By HEATHER BAILLACHE
SHETLANDER Rhona Wakeling is well on her way to completing a major international challenge.
Rhona and her husband Simon set off from Scotland in a van, intending to drive all the way to New Zealand.
Having left their home on 1st May, after converting an ex-plumber’s Toyota Hi-ace van into a “home”, the couple have already driven half way there.
Rhona, whose parents Rosemary and Eddie Watt are well known in the isles, began the trip with a practice run in the van to Aberdeen to say farewell to family.
They then set off across Europe, taking in the “easy” countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic before heading further east.
In keeping with the local customs, Rhona wore the “hijab” – a headscarf – while travelling through Muslim countries such as Turkey and Iran.
After reading warnings on various embassy websites about kidnapping on the Iran/Pakistan border, they were encouraged by other travellers who had come through without any problems.
However, when they approached Pakistan they were told by officials that they would have to have an armed police escort to the Pakistan border and beyond.
Although this made them nervous, they soon found that border guards and customs officers were partial to a cup of tea, and this helped to calm tense situations and create new friendships.
Rhona’s mum Rosemary, who was a primary school teacher in Shetland before moving to Aberdeen with Eddie, said this crossing had proved to be the most difficult part of the journey.
She said: “I can’t say I haven’t been concerned but they have planned very well and have taken advice from the British embassies, and they have done everything to ensure they are safe.”
Rhona’s adventures are a far cry from the life she led as a child attending Scalloway Primary, but her sense of adventure may well have been in the blood.
Eddie, a pilot for Loganair, took his family to Kenya in 1992 where he and Rosemary worked for Mission Aviation Fellowship.
Rhona, now 26, spent her younger years in Nairobi, before returning to Shetland to finish her education at Anderson High School.
She studied nursing at Aberdeen University and returned to Shetland for a further two years, working both in the Accident and Emergency Department at Gilbert Bain Hospital, and also as a district nurse.
However, she never lost contact with the boy next door, Simon, who she met in Kenya when she was just 10.
Rosemary has kept in regular contact with her eldest daughter and Simon.
“They have quite adventurous spirits. I think living in Kenya for five years made them want to travel. You can’t stop them. Even though you worry about them, you have to let them go.”
Their initial plan was to drive through China and then down through south east Asia to Singapore, although they would have had to register the van in China, sit a theory driving test in Chinese and change the number plates, which would have cost them thousands of pounds.
At the moment they have taken a detour to visit friends in Kathmandu, having left the van in New Dehli. From there they plan to head south.
However, an early monsoon in southern India this week may force them to alter their route.
They intend to put their beloved van, named Matatu (due to its resemblance to an African mini-bus) onto a shipping container bound for Darwin in Australia.
They themselves will then fly to Hong Kong and travel by public transport down the coast of China before flying to Darwin to meet the van.
The plan is to then drive through part of the Australian outback heading east, before driving down the coast to Sydney and then putting their van on another boat to Auckland in New Zealand.
The entire trip is expected to take four and a half months.
The the couple are keeping a journal of their travels. You can keep updated with their trip by looking up their blog – nzinavan.blogspot.com – on the internet.
The blog is illustrated with colourful pictures of people and places at each stage of their journey.
At the foot of each diary entry, the country is given a average temperature (up to 47 degrees) and prices for diesel, which have been as low as 1p per litre!