Expedition Earth: This Kiwi couple turned a handshake during one of their first dates into a global adventure

2019-03-12 20:00 - Selene Brophy
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Couples often take an end-of-year break together, others like to do their breaks in shorter, weekend stints - more often. 

However for New Zealanders Topher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray their first overseas trip together took on rather epic, expedition proportions.

The two have been travelling the planet since April 2018, having just met three months prior, in their wanderlust filled adventure to circumnavigate the planet by car.  

And so Expedition Earth was born, in what they literally describe as a whirlwind trip in the planning. They're doing so in their trusty Jeep, named Gunther - describing it as the heart and soul of their expedition, "He is our true companion on this journey around the globe." 

Heart and soul of the journey 

Expedition Earth began on the 8th of April 2018. 

"It was only three months earlier that Topher and I met one another and had the idea to circumnavigate the planet by car (we shook hands on it during one of our first dates). Only two weeks before the 8th of April we purchased our flights and plotted our 3 year-long route, and just a few days before, purchased our Jeep.

The Jeep is named after the man who inspired this journey, Gunther Holtorff, say the couple. 

Gunther Holtorff, along with his car Otto, spent 24 years driving around the world. He covered a total of 884 000km (549,000 miles) and his love for travel took him around the world.  For most of this incredible journey, Holtorf was accompanied by his wife, Christine. Christine passed away before their world tour ended but before she passed, she instructed Gunther to complete their journey. 

However, very shortly after departing the couple say they found much more purpose behind the expedition than simply a world tour.

"Expedition Earth is now focused on promoting the natural beauty of this planet, inspiring our followers and readers to keep the earth pristine, along with exposing the threats and fragilities our earth is facing. We are now beginning to work with some pretty incredible foundations including the World Wildlife Fund, Tikki Haywood Foundation, Imire, NambiBand Reserve and African Parks among many others 

"We began Expedition Earth from the most northern tip of Alaska, in -30C temperatures, and drove to the most southern driveable point on the planet; Ushuaia, Argentina. From here we (Topher and I, without Gunther) boarded a ship and crossed the Drake Passage to Antarctica.

"During this time, whilst they were in Antarctica, Gunther was shipped in a container to Durban, South Africa.

So what did they think about South Africa?  

The couple have spent the past two weeks picking up supplies and preparing for the stretch along the African continent. 

"Our route took us from Durban, where we picked up the Jeep from the port, to Johannesburg, where Front Runner re-kitted Gunther out so he is now ready to tackle Africa.

"In our previous set up, in the Americas, he wouldn’t have been able to carry enough provisions (specifically water, fuel and food) needed for our African leg.

They also explored the Garden Route, Cape Town and Lesotho.  

"Beyond the beautiful landscape, we feel South Africa is unique for its people. The people we have met here have been so warm, helpful and hospitable.

"Typically, as we travel through a country on route we will have a number of local’s message or email us to ask if we need any help. However, during our time here in South Africa our inbox has been flooded with locals offering a room in their house, nearby hotspots to explore, sending their contact details if we run into an issue and wishing us well on our journey.

"We have met up with a number of these helpful locals and learn a lot about the history of the area and what life is like in different areas of South Africa.

"To say the least, we have had many Braais already! 

"It’s been an amazing country to travel through, and we have made a number of friends during our time here."

And so the second leg of their circumnavigation is underway. 

Leg 2 will take us up the east of Africa, through the Middle East (including Saudi Arabia) to the most northern driveable tip of Europe. Leg 3, next year, will take us from Russia to our finish line in New Zealand.

In total the expedition will cover 7 continents, 70 countries and 350 000km.

"To date we have covered 19 countries, with 51 left to go. We have planned our route to take us to some of the world’s most extreme landscapes and to regions which will allow us to capture both natural beauty, along with the environmental fragilities. Therefore, our route is anything but direct, which is why we are on the road for 3 years non-stop. We cover between 3-400 km’s daily.

This year we are driving Leg 2, which is our longest and least direct route out of all 3. Our aim is to reach northern Africa by July, cover the Middle East by early October, and finish in Lapland in Finland by December. This will make for many long days driving and capturing content, with near to no rest in-between. We completed Leg 1 on schedule, so expect Leg 2 to complete on schedule also.

Highs and Lows of the journey so far.. 

The couple say they've learnt that during the expedition so far, is that typically, their lows are later remembered as their highs.

"For example, during our time in Alaska, in -30C temperatures, came with a lot of challenges. During one of our first nights we were miles from any civilization aiming to sleep inside the Jeep and cook outside.

"Once we pulled over we found all of our food had frozen solid on the back seat (a gauge of how cold it was!) and our cooking gas had turned into a liquid. At the time, going to sleep freezing and hungry – worrying if the car would even start in the morning – was a low moment of the expedition.

"However, now looking back nearly one year later, we count it as one of our most fond memories!"

They say their biggest lesson so far has been to listen to advice from others. Research is also pretty crucial. 

"Before starting Expedition Earth many people that we spoke with told us we didn’t have enough of a mechanical background to travel such a distance in a car, or that the world was far too dangerous to drive through.

We have had some dangerous sections to the expedition, including navigating our way through Nicaragua on the brink of a civil war last year, but if you are prepared and well researched typically things do work out for the best."

And as a couple, how are they surviving after those adventurous first few dates?

"After having such an enjoyable time together, and no arguments whatsoever, we truly believe an expedition of this size strengthens your relationship and is nothing but positive."

"Expedition Earth has given us the best moments of our lives, individually and together as a couple."

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