Couple hitch 5,000-mile lift back home after coronavirus hits honeymoon

A couple who were stranded on the Falkland Islands during their honeymoon due to coronavirus have hitched a ride back home to New Zealand.

Feeonaa and Neville Clifton had only planned to spend a fortnight on the archipelago but their flight back to Brazil was cancelled as the pandemic worsened.

Mr Clifton, 59, was born on the British Overseas Territory and the newlyweds ended up spending 12 weeks in lockdown with an elderly aunt of his before an Antarctic fishing boat took them the 5,000 miles home.

After a month-long journey spent watching albatrosses and spotting dolphins, the couple arrived in the port of Timaru on Tuesday.

Their adventure began on February 29 when they were married at their Auckland home.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>The couple hitched a lift of more than 5,000 nautical miles on an Antarctic fishing boat (Feeonaa/Neville Clifton via AP)</figcaption>
The couple hitched a lift of more than 5,000 nautical miles on an Antarctic fishing boat (Feeonaa/Neville Clifton via AP)

The couple had been together for 25 years and raised three children but Feeonaa, 48, an artist, said they had not believed in the idea of marriage.

“We realised, at some point, we hadn’t actually appreciated or celebrated one another, at least not in front of family and friends.

“It was just something we wanted to do, and the time felt right.”

As their prospect of leaving the Falklands faded, the newlyweds took long walks, climbing every hill they could find, and admired the rugged landscapes that were devoid of trees.

Few of their options for getting home were realistic with the only possible flights were convoluted routes through the UK or Africa and the prospect of lengthy quarantines along the way.

I wasn't sure about their sea legs and that sort of thing

Then they heard a New Zealand fishing boat was planning to make the journey with the crew and catch from a sister boat.

Skipper Shane Cottle said he was a bit nervous at first about taking the couple on his 38-metre (125-foot) vessel San Aotea II, along with the crew of 14.

He said: “I wasn’t sure about their sea legs and that sort of thing.

“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.”

Mr Cottle said the couple turned out to be lovely and, after a couple of days of queasiness, perfect sailors.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>The Cliftons were married on February 29 (Feeonaa/Neville Clifton via AP)</figcaption>
The Cliftons were married on February 29 (Feeonaa/Neville Clifton via AP)

He said the crew managed to get an excellent run home, without the huge storms and icebergs they sometimes encounter.

Mrs Clifton said the seas still seemed big enough, and they often were not allowed on deck because it was too dangerous.

“Walking around without getting injured was our main objective,” she said.

Their honeymoon was not what they expected but Mrs Clifton said it was wonderful in many ways.

“We spent an unheard of amount of time together,” she said.

“It was frustrating with the restrictions at times, but it also opened up new possibilities in our lives.”