A group of Whangarei retirees stuck in Wanaka are "clutching at straws" waiting for their return flights to be cancelled yet again with lockdown in Auckland and Northland likely to go on for weeks.
Retired physiotherapist David Baldwin, his wife Arlene and two other couples belong to an unknown number of New Zealanders unable to get domestic flights home before a travel extension ended last Friday.
Many who were similarly caught out on holiday have written to the Herald, including families with babies and young children.
"I know we're in the middle of the crisis but we dearly, dearly would love to get home," Baldwin told the Herald.
The group of 70-somethings were two days into their Wanaka holiday when the country went into a snap lockdown on Tuesday last week.
New Zealand will remain at alert level 4 until 11.59pm on Tuesday, August 31, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said Auckland and Northland (including Whangarei) are likely to remain at this level for another two weeks after that.
Air New Zealand's domestic flight schedule is heavily reduced at level 4, with travel allowed only for essential workers and cargo.
The national carrier had put out additional flights on top of schedule to allow people to get home within the first 72 hours of the lockdown, but the travel window is now closed for non-essential travel.
The government's Unite Against Covid-19 website says "If you needed to get home after the move to alert level 4, you must have arrived by now."
Baldwin says they had rebooked their flights a few times only to have them postponed. They are currently booked on a return flight next Wednesday from Queenstown to Whangarei, via Auckland.
Chances are the flight will be cancelled now, he says. "Then we just book again. We'll just have to wait and see."
Originally a group of eight, two of them who had more serious medical conditions were able to fly home before the travel extension ended.
The rest failed in their attempts to rebook within the travel extension, Baldwin says, because the extra flights were made available at too short notice.
He wishes Air New Zealand could have just booked them on to the next available flight without them having to "have a bun fight over the process".
Several of them are on medication but they have managed to get their prescriptions faxed to a Wanaka chemist. "It's a mental strain more than anything."
Four of them are fully vaccinated. Two have their second jabs scheduled for their return home to Whangarei.
"We've got the protection. This Delta variant is worse than the original virus isn't it," said Baldwin, who was a physiotherapist.
His wife Arlene was a nurse and their group also includes a policeman, plumber and engineer, all retired.
Calling themselves the "forgotten few", they are going for walks, playing cards, reading, using their iPads and watching TV to stay updated, trying to "soldier on" in the uncertainty, Baldwin says.
"We're laughing and moaning in equal measures I guess."