …

And then, so did the novel! But that’s another story …

Back to the freighter cruises.

STA travel could offer me a package deal on the TransMongolian (even suitable for old people such as myself) which would take all the worry out of planning and give me some expensive friends to play with along the way. Did I mention my budget?

The kind representative proffered the fat, glossy brochures of both European and Asian holidays – which gave me a plan. Taking them both, I proceeded to the nearest large bookshop and bought a map of the world. I pinned it to my uni-accomodation wall and proceeded to chop up the glossy brochures, liberating pictures of landmarks and cities the train would visit on the TransMongolian Express! Office-craft with destination in mind.

Starting at the UK, I pondered how best to get to Moscow. I loved the Eurostar and I had travelled by ferry between Dover and Calais and also between Santander and Plymouth. Humming and haaaing and using the ecosia search engine often, I saw it was time for a new ferry. This time from Harwich (pronounced ‘Arrrich because it’s England) to Hook of Holland. I’d already visited Amsterdam, time for Rotterdam.

Three years ago I journeyed with a Eurail pass to many of the bigger cities, such as Paris and Munich. Now I particularly wanted to visit Hamburg – on the Camino I had met many argumentative people who told me that Hamburg was the most beautiful city in the world. Really? I was nonplussed. And what about Sydney harbour? You can’t tell me a little old German town can beat the home of the Eora people? Really? THE Harbour Bridge? That Opera House? Oh, they insisted, it could. What of the glory of the two rivers, the artificial lakes, the churches … I wanted to go to Hamburg and see this magnificence for myself. Sticking up more little signs I added Berlin and then Warsaw. There was a nice direct line beginning to happen. Straight ahead to Moscow and just under a week to Beijing. Simple. Then I had to get to Singapore.

Map of half a world showing possible route from UK to Oz
First draft of overland trip from the UK to Oz

Soon I had a neatly-labelled wall of the world. I could see for myself where I was going. It made a big difference to my thinking. No longer a world away, here were colourful representations of these places right in front of me. I examined the route with interest. Only, as I stared at the journey, it began to look very complicated. I did not want to be a tourist. I wanted to be a commuter.

I watched YouTube videos of the train journey to China and, thence, most particularly, the border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. What a shemozzle. It sounds as if a new trainline has now cleared that particular blockage but it did cause me more than one second or third thought. Thailand. Vietnam.

On the Camino Frances I met Kay, a true intrepid traveller, who had been on the TransSiberian more than once. Both times with friends, she had experienced warm temperatures as well as a winter sojourn. She had stopped in many places, particularly Lake Baikal where there is an annual ice festival

She thought it nothing to cross half the planet by train. ‘It’s easy,’ she said.

Another intrepid Australian woman, Narelle, told me, if in doubt, one should just pretend to be invincible. ‘And you will be.’ She reminded me of my typing teacher from the early 80s in Sydney. She was a small elderly lady with terribly died hair. One day as she attempted to straighten my paper or point out some error in my typing ways (there were many) I noticed the tattooed numbers on her arm. I paid attention to her. She told me to sit up straight, hold my wrists correctly and pretend to be a typist. I was an acting student at the time and she thought I should make the most of this experience by ‘acting like an efficient secretary’. It would probably work. In these mindful days she would probably say, ‘Be the person you want to be.’ I sat up straight.

Okay. I’m an efficient secretary and an invincible traveller. If I can walk across Spain then I can sit on my bum in a train for a few days!

Yet, I was not sure I wanted to go to Cambodia without seeing Ankor Watt or the Bayon Temple and I did not want to buzz through Thailand without exploring … aaaaaaah the world is so BIG! There’s so much to see. Budget. Time.

Somehow the messages I was getting from the freighters became mixed up as I dithered over routes and final destinations. I started to see that if I really wanted to be in New Zealand in January what was I doing going to Sydney or Fremantle? There were curls and twists in the different itineraries. Every day at sea gets more expensive. I began to imagine landing in Fremantle and catching the Indian-Pacific train across the Nullabor to visit my sister in Adelaide. That would add a mere twelve hundred dollars to the budget. But how cool would it be …

I got more and more confused until I contacted the company that most of the agents seemed to be quoting about directly.

Voyages en Cargo by CMA CGM

Once I established I was speaking to a real person (two, in fact) and this was a real company with a real address (they had recently changed both) I was able to proceed. I made a decision.

https://voyagesencargo.com/lines/cargo-ship-travel-asia

Now my pin board was rearranged.

I would no longer be travelling UK to Australia via Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. I would be going straight from China. And I would be travelling to New Zealand.

Map of the world showing route across Europe towards NZ
Now China to Taiwan to Australia to Auckland

I had a plan. I paid the deposit. I filled in the forms.

I just needed to organise a medical certificate. Pop in and see a doctor.

But.

I couldn’t get past the guardians of the various reception areas. Or email enquiry forms.

‘Not in this medical centre.’ ‘We don’t do that here.’ ‘Our doctors don’t do certificates.’ ‘Not here, sorry.’

I couldn’t even pay for it. One surgery gave me the NHS forms to fill out, then when I returned them, realised I was only a short term visitor and gave me the short form. She took it, smiling and nodding. The next day I popped back in to hear her say, ‘The doctors are not prepared to fill in the certificate,’ as she handed me back my carefully filled out NHS forms. She would not register me in this surgery.

How was I going to be able to see a doctor in Brighton?

I could not proceed with my ticket purchase until I had that certificate. I tried writing to my Australian family doctor (they do not use email) with no reply. Long shot. After all, I had not seen them in over three and a half years.

Now what?

Access to the vessel is dizzying [préciser la hauteur pour les grands navires], the passenger shall be able to climb the access gangway with luggages on his/her own.]

Some passages in a container vessel are narrow or hard to access. It is essential to ensure the passenger has full mobility. The passenger may have to promptly don an immersion suit if need be.

If the passenger is on regular medication, the latter shall bring on board medication in sufficient quantity for the length of the journey increased by fifteen days taking in account the uncertainties of the sea passage such as weather conditions, maritime accident, deviation.

7 responses to “Flight or … ferry, train, freighter … UK to the Antipodes Part II

  1. Cool! What an adventure…. Or you could swim like Sam poulsen….

  2. Wow, you were born for this adventure. If / when you get to brissie and if they (in charge) allow it, I would love a chance to see you.. and hear some of your tales. Wow

  3. Hi, Louise! Wait til you see the next post but I’m really hoping I’ll get to Brissie! See you in port, Sailor!

  4. Sorry I have been so tardy in reading, V, but I am dead impressed with your dedication to this enterprise and all the research you have done, which will, I’m sure be invaluable to others who wish to follow in your stead. Can’t wait to hear about the journey as you undertake it! Well done, dearest friend!

  5. Loving it. Now for part 3

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