New Zealanders stuck in South America had the chance to get their boots on home soil thanks to Viva Expeditions.
On April 13 at 11am local time, a LATAM aircraft chartered by Viva Expeditions & the New Zealand Government set off from Lima in Peru towards Santiago in Chile, making a stop in popular tourist destination of Cusco (the base for visiting the famous Machu Picchu) to pick up more stranded tourists.
Once in Santiago, the 43 Kiwis and three Australians will be joined by a further 17 New Zealanders who have been scattered throughout Chile ad Brazil. Viva were able to assist with land transport and commercial flights to enable these people to join their fellow Kiwis on the flight back to Auckland, which is due to arrive in the early morning of April 15.
The situation for all travellers in South America became problematic after many countries suddenly closed borders and enforced rapid lockdown laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Viva Expeditions had already successfully repatriated all their clients caught up in the COVID lockdowns, including working with partners to bring home six Kiwis stranded off the coast of South America on a charter cruise, but there were still others in need.
“We made an earlier attempt at repatriating the Kiwis stuck in Peru, but at the final hour the commercial flight schedules changed meaning the Kiwis couldn’t connect home via Sydney," says founder of Viva Expeditions Rachel Williams.
"It was heartbreaking to have to leave them behind, so we are extremely pleased to have been able to bring them home on our second attempt.
“We worked very closely with the government on this project and their support was essential. I’m incredibly grateful for all the assistance we received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the New Zealand Ambassadors, the Peruvian and Chilean government officials and LATAM Airline.
"Together we were able to navigate the ever-changing travel and border restrictions, lawyers, insurance companies, governments & airport authorities to make it happen. We also want to thank the travellers and their families for their patience and support," says Rachel.
Travellers were scattered in Peru, Brazil and Chile, and before they could even take the flight, they needed to be moved to major cities. This included bringing people form some of the most remote parts of the Peru which had to be done of specially sanctioned and government approved vehicles given that Peru is in total military lockdown.
The bus journey of approximately 3500 kilometers, which required three drivers, travelled to Lima in Peru.
“Of course, due to it being an Easter holiday making these arrangements, all at a minute’s notice, was challenging in so many ways," says Rachel.
"We had people we needed to transport through the night, people who we had to help care for and reassure, many different scenarios, all requiring special attention. So, I must make special thanks to our local ground operations teams who worked tirelessly over the last week."
All returning travellers will be subject to New Zealand’s new strict quarantine laws on their return. On arrival in Auckland they will enter 14 days of isolation in a managed facility (hotel) arranged by the New Zealand Government. After which they will be able to return home to their families.