Timaru boat sets off on treacherous journey to pick up Kiwis halfway around the world

A Timaru fishing boat has set off on what is quite possibly the longest and most expensive taxi ride.

It's gone to pick up 15 Kiwis who've been fishing for toothfish halfway around the world.

The closing of international borders has left them with few options for getting home.

The San Aotea crew have been loading the last of the essentials on board - including a heap of food.

"We don't want to run out of the basics, obviously - dare I say it - coffee and milk, bread and cheese," says skipper John Bennett.

The voyage is expected to take 24 days. The San Aotea leaves Timaru, travels east through the Southern Ocean, round Cape Horn to meet up with the San Aspiring near the Falkland Islands.

The crews will then swap vessels before the San Aotea goes back round the Cape, across the Southern Ocean to deliver the old crew back to New Zealand.

All of this in the middle of winter.

"[There are] icebergs, freezing conditions, and a little bit of daylight, mostly pretty cold," Bennett says.

It's a treacherous journey but really the only way to do it while airports and borders remain closed due to COVID.

"With all the isolation and disruption points on the way through this was the best option," says Darryn Shaw, Sanford deepwater fleet manager.

Although, it will be an expensive option.

"There's a few zeroes involved," he adds.

The crew being picked up went to sea before lockdown four months ago.

"If something goes wrong we're hooked up to good advice we'll know what the next step is,"  Bennett says.

They're sure there's no virus onboard.

"This takes the NZ bubble and the Aspiring bubble and brings the two together and keeps our people safe," Shaw says. "Both boats are full of NZers - doing it the Kiwi way."

Final touches include a biosecurity check of the hull before the crew sets sail for months at sea.

"To me, it's serenity at its finest," says general hand Chase Duncan.

A necessary voyage like no other and a fishing boat turned into a taxi service.