10 Dec 2020

Happy Tokelauans will be home for Christmas

6:42 am on 10 December 2020

It will be the longest 24 hours at sea for 33 Tokelauans who are finally heading home after spending almost a month in a quarantine hotel in Samoa.

Tokelau group awaiting repatriation passage home from Samoa to Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu.

Tokelau group awaiting repatriation passage home from Samoa to Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Elena Pasilio

But the trip is expected to be one of the happiest for the islanders who set sail from Samoa on Wednesday relieved they will be home for Christmas.

The group had arrived in Apia on a repatriation flight from New Zealand on 13 November.

But they had to spend an extra week in isolation in Samoa on top of the required 14 days after a passenger on the same flight tested positive for Covid-19.

Tokelauan journalist Elena Pasilio is among the group and said there are happy faces about as people prepared their cargo to take home.

Pasilio said they are looking forward to getting home.

"It just feels surreal that this long journey is coming to an end," she said.

"For a while it felt like it was never going to end, but we're here: the final leg of the trip and I couldn't be happier.

"Freights closed at 1pm [on Tuesday] and so it was bustling with people coming in and out sorting out their stuff ahead of tomorrow's [Wednesday's] sailing."

Ioane Nui Tumua and wife Melita.

Ioane Nui Tumua and wife Melita. Photo: Supplied

Tokelau judge Ioane Nui Tumua and his wife Melita are also heading home.

The 76-year-old Nukunonu native said to reach Tokelau, the islanders would need to transit through Apia.

"When Tokelauans who have been waiting for the borders hear of a repatriation flight they just jump as it's the only thing they want (is to go home)."

Tumua said they were grateful for the assistance by their government to get them home including Samoa and New Zealand.

He said prior to arriving in Apia, the Tokelauans had stayed together at a facility in Auckland.

Pasilio said the group looked forward to seeing their families as Christmas was around the corner.

She said (the bustle) since they were discharged from their quarantine hotel felt like the "most normal thing to happen in this whole repatriation trip".

"With any norm before sailing - people lining up and getting their sacks of flour, sugar, onions and boxes of noodles etc. weighed and getting freighted."

But Pasilio said there were tired faces "but they were smiling".

"I'm personally hoping to sleep through the whole boat ride and wake up in Nukunonu," she said.

"Judging by tonight's (Tuesday) rain and winds, I doubt it'll be a smooth sail.

"But we're just glad we're going home."

The MV Mataliki arrives at Fakaofo Atoll this morning and then Nukunonu Atoll at mid-day.

Atafu passengers will reach home by evening.

Tokelau’s new ferry ‘Mataliki’

The MV Mataliki which is bringing the 33 Tokelauans home Photo: SUPPLIED