Fast Talk: Alex Trebek
Published: May 2009
After more than 20 years of hosting <i>Jeopardy!</i>, Alex Trebek isn‘t thinking about slowing down: he‘s currently touring the United States for the show and will be taking a European cruise this summer. As he prepared for <i>Jeopardy!</i>‘s Ultimate Tournament of Champions (the finals air later this month), Trebek spoke with <i>Travel + Leisure</i> about traveling light, trading souvenirs, and Himalayan sunrises.
What was your last big trip?
My wife and I went to New Zealand and stayed at Treetops Lodge, just outside of Rotorua, in this fantastic wooded never-never land. The great thing about New Zealand is that you‘re so far from home that you‘re nearly out of touch. Our daughter called from California to say there was a leak in our hallway. I told her, “We‘re seven thousand miles away. Put a pan under it!”
Where are you off to next?
This month I‘m doing a fair amount of travel for work—Philadelphia for a speech, New York for the Daytime Emmys, D.C. for the National Geographic Bee. This summer we‘re taking a cruise on Seabourn‘s Pride from London to St. Petersburg. After that, we‘re probably off to Budapest and Prague.
How do you travel?
As a family, we‘re really low-maintenance. We never check our baggage, even if we‘re going on a safari in Africa for two weeks. The last time we were there, we took only two roll-on bags: one for the kids—Matthew just turned 14, Emily is 11—and one for us. People marvel at our packing skills.
What is one of the most memorable things you‘ve seen on vacation?
The sun rising over the Himalayas is hard to beat. I joke with friends of mine, and say, “Look at that corner where the wall meets the ceiling. That‘s you standing in front of the Rocky Mountains with its 12,000-foot peaks. Now look up to the top of the second story. That‘s the Himalayas. That‘s the difference.” I mean, you‘re standing there surrounded by 25,000-foot-tall peaks. And it‘s mind-boggling. You just realize how insignificant you are in God‘s creation.
Do you have any favorite souvenirs?
I‘ve never been big on souvenirs. In the past, I wouldn‘t even bring a camera. I figured that when the memories started to fade, if it had been a pleasant experience I‘d go back. But I do have a small malachite carving from Victoria Falls. They have these arts and crafts markets, and one of the local merchants saw my Jeopardy! baseball cap and said, “I want that cap.” So we traded. Now somewhere near Victoria Falls, this guy has my hat.
What do you love most about travel?
The act of flying itself is great, because you get time to unwind and get into a new frame of mind. You‘re not bothered, you‘re sitting there, they‘re feeding you, you have daylight all the way. You‘re going to a different world—emotionally, spiritually, and physically. If you work it out right, it can be just marvelous.
How does your life on your horse farm differ from your life as host of Jeopardy!?
There are some places you visit on earth where you are immediately taken by the clarity of the sky, the clear air. My farm up near Paso Robles, California is like that. You get there and, it‘s just flat-out gorgeous. There‘s no smog, smoke, or unpleasant odor—it‘s just pure.
Do you go back to Canada often?
I get back to Toronto a couple of times a year. I love to just walk around up there. It‘s such a marvelous city for pedestrian sightseers. On occasion I get back to Vancouver. On a beautiful day in the spring or summer, you‘re hard-pressed to find a place as beautiful as Vancouver. It‘s just fantastic, but on a January morning when it‘s overcast, sleeting, wet, and dreary... talk about depressing.
We chartered a helicopter and flew onto a volcano called White Island near Rotorua where there used to be a mining operation and now the vents spew sulphur and steam. There‘s this marvelous small lake, and it‘s just so beautiful, but you can‘t get in because it‘s really hot. What‘s interesting about Rotorua is that they have the same things Iceland does—the vents and the geysers—and yet the sulphur smell isn‘t oppressive at all. We also went to the Maori village nearby and explored the bubbling mud pits that they call their Waitapu Thermal Wonderland.
The national animal of New Zealand is the kiwi bird. It‘s nocturnal, so you‘re not likely to see it in the wild, but there‘s this place in Rotorua called the Kiwi Encounter [Fairy Springs Rd., Rotorua; 64-7/350-0440; www.kiwiencounter.co.nz] where they tell you all these stories about the kiwi bird—which, for its size, lays the biggest egg in the bird kingdom. You should see this egg. They show you x-rays, and it‘s about half the bird‘s size. The male is the one that incubates the egg, and I can certainly understand that. If I was the female who had just laid that egg... “I‘m outta here. It‘s up to you, Herb. Look after it yourself. Bye.”
We went down to check out the Waitomo Caves. They were discovered around 1887, and are filled with glowworms. I figured glowworms were just little bugs with lights on the end of them, but they‘re so much more than that. You get into the cave, and there are millions of them. The guides take you on these boats through the caves, and you‘re looking up at the ceiling at the glowworms‘ light, but what you don‘t see is that there are these foot-long tendrils hanging down that they use to catch bugs. We also wanted to try this thing they call blackwater rafting—where you put on a wetsuit and a helmet with a light on it, then jump in an inner tube and run rapids through underground caves—but couldn‘t because of this monstrous rainstorm that hit as we were driving down there.
We drove up north of Rotorua to Tauranga and Mount Maunganui, and we walked along the beaches there (that‘s along the Bay of Plenty) and it was just fabulous. There‘s this beautiful flat beach, miles and miles and miles of it, where we rolled up our jeans and walked in up to our knees. The water was a little bit chilly but not bad.
If you go during our summer to South Island, there‘s a lot of skiing. There‘s bungee jumping, skydiving, a place on Lake Taupo (that‘s about one hour south of Rotorua) where you take a huka jet (one of these jet boats) to the waterfalls. It‘s definitely a good choice for active families.
I was told that the reason New Zealanders are called Kiwis is because many years ago, an Australian businessman married a New Zealander and took her back to Australia, then got into the shoe-polish manufacturing business and called it Kiwi because of the birds he was so taken with. He ended up getting a contract to supply shoe polish to the British army in WWI, and started sending all this Kiwi shoe polish to the war, and then the soldiers from New Zealand showed up, and the British said, “Here come the Kiwis!” And that‘s how they got the nickname. If that‘s true, it‘s a marvelous story as to how the country got their nickname—from a shoe polish! You‘d think New Zealanders were called Kiwis and the guy said we‘ll make shoe polish and name it after the people, but no, it‘s the other way around.
The food in New Zealand is so good—at Treetops [Rotorua; 800/525-4800 or 64-7/333-2066; www.treetops.co.nz; doubles from $694] they give you breakfast and dinner, and there‘s a cocktail hour before dinner. The staff notices whom you‘re talking to throughout the day and then for dinner they‘ll say, “We arranged a table for you and Mrs. Martin because you seemed to be getting along.” I thought that was great. It‘s a little bit like being on board a ship sometimes, because the travel person will set something up like that for you. They set us up for dinner one night in the library with a nice fire. We were surrounded by all those books, and they have that wonderful paneling—what a nice, romantic way to have dinner. We did have some lamb, but not every night—its not like you‘re in New Zealand so you better get used to lamb because that‘s all you‘ll be eating.
At Treetops there‘s also this amazing nature walk, they‘ve set out different paths for you, one of which leads to Bridal Veil Falls. It‘s a small waterfall, but damn is it beautiful. There‘s a picnic table set up for you right at the foot of the falls. It thought how the hell do they get their food over here to cater a romantic lunch for you?The most they can probably do is send you with a box lunch... but it was so beautiful.