New Zealand couple 'extremely relieved' after exit from Iran

Newlyweds Topher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray did not say if they were now in New Zealand. PHOTO: EXPEDITION EARTH/YOUTUBE

WELLINGTON - Two travel bloggers from New Zealand who disappeared in Iran for nearly four months said on Thursday in a statement they were “extremely relieved” to be back with their families.

Newlyweds Topher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray were last heard from in July after driving into Iran and being questioned by authorities, but New Zealand officials confirmed on Wednesday they were “safe and well”, and have left the country.

While New Zealand has been careful not to imply any formal captivity, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said officials had been “working hard” for several months to “ensure the safe” exit of the couple.

Iranian officials said they were neither detained nor arrested.

In Thursday’s joint statement, the couple spoke of their relief at being back with family, but did not say if they were now in New Zealand.

“We are extremely relieved and happy to be back with our families,” they wrote.

“We are most grateful to all those who have supported us over recent months and thank them sincerely for all their help during this challenging chapter in our Expedition Earth journey.”

The couple had been driving their 4x4 vehicle around the world, but their social media feeds abruptly stopped being updated in July shortly after crossing from Turkey into Iran.

Ms Arden’s deputy Grant Robertson on Wednesday confirmed the government was involved in helping the couple leave Iran, but denied making a deal to secure their exit.

The exact details of what happened to them in Iran remains unclear.

But Mr Robertson has said the couple could not have left Iran without intervention from New Zealand’s government.

“These people weren’t in a position to leave Iran. But now that they are, it’s clear that the discussions and the negotiations that happened worked,” he told reporters.

The couple asked for privacy while they come to terms with events of the last few months.

“We are safe and well, however we would ask for privacy for ourselves and our families over the coming days while we collect our bearings and enjoy being reunited with our families.”

The two bloggers have been criticised for ignoring their government’s advice in travelling into Iran.

On Wednesday, Ms Ardern’s government upgraded its travel advice, telling New Zealanders still in Iran to leave. AFP

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