Kiwi spends nine months travelling solo across Central Asia

Jon Beardmore/YouTube

Kiwi Jon Beardmore spent nine months driving 48,000 kilometres through Central Asia.

Pakistan is "gorgeous". Afghanistan is a "highlight". And Iran has some of the friendliest people in the world. 

Just ask Jon Beardmore, a Kiwi who quit his 9-to-5 job as a project manager in London to spend nine months travelling through Central Asia.

The Taranaki-born adventurer has been fascinated with the region since 2009, when he was a member of the first cricket team to tour Afghanistan and play its national side in Kabul.

Jon Beardmore travelled in the company of his mascot, Kiwi Ted.
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Jon Beardmore travelled in the company of his mascot, Kiwi Ted.

He wanted to find out if the rest of Central Asia was really as dangerous as we are led to believe.

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The Great Game will premiere at the Adventure Travel Film Festival in London.
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The Great Game will premiere at the Adventure Travel Film Festival in London.

So he set off in his 20-year-old Toyota Landcruiser, covering 48,000 kilometres through 29 countries from London to China and back.

He did it alone. Mainly because he couldn't find anyone else who would go with him.

"I was ok with that. It just meant it was a bigger challenge because I was doing everything - I was doing the driving, the navigating, the planning."

With a classic Kiwi can-do attitude, Beardmore also decided to capture the entire journey on camera, and turn it into a feature-length documentary. It didn't matter that his only film experience was three years working in a video store.

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The result is The Great Game: 30,000 Miles Across Central Asia which will premiere at the Adventure Travel Film Festival in London this week.

It is partly inspired by Peter Hopkirk's historical book, The Great Game, which tells the story of the secret war fought between Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia in the lonely passes and deserts of Central Asia in the 1800s.

Beardmore admits his own adventure had its trials, and the documentary features plenty of hairy moments - like breakdowns, armed border policemen, and drunk mechanics.

But it's also full of tales of local people helping him along the way.

"One of the bizarre ones is I turned up in Tajikistan on the first night, and I arrived late in the dark at this old Soviet camp site.

"I rocked up with my language book and said, 'Can I have a room?' Within five minutes I was in the main hall drinking vodka with the Tajik government's legal team, who were on a team-building weekend."

Beardmore said Northern Pakistan was "absolutely stunning", and the best drive of the journey was on the Karakoram Highway. 

"I would recommend in a heartbeat that people should go there. It's a little off the beaten track, but I had no problems whatsoever."

He also fell in love with the people of Iran - "when you go there, it's nothing like you've been told."

Beardmore said he hoped his documentary would inspire people to go out and form their own opinions of the world.

In fact, for him the worst part of the journey was coming back and and having to slog through 200 hours of footage.

"It's not quite as sexy, going home."

The Great Game premieres at the Adventure Travel Film Festival in London on August 12 to 14. Following a charity premiere in London on October 8, it will be available via digital download with all profits donated to charity Afghan Connection. Visit thegreatgamemovie.com to find out more.

 - Stuff

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