overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
Pic of the week: (previous - fav video clip)
Pic of the week
Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Can it really be over..?

Written by Alex Towns. Uploaded 14 August 2007.

Some of you may have been expecting a final few thoughts on our incredible journey and we most certainly had every intension to end the dairy on a few words of wisdom. A quick glance at today's date and I can only wonder where all the time has flown by since our previous diary entry. In truth we have re-orbited into society and been completely rushed off our feet as we both strive to settle into new jobs straight off the plane from New Zealand, find ourselves a home and pause for breath.. jump starting a new life down under from cold is no small task, but we are getting there. So with no further ado I'd like to take you all on a quick recap of our life on the road and some lasting poignant memories that will stay with us..

2nd August 2005: Leaving UK Last minute panic, finishing off Tinfish, packing the house, a great leaving party, saying goodbye to friends and family, expensive diesel, apprehension and excitement!

A final farewell to family & friends but the first of many fundraising events The team meet up on the A3 to begin their epic journey Goodbye to UK fuel prices!

2nd August 2005: France Our first night camping, explaining our expedition for the first time, fine champagne breakfast and fondue.. we're on the road but where will it lead..!

The first tipple..not a bad way to start at Moet & Chandon cellars Typical French architecture Mont Blanc awaits us

5th August 2005: Italy Home of ice cream, searching for a 'bush camp', beautiful Venice and a taster of Roman ruins to come!

The picturesque villages of Cinque  Terre in Italy Travelling Venice in style Martin's favourite shop

9th August 2005: Slovenia An unexpected highlight, small yet interesting from mountains to elaborate karst cave systems and an impromptu party in the car park with the next door campervan hauling Bavarian beer!

Elephant man joins us for a bit of the trip! The Slovenian scenery is beautiful The weather reminded us of the UK

13th August 2005: Croatia Lots of Butlin's style holiday camps in the north, some freezing cold diving, outstanding Dalmatian coastline, a bonus trip through Bosnia, the impressive fortified town of Dubrovnik and a chance meeting with my brother Frazer.

The red roofs of Debrovnik Typical stone piles of Hvar Hold on tight!

18th August 2005: Serbia & Montenegro A complete contrast as soon as you cross the border, we are now out of the western European countries and it feels like we've finally left the package tourist behind. Our first random encounter with a local drinking extremely strong coffee, who later arranged a rafting trip down the river Tara! Our first alfresco shower at the side of a road! Border after border as we cross Montenegro into Serbia then into Kosovo still showing the scars of war before returning to Serbia!

Time to get lively on the river Tara Taking in the mountain air Durmitor National Park

24th August 2005: Bulgaria Guest of the British Ambassador, our first speeding offence, sending back most of our electrics to the UK for repair, ancient monasteries and the only occasion our kites ever came out for the whole expedition! Donkey and cart is still a favoured form of transport.

Living it large with the ambassador Monasteries a familiar sight Martin kiting by the Black Sea

29th August 2005: Turkey How many ruins did the Romans build? Not so convinced about the wooden horse at Troy - they must have been easily fooled, bizarre natural flames emanating from the earth, houses chiselled out of rock at Cappadocia, exquisite baklava treats, great fun and games with the dive community, going back in time through eastern Turkey, arguing with the traffic police and Tinfish gets broken into! We get a taste for sweet black tea and find out it gets very cold in the east for camping! Far too much Raki & Chartreuse: especially Martin.. tee hee. Being woken up by our first mosque!

The ruins of Ephesus The decorative church roofs of Goreme The phallic pillars of Pasabag

11th September 2005: Syria Fuel & ATM shortage causes near stranding, hours of entertainment conversing in totally different languages with the local goat herder who insisted on having our phone number! Being welcomed like one of the family by complete strangers and watching their faces when we offered them shortbread biscuits and chocolate like we'd offered them slugs! Far too much extremely sweet, rocket fuel coffee and tea! Syrian beer tastes like swimming pool water and the arak isn't much better! Even more Roman ruins in the dessert and the most impressive crusader castle. Our only hairy moment of the trip, when we're found camping in the dessert - what secret gold map..??

The nearest Martin got to nipple tweaking in Syria!!! Darth Vader in Damascus Bashra and friends in Syria

17th September 2005: Jordan Friendly, genuine people.. "welcome to my country". Our first time woken during the middle of the night by men with guns and escorted by a police escort with flashing lights! Spending the afternoon with a chap who once trained in UK as a member of the Jordanian fire brigade and who now warmly invited us in to share tea and figs from his own garden. Being invited home for a traditional Bedouin meal and exploring Wadi Rum the stomping ground of Lawrence of Arabia, as Tinfish gets a taste of serious sand off-roading, whilst Martin gets stuck. The multi-coloured awe inspiring Petra. Quiznos 6' subway sandwiches, a rare western fast food treat.

Martin just floating around The beautiful treasury at Petra Wadi Rum for fun

29th September 2005: Egypt The worst border crossing in the history of border crossings! Officious police everywhere, avoiding the convoys and giving the traffic police the slip! Staggeringly ancient Egyptian ruins, from the Pyramids to Luxor to Abu Simbel to mention just a few. The beauty of the coral gardens of the Red Sea, close encounters of the shark kind, overly kind and generous dive community wanting to help us in our quest for CARE International. Our first visit to a CARE International project to see first hand the excellent work they undertake. The most hectic driving in the world.. Cairo traffic!

Viewing the Pyramids in a different light! The team of the EMPOWERS & ALIVE CARE projects in Egypt Under the Red Sea

1st November 2005: Iran A bold step into the unknown, impressive Persian culture and Maz unable to resist a carpet! People here are as friendly as ever.. every time we pause at lights we're invited home for tea. Adopted by numerous families all willing to offer their home to us without question, hospitality is an ingrained part of the Moslem culture and puts us in the west to shame. A proud people not shy to share their views about their government. Maz having to wear the full attire including headscarf at all times! More snow than we've seen on the whole trip, chickened out of camping a few nights due to the rain, snow and icy cold. Kebabs, kebabs and more kebabs and just when you think you've seen enough ruins you're completely blown away by Persepolis! Incredibly cheap 2c per litre diesel and an unexpected tipple of the real Shiraz along with an illegal rave in the desert!

The splendid minarets of Imam Mosque Say Cheese! Maz & Alex on their magic carpet

22nd November 2005: Pakistan Hostages to hospitality, theoffroadpakistan club do everything they can to make us feel like one of the gang. A small detour to Karachi turns into the first time we've managed to kick back and relax and enjoy a comfy sofa and chill out in front of a dvd! The baton is passed on as we are passed into the care of one group after the other all tasked with looking after us and we are simply spoilt rotten. A trip up the Karakoram Highway into the truly breathtaking but isolated scenery formed by the coming together of three of the world's mightiest mountain chains and the upsetting sight of the aftermath of the devastating Pakistan earthquake! As our visa runs out we end with the dramatised closing of the border ceremony between Pakistan and India.

Our first organised bit of off road..and what a trip The mighty mountain range - views from the KKH We left Pakistan after watching the ministry of silly walks

22nd December 2005: India A marmite country! The people are somehow different here, quite happy to squat down right next to you and gawpe without any emotion or attempt to interact whilst you get on with cleaning your teeth! Very trying when we are found nearly every night we camp (as has happened during the whole expedition) but with nowhere to escape. Disastrous Christmas as Martin crashes and we end up making brake pads on Christmas day. Stress, stress. Great to see Maz & Martin's brothers.. watching Damien take it all in after being parachuted in from civilisation is priceless! A country of amazing temples, forts and culture, just far too crowded to camp in. New Years eve in front of the Taj Mahal sounds idyllic, but not when they don't turn the lights on! Sunset poo O'clock and Varanasi a complete overload even for the hardened senses! A welcome escape to the Andaman Islands, but India had its revenge with a dose of Delhi belly on coming back to the mainland. Cars, trucks, people, buses, cows, elephants, camels, cyclists, to name but a few all compete on the pot holed nightmare of a road. Bottle after bottle of Kingfisher gets a hammering to keep us sane!

Damien and Richard arrive in time to party day and night at the Taj Mahal We three kings.... A pilgrim saying his prayers in the Ganges

12th February 2006: Nepal A breath of fresh air! Even with the risk of a Maoist uprising we are keen to cross the border. Heard Namaste dozens of times in the first day and find out it's actually a Hindu greeting, but can't remember hearing it once in India! Confused about the burning truck across the highway until we later find out it was a bandh, which means the Maoists decree a complete strike when no one shall travel! Ignorance is bliss! Made to measure 'genuine' down jackets where you can choose the brand name you prefer. Max, the 4th member of the expedition finally arrives to ride shotgun. Excellent safari hunt for the rhino and the most exhilarating trek around Annapuna taking us to the highest heights of the trip so far.. 3200m and the unique experience of steamed pizza, topped off with a bit of adrenaline white water rafting and canyoning. Met our Chinese guide and now faced with the problem of where to squeeze a Chinese chap of rugby player proportions!

Macchupachre The boys take a break from hiking round Annapurna Getting close with the wildlife

28th February 2006: China Across the friendship bridge and into China, the country requiring the most permissions, permits, green backs and planning to enter! The fastest ascent by road.. 900m to the first pass of Tibet at 5200m.. bitterly cold, altitude sickness, perfect weather for camping! Minus 20C diesel needed and Martin's brake oil freezes. Tinfish breaks down insight of Mt Everest.. takes all three of us to jack the car up and me to repair the suspension. Mt Everest is stunning, but more amazingly people still live in this harsh, isolated plateau! China appears sterile in comparison and great distances to travel. Absence of children apparent, then we find the child catcher.. ie internet gaming/chat rooms.. hundreds of kids plugged in to a virtual world. Our first supermarket.. watching our Guide look on in horror as we feast on French cheese n baguette whilst he happily devours intestine, offal and stomach soup! Border guards unwilling to let us leave!

A floor slider in Tibet Chinese architecture at its best At the heady heights of Mount Everest

28th March 2006: Laos Why did the chicken cross the road.. invented in Loas.. road kill statistics spike. Children and life everywhere stretching along the only road with no more than a car an hour passing. Man with gun walks across campsite without even pausing.. village which had never seen white people before totally captivated by our presence in the hills, the French relaxed colonial atmosphere, the forgotten war of American blanket bombing, backpacker hell in Vang Vieng where every bar has the Simpson's, Friends or some other trash blarring from the TV, Drugs bust at 2am in the school playground, over staying our visa and having to do a runner into Thailand..!

The children of the hidden hill tribes The team have a barrel of laughs Playing in Vang Vieng

11th April 2006: Thailand 'Civilisation'..!! Straight organised highways with convenience stores and service stations every few km's, water festival soakings and far too much local whiskey. Some superb diving with some fantastic organisations helping our cause.. watching the flight of the gentle, huge manta rays and a raffle to win a dive holiday all to help our target for CARE. A side trip across to Burma, getting Tinfish totally bogged down on a 4x4 outing of deep, thick mud, luxury as we gate crash an old work colleague's plush hotel suite in Bangkok and learning as we spend time on a field trip with Care to see an example of the rebuilding of the local community post Tsunami. The spectacular Royal Palace, ancient Siam temples and island paradise retreats.

Fund raising a fun way Mud glorious mud survivors of the tsunami rebuild their schools

5th May 2006: Cambodia An experience to savour.. the awe inspiring Angor Wat, the delightful Phom Phen, bribing the police for 2 dollars, the horror of the Khemer Rouge, emotional stress as we find ourselves in the jungle amongst forgotten minefields and being inspired by the resilience of the local community. A chance meeting with my brother, Frazer for a second time, the incredible cliff temple of Preah Vihear, the humour of the locals as they watch foreigners wash from their water well! Playing games on the beach with the local children.. overall Cambodia leaves a lasting impression.

Alex & Frazer enjoying the local Cambodian beer Angor Wat A harsh reminder of the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime

22nd June 2006: Malaysia The end of the road.. but how good are these highways! Satay and curry a perfect mix, incredibly friendly people all wanting to help in our quest. Chance meeting with the Malaysian 4x4 communities, more albeit less extreme off-roading, taken into the home of our Malaysian friends, some harsh jungle trekking, sucked to death by leaches and more excellent diving, the jewel being the world renown Sipadan and our stay on an oil rig! The last minute organisation of shipping for Tinfish, driving around Borneo and seeing the Orang-utans a rare sight as the dense rainforest gives way to acres and acres of oil palm plantation. Bowling, pizza, movie and popcorn in Kota Kinabulu - memories from a different life - and the smartest backpackers ever!

More fundraising activity Alex contemplating the water temperature Alex hanging around :o)

5th August 2006: Brunei
Two days turns to two weeks.. meeting the expat community and sharing a beer in 'dry' Brunei after a good days diving. Chance meeting with one of the princes who looks after us like one of his own, being introduced to the 4x4 community and making some great friends amongst a great bunch of guys. Organising a 'lucky draw' to raise money for CARE, relaxing to the extreme at the Empire hotel and generally being spoilt rotten. A quick trip to the local means popping across the border to Malaysia, being worried when listening to the stories of the difficulty facing us driving through Kalimantan, but then being able to tag along with a convoy of 4x4's who happened to be going our way! The last of the cheap diesel so fill up!

Getting cosy at the Empire hotel The blue waters of Brunei An evening site seeing tour round the city of Brunei

21st August 2006: Indonesia
Watches and rings off just to be sure, but how wrong can you be! The people here are fantastic, amongst the kindest we've met to date. Guided through Kalimantan and get invited to the festivities of a wake with the accompanied dancing and drinking. Passed like a baton from family to family each as genuinely hospitable as the last, an incredible experience. Our first of many death defying experience as we cross via ferry (ie rusty bucket barely floating!) on the 24hrs voyage to Sulawesi. Bend and curves as we travel north on the other side of the Wallace line to do some incredible diving. Again we have a taster of the best diving the region has to offer with an incredible cruise through the Banda Sea. A bizarre volcanic string of islands as we head east, some like Gunung Bromo a desolate desert, others in Flores a lush tropical paradise. Coming face to face with the Komodo dragon and a heart stopping moment as I stare a gigantic hammerhead in the eye! Awesome ancient temples, our first accident with a moped and Tinfish gets seriously sick in the midst of nowhere.. but we nurse her onwards.

Torajan huts in Sulawesi The weird and wonderful fury frog fish The lunar landscape of Gunung Bromo

22nd October 2006: East Timor
Our worst week ever in our lives.. cleaning and scrubbing Tinfish whilst trouble erupts outside of the gates! Stress, stress and more stress as we bang heads together to get the Timorese to clean Tinfish ready for Australian quarantine inspections and collapse each night exhausted back at the smeggy backpackers. The UN has fuelled a false economy and we get a taster for inflamed prices. No opportunity to see the real country and a feeling of remorse as we box Tinfish up in her container and realise we won't be seeing her again for a long while. Anxiety when we finally board the plane for Australia, many mixed emotions

The worst week of the trip... God knows why we're still smiling Tinfish in her container ready for Darwin

30th October 2006: Australia
Australia we have returned! The fun and games continue whilst trying to get Tinfish out of quarantine, cleared by customs, road legal and the gearbox repaired.. an overall experience we don't wish to repeat in a hurry. Finally back on the road and it feels good. Amazing natural wonders of the Australian outback.. big open spaces, thousands of km's, too many wheel failures but some of the best bush camping and evenings with the stars, not to mention the spectacular scenery. Meet the Kelly's for Christmas which is great fun. Delicious wine tasting a tipple we've been missing and so made up for lost time! The west is windy, but beautiful from desert to thick tall forests, the centre vast, red and ancient, the east populated and closer to our end destination. Odd feeling to experience a little of the aboriginal culture so different from much we have seen, but here we are seen as no different to the average traveller. Very strange to watch the pace of life passing us by, we've got accustomed to all and sundry offering us their last meal, whilst back in the 'civilised' world we are barely given a second glance. The only place we've broken down and struggled for two hours on a busy road and not a single person stopped to help - a sad but true reflection!

A family affair for Christmas A leafy sea horse floating in Bremer Bay Australia's central rock

10th February 2007: Vanuatu
Our last holiday before reality hits. A fabulous fortnight of diving the incredible liner President Coolidge. Time to just stop still and gather our thoughts between plunging into the depths. More helpful and generous dive organisation willing to help our cause for CARE, a holiday just what the doctor ordered..!

Off on one last holiday before coming out of retirement Preparing for diving the President Coolidge Relaxing in the sunset

23rd March 2007: New Zealand
Okay so we're lucky.. we need to leave Australia to sort out work visas.. so we unexpectedly make it to New Zealand after all..!! With work on the horizon for both of us, decide to fit in as much fun as we can. Campervan has to stand in for Tinfish as we set out to explore the North Island. Excellent fun crawling around caves, racing along in boats, soaring in floatplanes, taking on the rapids and trekking across the alien landscape of the Tongariro crossing! Definitely finishing off the trip on a high! With visas in hand we board our flight with nervous excitement of our new life in Australia..

A sorry second after Tinfish The emerald lakes on the Tongariro crossing Getting wet and wild sledging

The dust and dirt of the road washed away very quickly, and the trip already feels like a million miles ago. Thankfully nothing can wash away the memories that we gained from the expedition; they will stay with us forever. The stories that we tell and the smiles that they bring to our faces, were only made possible by all the fantastic people we met along the way. We were told before we left to expect some bizarre encounters and we half didn't believe it'd be possible without going out of our way to find interesting situations. In truth we were never more than a day or two away from a totally unexpected and unique experience... you don't look for them... they find you!

It has been comforting however to know that you were all there with us in spirit (and comments) even though not necessarily in person. We thoroughly enjoyed the visits we did have from Frazer & Beatrix, Damien, Max, Rob, Frazer again!, Siobhan, mum & dad Kelly and Andy & Pips along the way. It was great catching up with all of you.

The trip has been a very humbling experience for us. Not only because we have been able to see first hand the fantastic work that CARE International does across the world, and we saw only a very small portion of this, but also because of the amazing people we met in all of the countries we visited. We have literally been stopped in the street and welcomed to a country, taken to people's homes for drinks and food and even stayed with strangers who have welcomed us into their homes as if we were one of their own. Something that is very hard to comprehend in the world that we live in today.

We have been helped in so many ways and a huge thank you has to go out to many - way too many to mention all in person. We have been staggered by the fantastic efforts that people have gone to in helping us to fundraise, especially within the diving community. A BIG thank you goes out to all of you who have sponsored us along the way, you have all been extremely generous with your money and we can definitely say that every penny makes a tremendous difference. We are stoked to have managed to raise nearly UKP18,000, but there are still a couple of donations still to come in which will raise the total further. Alex and I will be working hard this side of the world from now on to see if we can at least make it to UKP20,000..!!

So, if you were thinking of sponsoring us, but never managed to get round to it.... now's your chance!! It's really easy. All you need to do is click the 'Donate now' link on the left hand side of the page and follow the simple instructions... go on one last time :)

Well with Tinfish now parked up, we are slowly adjusting to living back in a house; no more cooking on the tailgate, sitting under the stars, showers every other day, climbing up into the tent for bed, trips into the bush, the freedom of the road and hours sat happily side by side as the miles passed beneath us... it actually brings a tear to our eyes! So it simply remains for us to say one last THANK YOU we have enjoyed writing these dairies and I hope it allowed you to experience a few of the sights, smells and experiences we had and given you enough of a taster to step out on to the road in your own way and see where it takes you... you'll never regret it!

...until the return journey!!!

Alex & Maz

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Comment from Martin
Wow, was wondering where you'd got to, but now I know - you must have been sat in front of the computer the last 4 months writing all that. A great summary with lots of wonderful memories for me too. Best of luck with the new lives and hope to catch up in September!
19 Aug 2007 @ 09:04:43

Comment from Katie Hill
Dear Maz and Alex,

Congratulations. You must have endured, survived and enjoyed so much. I hope you give yourselves plenty of time and space to settle in to the kind of life you left behind, as I am sure it will be a lengthy process. What a fantastic thing to have achieved. Your summary diary is really fascinating, and engages the reader. I am very tempted by Cambodia now!

WIshing you very much luck and happiness as you settle in to Australia for the meantime, and take care of yourselves, in all ways!

Glad to have met you

Ciao

Katie and Jeremy (Hill, from Bulgaria, but not for much longer).
23 Aug 2007 @ 07:25:04