As Covid-19 closed borders and flight routes at least 11,000 Kiwis were in countries assessed as high or moderate risk - with little chance of getting home.
Other New Zealanders with a way back but unable to pay for an airline ticket received loans, and officials also mulled asking banks to help out with credit card limits. Taxpayer spending on repatriation flights alone is expected to be about $10-14 million.
A briefing prepared for government ministers leading the Covid-19 response from the office of Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters is one of several documents released today - which together provides fascinating insight into efforts to help stranded Kiwis.
The April 15 document notes the Government had so far organised or facilitated chartered repatriation flights for Kiwis stranded in China (Wuhan), Japan, Vanuatu, Peru and Uruguay.
"The demand for repatriation will likely continue for some time. Despite clear Government advice over the last several weeks not to travel from New Zealand and to return home if they are able to, there are stranded New Zealanders all over the world. Many are located in comparatively low-risk countries but a number are in moderate- or high-risk countries with no commercial airline options," the briefing states.
"Registrations on Safe Travel record that 7623 New Zealanders are located in moderate-risk countries, and 3326 are in high-risk countries, though the actual numbers may be higher and it is unclear how many of these are stranded travellers."
All New Zealanders will not be able to be brought home, the briefing notes, and organising charter flights in "low risk" countries undermines efforts by airlines to maintain commercial routes.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) had already spent more than $2.2m on repatriation flights by mid-April, and estimated the total direct cost for more repatriation flights from "high risk" countries to be as much as $8m.
That would bring total spending on repatriation flights into the range of $10-14m - a cost that could be absorbed because of savings from a reduction in other foreign affairs spending because of Covid-19.
As the virus swept the globe New Zealanders were advised on March 14 to avoid non-essential travel, and in the next four weeks more than 77,000 overseas Kiwis returned home, mostly on commercial airline routes.
"It is estimated there are still several hundred thousand New Zealanders overseas," the April 15 briefing - much of which is redacted, including a list of high and moderate-risk countries - states.
"As employment opportunities dry up, the intentions of New Zealand residents in other countries may change throughout the remainder of 2020. Commercial airline options continue to shrink (there are presently 29 direct flights a week to New Zealand, compared to 751 at the same time last year), which may also increase the possible reliance on repatriations."
An earlier Mfat briefing for Peters on March 19 - the date New Zealanders were advised not to travel overseas - noted more than 100 Kiwis overseas were calling its offices in Wellington every day, and others contacting embassies.
"A week ago the majority were seeking travel advice; now, most are asking for government assistance with repatriation."
Mfat was looking at options to help those stranded, including asking banks to consider extending credit card limits, relax repayment timeframes and give lower interest rates to stranded Kiwis with costs like rebooking flights: "We understand that a majority of travel insurance policies exclude coverage of Covid-19 related costs, claiming force majeure."