Gareth Morgan’s latest plans for a globe-trotting motorcycle trip have hit a brick wall in the shape of Korea’s demilitarised zone.
His route in August would take him and five others, including wife, Jo, through the demilitarised zone (DMZ) from North Korea to South Korea. It has been approved by the usually secretive communist north, and by the United States and New Zealand governments, but not by the capitalist south.
“It’s ironic that I’m a citizen of the free world and I’m struggling to get back into it – it’s not a good look,” Morgan said.
Part of a 40,000-kilometre ride from Russia to New Zealand, the trip would be the first time civilians were allowed through the DMZ, a 250km buffer between the two Koreas, in which movement is controlled by the United Nations.
Morgan has a long-held affinity for the region, which has been divided since the Korean War ended in 1953.
Although he does not sympathise with the harsh North Korean regime, he says dialogue must be opened between all parties. “It’s the New Zealand way – you don’t have to agree with the regime but you’ve got to keep the dialogue up. You don’t isolate and escalate, which is the American way.”
Jaehyun Shim, deputy head of mission at the South Korean Embassy in Wellington, said embassy officials had lobbied the government to handle Morgan’s request favourably.
“We fully understand Dr Morgan’s good intentions – we’ve explained his intentions for peace and unity, but the minister is concerned for his safety,” he said.
Those concerns had been stoked by rising tensions on the peninsula, which reignited after a series of North Korean nuclear missile tests earlier this year.
Problems with the request were compounded by the total lack of communication between the two nations – Shim said the north had not told the south it had cleared Morgan’s group to travel through the DMZ. Opening the DMZ to civilians could also set a precedent, which was one of the “many factors” his government would have to consider, he said.
From retracing Marco Polo’s steps, to traversing the Andes, Gareth and Jo Morgan have criss-crossed the globe and chronicled their adventures in a series of books. The expeditions have become almost a yearly jaunt for the couple, including:
2001: The Himalayas
2002: Bolivia and Peru
2005: Venice to Beijing along the Old Silk Road
2006: Canada, the United States and Mexico
2007: Cape Town to London
2008: Iceland, Norway and Arctic Russia
2010: The Andes
2011: The Amazon Basin