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New Zealand honeymooners stuck in Falklands hitchhike home

Sou-Jie van Brunnersum
August 4, 2020

A newly-wed couple have finally returned home after an extended honeymoon stranded on the Falkland Islands and an unusual ride back on an Antarctic fishing vessel — the best option available to them amid the coronavirus.

Feeonaa and Neville Clifton pose in front of the San Aotea vessel
Image: picture-alliance/AP/Feeonaa/Neville Clifton

A newlywed New Zealand couple who were trapped in the Falkland Islands for four months due to the coronavirus pandemic reached home Tuesday by hitching a ride of more than 5,000 nautical miles (9,200 kilometers) on a fishing vessel.

On February 29th, Feeonaa and Neville Clifton left their home city of Auckland to embark on a trip of a lifetime to South America.

Feeonaa, a 48-year-old artist, said she had never spent a single night on a boat before the month-long voyage home by highly unusual means.

Their original plan was to spend two weeks on the Falkland Islands — birthplace of 59-year-old Neville, which he had then left as a young child — and then spend another month traveling around Latin America.

But their honeymoon didn't exactly go according to plan. They arrived on the Falklands on March 7, just as the pandemic was starting to spread in earnest. International borders started closing, and their flight to Brazil was canceled. Their only ways out were complex routes through the UK or Africa with the prospect of quarantines along the way.

"From the time we started our honeymoon it was only a matter of two weeks before the cases in Europe started flying out the window and it just escalated from there and we had to stay. We got stuck!" the New Zealand Herald quoted Feeonaa as saying.

Read more:Coronavirus travel rules: With EU open for travelers, who can go where?

Fishing boat to the rescue

The newlyweds ended up spending 12 weeks of their honeymoon in lockdown with an elderly aunt on the remote islands, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) east of Argentina in the south Atlantic Ocean.

"We just climbed every hill we could, because it's quite an isolated space really," Feeonaa said.

With a population of about 3,000 inhabitants, the Falklands have registered just 13 coroanvirus cases, all now recovered.

Then the couple heard about a Sanford-run New Zealand fishing boat planning to make the journey home.

The newlyweds spent weeks watching albatrosses and dolphins to pass the time Image: picture-alliance/A. Cooper

"I wasn't sure about their sea legs and that sort of thing,'' said Skipper Shane Cottle of the 38-meter (125-foot) vessel San Aotea II. "We go south around Cape Horn and across a part of the ocean we call Middle Earth. There's nothing there and nowhere to get medical assistance.''

Read more: Sailors found on Micronesia island after writing SOS in sand

But Cottle said he and his crew of 14 managed to return to New Zealand without any massive storms or icebergs.

"Walking around without getting injured was our main objective,'' Feeonaa said.  She and her husband spent weeks watching albatrosses and dolphins, played cards and used their body weight to do resistance workouts everyday to pass the time.

On Tuesday, the couple finally landed in the port town of Timaru. They are expected to make their way back to Auckland within a few days. Both Feeonaa and Neville tested negative for the coronavirus.

"It's amazing to be back in New Zealand after so long away… I'm going to miss that feeling of being on an ocean, of being swung to sleep like a baby," Feeonaa said.