The World According to Martin Dohrn

Leading wildlife filmmaker Martin Dohrn explains how six weeks on a boat from NZ to the UK influenced his world of travel

8 mins

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?

Mountain (actually, maybe ocean – or for that matter, desert – but definitely not jungle).

First travel experience?

As a small child travelling to UK by ship from New Zealand, via Tahiti, Panama, Jamaica, Miami, Bermuda and London. Six incredible school-free weeks.

Favourite journey?

Most memorable journey with Jerome Poncet aboard the Golden Fleece to South Georgia from the Falkland Islands.

Top five places worldwide?

Masai Mara, Kenya; Santa Rosa NP, Costa Rica (where Jaguar Ambush was filmed); Gran Paradiso, NP; Aosta, Italy; The Bay of Islands, New Zealand; Pembrokeshire, UK.

Special place to stay?

Having your own camp in the African bush is always utterly incredible. Namibia or the Kalahari are stunning.

Three items you always pack?

Swiss Army Tool (like a Leatherman only better), Tuffslim flask, (small, keeps coffee warm for 24 hours), Zeiss 10x25 binoculars (extremely small, amazing quality, practically indestructible).

Passport stamp you're proudest of?

Having been to Papua New Guinea to film recently contacted hunter-gatherers is one incredible thought provoking experience that I'll never forget.

Passport stamp you'd most like to have?

Namibia (or perhaps that should be Ussuriland? No I think I really want to go to Patagonia).

Guilty travel pleasure?


Window or aisle?

Aisle on long haul flights.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

My wife Hilary.

Best meal on the road?

Fresh French bread baguette with salami and Gruyere.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

Perhaps Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, given that it has just survived a gruelling civil war. The National Park was closed, as it was a rebel stronghold. It still has good populations of otherwise endangered and rare animals – leopard, Asian elephant, sloth bear, Indian mugger crocodile and many more.

Most disappointing place could be the Central Kalahari Game reserve. It has been fenced off at the behest of European beef interests and the wild animal migration routes have been cut. This has meant that the number of animals actually in the reserve has dropped dramatically. It is still a beautiful wild place, but the knowledge that it is fenced in kind of makes it feel like a very large field.

Where do you NOT want to go?

Nigeria is a fantastic country, but I don't feel the need to make a return visit.

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?

Perhaps travel is in my blood. As a New Zealander, my recent ancestors clearly had a desire to find remote places. Coming to UK as a child opened my eyes to the world at an early age.

Alfred Russel Wallace would be one particularly remarkable traveller out of thousands who braved oceans, forests, storms into completely unknown places without many of the aids we now take for granted.

What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place?

Working in wild places, the natural sounds are more than an important part of the experience, they can tell you a great deal about what's happening around you. So generally I don't listen to music at all when I'm travelling – except on long haul flights, in which case, JJ Cale, Carlos Santana, Buena Vista Social club work well.

What do you read?

Reading often seems to be waste of precious time in extraordinary places – but I usually pick over Private Eye and the last copy of the Guardian I bought at the airport in the few spare moments I have to read.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?

Jerome Poncet, skipper of the Golden Fleece inspired in me the value being alive more than ever. Some Brazilian gold miners I met made me feel that the whole world will eventually be swallowed by human greed.

What's the most impressive / useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

In Costa Rica, the expression 'con mucho gusto' meaning 'you're very welcome' is a pleasure to hear and to use. Likewise, in Kenya, the Swahili word 'Karibou'.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Possibly always wanting to be really early for all departures, whether travelling with 50 cases of kit – or not.

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

Rum, cards, story telling.

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

Nancite Beach in Santa Rosa NP, a turtle nesting beach on the Pacific coast was home for almost 12 months of my life. It's one of the most magical places on Earth.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

Strangely coal tar, as the ship we came to UK on was coal fired, and the smell always brings it back.

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?


If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, what would they be?

Paris, Bristol, Barcelona

Martin Dohran is one of Britain's leading wildlife filmmakers. His programme about the elusive big cats of Central America, Night Stalkers: Jaguar Ambush, is part of Big Cat Week on Nat Geo Wild. Catch it Tuesday 21 February at 9pm.

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