Celebration turned to panic for a Dutch couple who walked from Cape Reinga to Bluff - then walked out into a lockdown.

Roy Teunissen, 33, and girlfriend Sirkka Hendriksen started walking the Te Araroa trail at the top of the North Island on October 16.

Three thousand kilometres and 156 days later, after each wearing out four pairs of shoes, they walked triumphantly into Bluff.

"We made it!" Teunissen said. "Excited about our achievement, we decided to go out for fish and chips with three other hikers.


"While were waiting for our food there was a big TV on the wall showing a for-me-until-then unknown woman, who turns out to be the Prime Minister. She was giving the famous speech about the lockdown coming.

"We were all shocked. Our happy feeling because of finishing turned 180 degrees in stress. With no place to stay and all our pre-trail gear spread out over New Zealand, there were a lot of things we had to arrange within the 48 hours before the lockdown."

The couple are among thousands of overseas visitors who have been stranded in New Zealand by the lockdown, forced to pay almost 10 times the normal price for a flight home which was then cancelled, leaving them with only a $14,000 travel voucher, which they may never use.

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They feel lucky. They have found a place to stay at a backpackers in Paihia and can afford to stay for up to 14 months if they have to.

But others are angry that all domestic travel has been restricted to essential services. Canadian couple Allan and Joan Coombe feel "trapped" in their Christchurch motel, unable to get to Auckland for a flight home to Vancouver.

"We all want to do our part to battle the spread of this virus but the heartless way your government is treating tourists will likely come back to haunt NZ if and when it wants tourists to return," they told the Herald by email.

Teunissen has started a Facebook group for Te Araroa walkers, TA Hikers Stranded in NZ, which 120 people have joined.


"We were lucky, but there will be a lot of people walking behind us still not knowing anything about the lockdown and will end up with no time to arrange things as we did," he said.

Much of the Te Araroa trail is out of cellphone range, and Teunissen and Hendriksen "got updates only when we were in a village or town".

Dutch hikers Sirkka Hendricksen and Roy Teunissen on top of Mt Rintoul in the Richmond Ranges east of Nelson on the Te Araroa Trail. Photo / Supplied
Dutch hikers Sirkka Hendricksen and Roy Teunissen on top of Mt Rintoul in the Richmond Ranges east of Nelson on the Te Araroa Trail. Photo / Supplied

When they finally saw Jacinda Ardern's speech, they decided to go back to the North Island as soon as possible because they had left their main luggage in Auckland. But there were no flights available from Invercargill.

"We found a flight the next day from Dunedin to Auckland," Teunissen said.

"Some hikers had their storage in Christchurch so they had to book Intercity bus tickets for this 10-hour trip and those tickets went up to $670 because everybody wanted to go as far as possible to the north.

"We were lucky that we didn't have to go to Christchurch. With a lot of luggage already on our backs we still needed to get our other equipment from the storage in Auckland.

"Then I remembered a nice and friendly lady we met during my injury time off in Paihia. After starting the trail in October 2019 I got injured by twisting my knee in the most horrible part of the trail: Raetea Forest. Knee-deep mud for 18km with a lot of elevation.

"I had to take nine days off and stayed at a backpackers run by a very friendly lady named Cherry. This was probably our only chance because most of the hostels had shut down. Plan B was staying in the car.

"I sent her an email and she responded straight away. We were welcome. Great news. This would have been a much bigger problem in any other country but not in NZ. The endless hospitality of the Kiwis saved us over and over again on the trail and also for this final challenge."

The couple drove up to Cherry Knight's Pickled Parrot Backpackers in Paihia. Teunissen returned the rental car to Auckland and caught the last bus back to the Bay of Islands on Wednesday evening, the night of the lockdown.

"But the bus stopped at Whangārei, the bus driver didn't want to drive further because the local Māori people blocked the road and didn't allow any tourists any more in Northland. They blame us for the virus," Teunissen said.

"I made a phone call to Cherry and she picked me up in her car. We were safe for the next month."

They bought tickets back to Europe but their flight was cancelled.

"Tickets which are normally around $1700 were sold for more than $14,000 with a big chance they were cancelled. We ended up with a voucher for $14,000," Teunissen said.

"The Dutch government opened a special page where overseas people can register themselves if they want to get back to the Netherlands but there are no flights. We filled in our details but were probably on the end of the list. They first help people who are in dangerous countries with a bad social system.

"NZ is doing a great job at this moment so we think that we are really safe here."

Allan and Joan Coombe feel trapped in their Christchurch motel because of the ban on non-essential domestic travel. Photo / Supplied
Allan and Joan Coombe feel trapped in their Christchurch motel because of the ban on non-essential domestic travel. Photo / Supplied

However, in Christchurch, Allan and Joan Coombe, aged 67 and 66, are less happy.

"This was my retirement trip to New Zealand, we had been planning this for a number of years," Allan Coombe said.

They arrived on March 12 for a planned three-week tour, but when New Zealand asked all new overseas arrivals to go into 14 days of self-isolation from March 16, the Coombes' tour organiser advised them to return from Queenstown to Christchurch and isolate themselves in a motel.

When the 14 days were up, the whole country was in lockdown and they couldn't leave.

They bought tickets to get out via Australia on March 24 but that flight was cancelled. Then they got seats on a flight out of Auckland on March 29, but couldn't get to Auckland because of the ban on non-essential domestic travel.

"We are stuck here indefinitely," Allan said.

"It just seems unreasonable that we wouldn't be deemed essential travel in light of the fact that we have been in isolation for more than 14 days and would only be going through Auckland staying maybe two hours while we transfer to an international flight.

"I don't know of any other country in the world that is basically trapping tourists and preventing them from getting home. It seems crazy."

• Lockdown details: covid19.govt.nz.