A Taupō man, fed up with the "soul-destroying" MIQ lottery, found a different way to return to New Zealand.
Rob Burgess was part of a group that arrived home on a 56-foot power catamaran on October 22, but it was far from smooth sailing.
Three power station workers from Taupō found themselves stuck in Australia when the travel bubble closed in July.
Working for hydroelectric power stations in Kangaroo Valley, two hours south of Sydney, self-employed engineer Rob Burgess says he and workmates Nick Whelan and Wesley Daniell didn't meet the criteria when the "come home directive" came from the New Zealand Government.
"We arrived in Australia on March 28, but you were only allowed back if you had left New Zealand no earlier than April 8. We were eight days out."
A fourth workmate, Wil Radford, also from Taupō, arrived in May and was able to get home in July.
While they were waiting, Wesley became injured in a recreational accident and decided to stay in Australia with his father who lives there.
That left Rob and Nick and so began the "soul-destroying" bid to win a place in the lottery for a spot in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).
At their first attempt, Nick was number 590 in the queue and would fly home in a month.
"I was number 18,000 and that was the best I ever did," Rob says.
Their client continued to employ them and they had accommodation paid for during the additional three months stay.
"We were a lot better off financially than many other Kiwis who were in Australia and couldn't get home."
Rob heard about New Zealand sailor David Mason assembling a crew of stranded Kiwis to sail a boat across the Tasman.
"It was just banter. I wasn't seriously thinking about it. But then I missed out on the MIQ lottery for the fourth time."
He contacted David who said "you're in" but another Kiwi, Andrew Bates, got in touch to offer Rob a place on a pleasure boat he was skippering. The Uis Gabeatha (a Gaelic phrase meaning water or life) was leaving sooner and departing from a closer port.
"The boat was a 56-foot power catamaran. A Kiwi guy had bought it without seeing it and registered it in New Zealand."
The Uis Gabeatha was sailing in a week and ironically, Rob left Australia two days before Nick.
On the evening of Friday, October 15 the crew of seven sailed out of Coffs Harbour, expecting to reach Opua, New Zealand in 12 days' time.
There were two spare days to use up to fulfil their MIQ requirement of 14 days isolation and they figured on some game fishing at Lord Howe Island.
There were three experienced sailors on board; Rob, skipper Andrew Bates who has completed numerous Sydney Hobart yacht races, a young engineer, and four non-sailors.
"Some people think sailing home from Australia is a cruise. It is not a cruise. In the navy, some of the worst seas I saw were in the Tasman," Rob says.
The crew had to sail through a major storm to get home.
"I hadn't even looked at the forecast. When I got home and told my friends from the navy what we sailed through they couldn't believe we sailed into it."
A swell picked up before the storm set in and one and a half days in one of the non-sailors was seriously dehydrated from being continuously seasick.
Plans to fish were abandoned as the skipper headed for calmer water at Elizabeth and Middleton reefs.
By Wednesday morning the sea conditions had deteriorated, the swell was running at 2.5m and the space between the waves had narrowed to the point they were coming continuously.
"In the daytime it was unsettling, but at least you could see to steer through the waves. At night time it was unnerving. No one could sleep."
As the storm raged on, the portholes started to leak and the cabins became unusable.
"We had been averaging nine knots, but by Wednesday evening we were down to two or three knots per hour."
The swell was taking the Uis Gabeatha towards New Plymouth, on the west coast of New Zealand, but they were required by New Zealand Customs Service to dock in Opua, in the Bay of Islands.
"We just had to go with it."
By Thursday morning they were 25 nautical miles off Three Kings Islands and had to get through the difficult patch of sea where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.
"The sea was like a washing machine. A woman in her 60s was thrown around and broke a rib, the cabins were wet and I hadn't slept for three days. The galley (kitchen) was smashed and unusable.
"A couple of squalls came over us and me and the other engineer were concerned about the boat. We had seen cracks in the hull after we left and we were being smashed."
A decision was made to seek safe anchorage at Three Kings Islands but one mile out from the smallest island they turned back, North Cape was visible and the sea "looked better".
"We had a 10-minute talk at 11am and decided to have a go at getting around North Cape, 30 nautical miles away. We made it around at 8-9pm that night."
He said taking care of the sick and/or injured crew was a priority in their decision-making. They were also being tracked by New Zealand Customs Service and had to comply with strict rules.
Just seven days after departing Coffs Harbour, the Uis Gabeatha arrived at Opua on Friday, October 22 at 4am. They completed a 12-day trip in just seven days.
The crew cleared Customs and were sent to MIQ for seven days.
Rob rang his wife Belinda when they were off North Cape and up until then his family had been unaware it was a difficult journey.
"The main thing was, I was in the right country."
Rob's work is taking him back to Australia in March 2022, but he'll be flying this time.