overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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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

Into The Lions Den....

Written by Maz Towns. Uploaded 6 April 2007.

Australia, Country 26, Diary entry, 2 - 23rd March 2007, Total distance in Australia: 19,637km

After asking directions only once from a lady with a street map, we found the new posh pado pad in no time at all. Chrissie and Trish were waiting for us with a bottle of bubbly in the fridge already cooling. As with cities all round the world once you find yourself in the CBD parking is near impossible, you may find one of these precious spaces big enough to squeeze in a Cinquecento, but finding an area big enough for our larger than life Tinfish is another challenge altogether. This afternoon we were lucky as we'd beaten the locals' home from work.

We've arrived! We parked right outside Chrissie's townhouse and spent the first hour or so lugging some of our gear out of the car. Their open plan hallway was soon filling with our crap. Seeing the astonished faces of Chrissie and Trish looking at all our boxes, bags and loose gear I tried to pamper their concerns by saying we'd have it all moved by the next day, but their stunned silence was due to the fact we'd actually managed to fit it all in the car in the first place!

The weekend had officially started and we opened the bottle of bubbly and toasted Tinfish and our completed expedition. The girls had kindly said we could stay with them till we got ourselves sorted with jobs and appropriate visas. We dolled ourselves up to go and have a night on the town - well Chrissie and Trisha did, Alex and I changed to clean clothes - and we put out to sample the Paddington nightlife. A drink or two first was in order among the Paddington partygoers where we met a few interesting characters. Then after many indecisions of where to dine, we decided to go upstairs and eat in the pub's restaurant. The food was excellent with a mixture of fish, seafood and meat dishes being placed in front of us.

Dolled up for a night out in Paddington Back down into the main throng of activity we partied into the night. One guy that we'd met earlier was now a few drinks further down the line and was happily introducing himself too all around saying he was a trained 'Tantric Master'. He came to talk to Alex and I and said that he "felt a lot of love" round us and told us we should get together! He then told us that he fancied us both (Alex was beginning to back away at this point) and the following topic of conversation that he began to raise probably got a little bit too explicit for me to write any further! We soon introduced him to Chrissie - she was single after all! It made for a fun night and lots of stories to chuckle at days afterwards.

Saturday we were good to our word and by the time the girls had returned from brunch we had cleared all our stuff away into our bedroom and every other nook and cranny around the house we could find that wasn't being utilised. We then ventured round the shops and markets on Oxford Street before exploring Centennial Gardens where we thought we might get a glimpse of a famous Aussie actor taking a walk. Trish had some friends over for the evening to show off the new townhouse, so we had another great night of being wined and dined. Trish cooked up a fantastic dish of prawns in a white mushroom sauce with angel hair pasta. It was delicious and went down a treat with all. A lie in the following morning, we tried to catch up on admin and had a lazy day.

Maz relaxing in Centennial Gardens Monday took the girls back to work, but it wasn't all rest for us. I had a busy week planned job hunting and by now had 4 interviews lined up to impress different companies with my knowledge, experience and wisdom of years in the pharmaceutical industry... well, I had a good few stories from the road! As Mr. Towns had already secured his path of gold back into the workforce, his job for the week was to chauffeur me to my interviews. After a quick hair cut to make me presentable, by mid week I was 2 down and had a rest day before torturing myself with 2 on Friday.

So, what best to do before getting that brain working again to impress for success, than meet an old long lost friend whom I'd not seen in 9 nine years for a few drinks... A friend from school whom I'd lost contact with until after leaving England, she came across our website and emailed to say 'hello'. Coincidentally, she was moving to Australia with her boyfriend in February this year so we decided it would be a great idea to reacquaint ourselves. Now she protests that she simply followed her beau over here as he was relocating, but I know she just thought she'd go down a right treat with the locals, after all she is called... SHEILA! Having landed herself a job before arriving in Australia, she'd cleverly contrived herself a 6 week break before beginning her new job in the city... we were all free birds flocking together!

There's a storm a brewin' The time was set and what a better place to meet than the infamous Bondi Beach. We met Sheila and her friend Claire and went for a drink in one of the local open air cafes. Alex and I had presumed a coffee (innocent as we are), but it was soon decided that wine would go down a treat; "One bottle of your finest white my man". One turned into two and then a huge black cloud appeared over the horizon so we decided it was best to head for cover and ventured round the corner to the Iceberg Bar. One more bottle was ordered and Stuart, the beau, joined us 'happy folk' as he'd just finished work. After maybe one more (there were 5 people now after all and Stuart was playing catch up) we decided it would probably be wise to get some grub.

There are many bars and restaurants to choose from along the Bondi beach, but our decisions were made purely on how close things were to us at this particular point in time. We stumbled on an Italian restaurant that looked pretty nice and asked for a table for 5. I nipped off to the loo and by the time I'd returned, everyone was leaving the restaurant. A little confused, (we were all hungry and I couldn't understand why everyone had changed their minds) Alex said that we'd been asked if we'd been drinking. Confused, Alex told the waiter that yes, we'd had a glass or two (I'd like to point out we were in no way outrageous at this point... moi?) and the waiter calmly replied that he would be able to serve us food but as we'd already had something to drink, he would not be able to serve us any alcohol... hence the stampede out of the joint!

Just one more then...waiting for Stu Thankfully, we found an even better place next door that not only served us more wine, we ate the most divine food. After a sumptuous feast, Sheila presented us with a 'travel ten' card which is a prepaid travel ticket that allows us to take advantage of the pre paid buses which operate within the city, basically a 'get home quick' card. We were in bed by 11pm! Unfortunately for me, I had two interviews the next day (I swear I was pacing myself) and my head felt a little groggy the next morning. A strong coffee and glass of water the following morning and I felt as good as new. The two interviews went well and no sooner had I been ticking them off my list, next interviews were being asked for... I already had my second week in Sydney planned with 4 second interviews.

Incidentally, my fourth and final interview of the week was with Chrissie's company (with Chrissie and her boss doing the interviewing), so it worked out well when I needed a lift home! That Friday feeling was lingering and Chrissie and I went out to buy a couple of bottles of wine to accompany us for the night, but got a little waylaid and decided that maybe we should sample the goods first... we returned home an hour later than expected. A quiet but maybe inebriated night followed. A lazy Saturday followed with another few drinks in the evening to familiarise ourselves once again with Paddington.

Relaxing in between driving jobs It was now half past the weekend and with only 1 day left to enjoy before Chrissie had to go back to work, we decided a day at the beach was in order. We met up with James and Lucy who we know from back home and took to the shores. Alex had been moaning and bitching all morning about how cold the water was and that he needed a wetsuit before venturing into the ice tipped waves of the northern beaches, but nothing was holding everyone else back. Deciding I was going to brave it, Lucy, Chrissie and I left Alex and James chatting on the beach and went for a splash. It was bloody cold, but once I got my breath back it was rather refreshing. Shouting to Alex to come in, they eventually came over. James rushed into the water leaving Alex dipping his big toe in the shallows reminding me of Mr. Bean's adventures at the seaside and that was just the speedos over the brown suit. :)

After a few minutes, James went to get the boogie boards so we could all have a play. I have found my new water sport when I can't go diving! It was loads of fun and we frolicked in the water for hours... in fact the moaning Mr. Towns was the last one out! As like all of our outings we spent the majority of our time in the midday sun. By 3pm we were all feeling it a bit so decided to grab some lunch. A cafe over the road did the most delicious looking burgers so we headed directly for them. After securing a table overlooking the sea, we ordered our food and shakes. Not sure if the waiter was new to the place or just a little slow/stoned, as he managed to mess up our drinks order in the most spectacular way and then seem surprised when we sent them back and asked for the correct ones! By the time we'd finished eating the sun was definitely over the yard arm and James suggested we go for a drink at the yacht club they're members at.

It tasted MUCH better than it looks! Sipping wine on the man made beach outside the yacht club overlooking millions of dollars worth of boats was very relaxing. Needing to keep some sort of excitement in our lives once we settle into the routine of being house trained again, Alex and I quite like the idea of learning to sail... maybe we can return home by sea! Another couple of bottles seemed to slip nicely down our throats before we decided that it was time to go home, after all Ugly Betty and Greys Anatomy were on TV tonight! Seeing Chrissie prepare for the week ahead, I began to get that Sunday night feeling, a feeling I'd not had in a very long time! I guess it was due to the fact that it wouldn't be long before I'd be in the same position and the dust and freedom of the road is a distant memory.

Our second week in Sydney was surprisingly very much like the first. Alex was again my chauffeur and I'd managed to organise my interviews over Tuesday and Wednesday to get them over and done with. In between dressing up in suits we were manically looking for apartments to rent and liaising with IBM about our visa requirements to work in Australia. Surprisingly just like every other major decision we've had to make on the trip, we continued to ask anyone who would want to share their opinion on the visa topic and then decide who we wanted to believe. All of our friends are working over here on the 457 working visa and we would be no different. However, the process didn't seem as straight forward for us as it had been with everyone else who'd gone through the process. Due to the fact we'd decided to enter Australia on a 1 year tourist visa and not the normal 3 month stay electronic travel authority (ETA), we had a 'no further stay' clause as one of the conditions on the visa and it was this small print that was causing a few minor issues.

Shiela making the green potion My interviews came and went with no apparent problems and no sooner had I finished my last one of the week, I was invited for a third by one company on Friday. I've never worked so hard to get a job! Alex had been liaising with his soon to be manager about attending a weeks training the following week to get him back up to speed with the MAXIMO software, we were slipping back into the old world like we'd never left it! The interview on the Friday was pretty intense with the MD of the company and director of HR wanting to know if my personality would fit, and as interviews go I quite enjoyed it. I was in there for 2 hours before I escaped to Alex who had been acting as a personal secretary taking messages for me. On returning the phone call, I had my first offer in the bag which was very exciting and my favourite job of the lot, bonus!

It was time to celebrate and we stopped of to get a bottle of bubbly before returning home and celebrating with the girls. It was Friday night again, so we went out for a few drinks to unwind from the hectic week just passed. :) Saturday night we were invited to Sheila and Stuarts house for a BBQ, obviously the clincher for the weather as it rained all afternoon. We hopped onto the bus and managed to find their flat without too much of a detour. It was St. Patricks day (not that Alex or I realised until we reached their place) and to commemorate the day, Sheila had decided to make a monumental effort in turning all the food green! Green carrots, green potato salad, green cous cous and even GREEN WINE.

Alex & Stu just thought they were at a wizards and goblins party... One sip of this and it will turn you into beautiful princesses...see how it works!

It was a full house with Harn and Trudy who had just landed in Sydney on a 6 month tour of the world, Trudy's parents over in Sydney on a quick holiday to say hi to their daughter and Graham and Kim, fellow Brits now living round the corner. While we all chatted and acquainted ourselves with each other and a glass of green wine, poor Stuart was on BBQ duty (thankfully the rain had given up for a while) cooking up the most splendid array of tucker. Thankfully, Sheila had refrained from trying to turn the meat green too, so there was at least some small semblance of normality on the plate as we tucked in.

Pork chops, steak, sausages, chicken kebabs, prawns and even kangaroo was dished up, all delish but way too much for us to finish. I think Sheila and Stu will be having cold meat dishes for the next few days to come! It was a fantastic night with lots of travelling stories being told as everyone had landed in Australia after a bout of travelling. Time was ticking and we had to be up early in the morning, so as the clock struck midnight, we decided to make our way to the bus stop to go home.

Trudy & Harn throwing a shrimp on the barby We were more than a little sleepy when the alarm went off at 7am the following morning. Trish was already up making lunch for our day out on the waters. Having changed the plan slightly, we weren't leaving the house until 9am now rather than the agreed 8am the previous day, so I quickly slipped back into bed for a few more ZZZZZzzz before getting up properly. Today we were off sailing with Tony and Phil and a few of their friends. It was the 75th birthday of the opening of the Harbour Bridge and different displays were being put on throughout the day. While hundreds of people were walking over the bridge to celebrate (the second time only that the bridge has actually been closed to traffic), we felt the better way was to see things close up from a boat in the harbour.

We met Tony and Phil in Manley where their boat was moored and then when Nikki and Jez arrived we set sail towards the harbour. I love being out at sea and on this 40 foot yacht riding the swell, I felt right at home. The boat was designed by Tony himself 18 years ago and he has looked after it lovingly ever since. With only 3 people on the boat having any clue about sailing, I felt it was probably wise to just sit down out of the way.

We took it easy bobbing on the waves, slowly mooching round to the harbour, where we anchored up in prime viewing position. Chatting, relaxing and even a few folk fitting in a quick snooze, we whiled away the hours. The displays were unfortunately a little disappointing, and when the mass of helicopters were to fly over the bridge at their nominated time, we had to laugh when a lone chopper appeared, looking apparently lost! On the hour in the afternoon, different planes and more helicopters flew over the bridge. People parachuted down with red contrails bellowing in the breeze and hundreds of people walked over the bridge to wish the bridge 'happy birthday'.

Alex, Kim & Graham toasting Paddy We bobbed up and down drinking a chilled chardonnay and chewing on the thai chicken baguettes and corn fritters Trish had made earlier in the morning - superb! I could quite get used to this life. Unfortunately all good things come to an end and Tony dropped us off in the harbour at Rushmoor Bay where we walked home to have a lazy evening.

Alex began to have 'that Sunday feeling' as Monday was his first day of 'pretend' work. Obviously the week long course Alex was attending wasn't actually work as he isn't allowed to work with the visa we're currently on, he was doing this purely for his deep interest in Maximo - doesn't every tourist! All dolled up in the interview suit he didn't need, he rushed out of the door to get the bus into town. So distraught that this would be his first day away from me in a very long time, he lingered around the house for as long as he could, catching his parents on Skype for the first time and then managed to accidentally miss the fast bus into town arriving for his first day late! Not a great start I'd say, but typical Alex.

How bizarre to be sat amongst IT Professionals once more, all talking shop - SAP this and Oracle that, but worse off all being restricted to the routine of a 9-5..! After the initial rush to get there, I was once more enveloped by a world that I'd left a long long time ago, to the point that I'd actually re-joined my old company (now bought out by IBM) and was singled out as the new 'expert' in the field of Maximo! Maxi-who was about all I could remember and a cold sweat formed on my forehead as I was once more immersed into what seemed like a distant dream! Every now and then I had to pinch myself and found I was also chuckling to myself as the reality started to sink in! The mixtures of feelings and emotions were quite over powering and I wondered how long it'd be before this amazing adventure of ours would slip to the distant memories of the mind... we have our website though and I decided that once nicely tucked up in an office job, I'd start from the beginning and re-read the story of our lives for the last 20 months!

With Alex out of the house all week I had planned days of relaxing, reading my book and writing diaries, unfortunately this wasn't the case. It was probably my busiest week in Sydney yet - flat hunting. Australia has a very different system to us back home when it comes to renting properties. Rather than phoning up to make a booking to go and view a property at your leisure, it's more like applying for the lotto. There are set times to view a property (normally all on a Saturday and amazingly all at the same time) and if you like it, you have to fill in an application form give it to the agent who then forwards it to the landlord. If your name is picked out of the hat by the landlord you're allowed to rent it. Simple. When you're viewing a property with 20 others it kind of takes away the excitement from it and with no credit or reference history in Australia, Alex and I fall to the bottom of the pile. The bonus of spending the week flat hunting was that I now know Sydney and its suburbs pretty well. I have narrowed down what I don't want, but unfortunately you don't get much for your money in Sydney. The hunt still continues.

Trish takes the helm While we pootled away the week, Alex being enlightened with all the new versions of Maximo in the training course, me looking at properties, we were still trying to work out how to get round the problem of applying for our working visas. For a while it stood that we'd had to leave the country for an undetermined length of time to apply and then wait for the visas to come through before returning to Sydney ready to start work. This obviously had huge cost implications but it seemed like there was no way round it. New Zealand is close but we only know one person there and arriving for 'a while' is imposing even on the closest of friends. The other option in the pipeline was returning home to the UK as at least we could sort out personal stuff there. There was only one snag to this planning, I didn't have a passport.

With 27 countries now stamped in and out of my passport it was rather full, I had half a page left. Knowing that I would have to put my work visa into the passport once I got it, as soon as I returned from Vanuatu I sent off the required paperwork to get a new one issued. According to the website, 10 days was the nominal turnaround time, but small print on the actual paperwork I'd been given stated 1 month - how typical is that. Beginning our third week in Sydney with still no sign of any passport, I can tell you that the paperwork is the one to believe...

About to set sail As further investigations continued it transpired that another possibility was to exit Australia (probably to NZ) apply for a normal 3 month ETA with business status, return to Australia on the newly issued ETA and then apply for the work visa once back in the country. Sounded rather convoluted and the main concern of mine was that if we already had a visa, surely questions would arise to why we were applying for another one. Still, IBM are a big company so who were we to question the authority. If they said it could be done, then it will be done. There was a user group meeting in Hamilton, New Zealand the following week which was a convenient excuse to get Alex out of the country for the process and 'attend another meeting'. Me, well it would be rude not to tag along as I was in the same position and we decided that I would go as defacto on Alex's main visa, which for a 457 meant that whilst Alex was restricted to just working for IBM and for the specific role recruited for, I could work for whom ever I wanted! There was no way Alex was going to finish the trip in New Zealand and leave me behind!

As the days passed by, time was ticking and I still hadn't received my passport. The one thing that I love about the British Consul is that they're in a country for your benefit, ready and willing to answer any questions you have... for the privilege of $7.10 "payable by credit card". Resenting paying to talk to one of the consultants to see why it was taking so long to issue me a passport, I'd delayed and delayed calling them but it was now a matter of urgency...Alex would soon be going to NZ without me!!!!

Phil, baby Samantha and Trish relaxing on deck I called first thing Monday so I had some idea of when we could book tickets, but after the consulate asked what I wanted to know so they could direct me to the correct consultant and then take my money, I was told that it was in fact a public holiday and I'd have to call back tomorrow. About to blow a fuse, they politely continued and said just call back tomorrow, say I'd spoken with Simon, that I'd already paid and they'd put me through to a consultant.

9am on the dot the next morning I called again but all consultants were busy, so I was asked to call back in 10 minutes. 2 HOURS later, I managed to actually get through to one of the receptionists to try and talk to a consultant again, with the same response; "please call back in 10 minutes." Explaining it had taken me 2 hours to actually talk to someone again rather than get the answer machine (which the girl had already told me not to leave a message as they don't listen to it), she tried again but said I'd have to call back. It took another 2 hours calling every 10 minutes to talk to someone again but this time I didn't have to loose my rag as I was lucky enough to be put through to a consultant straight away. The 1 minute 35 second conversation confirmed that my passport had actually been printed on the Friday and was with the courier ready for delivery tomorrow. Thank God!

Taking it easy with life on the open waves Frantically pacing the house Wednesday, I called the courier about 11am to find out an approximate time for delivery as I'd scheduled a viewing for a flat at 1.30pm. "Lunchtime" was the response - now in Sydney that could probably range from now until 3pm so I just carried on pacing. I was as frantic as a lost puppy waiting for its owner to find it when the courier arrived. Standing outside the house checking the address, I almost pounced on him as it was 1.10pm and he was just in time for me to still make my appointment. The flat was like a shoe box, the hunt continues.

Knowing now we were both valid to travel, we checked and double checked with IBM we were to go ahead with the plan and after getting the final OK we booked our one way ticket to New Zealand that night... a return was pointless as we still didn't know how long we'd be going for! I then realised that my existing Australian visa was still tied to my old passport and the small print stated that any changes needed to be communicated to the appropriate department or else travel might be refused! A quick email later, it all felt a little bit rushed and unnerving as from past experiences we know what seems a straight forward process isn't necessarily what happens when you actually try it. Still, IBM was keen to get Alex on board ASAP so we crossed our fingers and toes and hoped it would all go smoothly.

We head back home We had to be at the airport on the Friday for 5.30pm, so Alex would be returning early from his last day on the course to get changed and head straight to the airport; we needed to be ready and packed well beforehand. Keen to get back to 'pretend work', Alex began packing on the Wednesday night neatly folding his work shirts, ties and socks ready to be put in the wheelie bag Chrissie had lent us. Thursday I spent flat hunting again. Just before the last viewing of the day I got a call from a solicitor appointed by the company that had offered me a job, wanting to talk about the logistics of applying for the visa. As we'd been through all this with IBM, I told him our plans. I can only say that it still rings true that you should believe no one until you try a process yourself...

Upon completion of explaining what we were about to do, he had grave concerns about why an ETA would be issued to us as we already have a valid visa (deja vu sprang to mind) and after telling him that I had the 'no further stay' condition on the visa, the only way to move forward was to exit the country, apply for the 457 visa as soon as we left Australia and then wait. Hmmm, this wasn't on the agenda, although that had been our original thought before IBM told us to go the other route.

Suddenly not in the mood to view a flat and a little stressed as we'd only booked our flights to NZ the night before...what should we do now? By pure coincidence on the way home I got a call from a frantic man needing URGENTLY to get in touch with Alex. When asked what it was about (visas) I said he could talk to me as I was in the same situation..... He proceeded to tell me that what we were doing was HIGHLY against IBM policy!?!?! He was from the agent who applies for the visas for IBM. I informed him that we were doing what we were doing because that was the advice which we'd been given from IBM (or whoever advised them). I was more than a little confused, angry and stressed. I told him about my conversation with the solicitor an hour before but all he kept saying was that we were going against IBM policy and Alex's manager was not happy! All this the night before we flew!

Alex ready for his first day of school
He called back once I was with Alex explaining the situation again, he also advised that the only way for us to proceed was to leave for NZ, apply for a 457 work visa and then stay out of the country until we were issued it. After frantic calls to HR, we had no idea what we should be doing! Leaving for NZ for an undisclosed amount of time was going to have huge cost implications. Friday morning IBM told us to go to NZ as they had been advised by their company that the visas would take a few days, maybe a week - 10 days to come through. Well, the one common denominator we'd had from everyone so far is that visas are taking 6-8weeks due to a backlog!! It just didn't make sense but it was all coming a little too late now, we'd booked our flights and didn't want to loose the money on not using them.

Alex spoke again with Mr. Visa man Friday morning who again said he could pull something out of his hat and get us a visa in 1-2 weeks... more reasonable at least, but absolutely no promises. Personally I didn't believe him one jot, but we found ourselves heading to the airport Friday night completely unprepared for our final destination of the trip... NEW ZEALAND!

A HUGE thanks to all who looked after us during their precious weekends, we had a great time with you all and look forward to many more when we get our own pad in Sydney!

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Comment from Marion Creagh
I am going to have to read this when I get back as off to the Sound of Mull diving. You guys will be at work and best of luck with that. Work unfortunatly is like riding a bike. you never forget even if it has been a while since you were last there.

Love Marion
06 Apr 2007 @ 08:42:53