Archive for the ‘COVID-19’ Category

“Do something new, New Zealand!” exhorts the jingle in the NZ Tourism ad.

So after the in-laws’ house sale went through, that’s what we decided to do. Everywhere we are going, we’ve been before. But the plan has been to do something new, whether that is a walk, staying overnight when we’ve only done fleeting visits before, or simply going with a new outlook, sometimes decades since our last visit.

Thanks to COVID-19, NZ’s borders have been closed for over a year now. We’ve been lucky – NZers have been able to travel freely since this time last year. And just recently, the border with Australia has opened. But other than that, our borders have remained closed to all but NZ residents and citizens, and the occasional cricketers, comedians, and filmmakers. So our tourism providers have been suffering. Living in Wellington, we haven’t really noticed the missing tourists, except for the total absence of cruise ships this summer. But here in the South, it is different.

Small tourist services businesses have closed down, some hotels have closed for a year or so, tourist cafes are empty, some tourist facilities have even shut up half of their loos (bathrooms) to reduce cleaning/maintenance costs, and tourist buses are almost non-existent. At Aoraki Mt Cook, guests at The Hermitage Hotel blithely parked their cars in the areas reserved for buses, because there were no buses. At the Milford Sound Cruise terminal, there were 34 bus parks. All empty.

But it has also been heartening to see how many NZers are travelling too, appreciating this beautiful country we’re so lucky to have at our doorstep. Kiwis are out in force – in their cars, rentals, and camper vans – trying something new.

It’s a novelty for us all to follow tourist routes and find them so uncrowded. I love being able to pull over on the side of the road, get out and take photos – even in the middle of a one-way bridge – without seeing another car. On a popular day walk, there were plenty of spots where there were no other walkers in sight. In addition, prices are reduced, rooms or activities are available on relatively short notice, and there’s something nice about being surrounded by other kiwis. Or our Australian brothers and sisters.

That said, we will of course welcome back our family and friends from all over the world when it is safe to do so. Just as I’ll be ready to travel further afield when I can. After all, New Zealand may be absolutely beautiful, but it’s also quite small!

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Sightseeing. Checking in and out of hotels, passing strangers from who-knows-where in hotel lobbies. Eating out almost all meals. Museums. Browsing in shops and markets and art galleries. Ice-creams in the afternoon. Wineries. They all help create a good holiday. And in New Zealand, even in 2020, they still can. For now, at least.

Sure, there were a few differences. We did know that those in our hotel lobbies were from New Zealand – they were New Zealand residents or citizens, or those who had been working here since pre-COVID. Apart from a few with exemptions (for family or work reasons), we knew without doubt that everyone we saw was and is living in New Zealand. There were no international tourists. That was weird! But in the time of COVID, it also meant that we didn’t have to worry that the person next to me had brought in COVID from Europe or India or the US. We also didn’t have to worry that drivers were going to cross into our lanes because they forgot to drive on the correct, left-hand side of the road! The roads in fact were empty of rental cars and camper vans, though there were a few, with availability (and no doubt, lower prices) encouraging some Kiwis to try out the camper van experience which is so common for international travellers.

New Zealanders’ personal space is already quite vast, so the fact that we were all maintaining at least a metre or two social distance whilst queuing at hotel reception or for coffee at the market might have been due to COVID, or might just have been part of our culture. I’m not quite sure!

Every business we entered – and even a few public toilets – had posted government app QR codes, so we could scan in to register that we had been there and at what time. I scanned into every business religiously. My husband less so, because he lazily decided that my scan-ins count for him too. Every café/restaurant and bathroom and hotel had hand sanitiser in public areas. We became accustomed to using it whenever arriving or leaving.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see many others using the app to scan, and only a few using the sanitiser. It was not uncommon for me to stand outside a shop or café getting my phone out of my bag ready to scan, and be passed by three or four people entering the premise without scanning. The government has been trying to get people to do this as a matter of course. There has been a real complacency, but I hope that a couple of community cases (which are being actively traced and, we hope, contained) which have emerged in the last week (originating from the border, it is currently thought) might alert people* to do this with more regularity.

But above all, we were conscious that this is unusual in these times. In two weeks, we didn’t wear a mask, and maybe saw a total of three people in masks in Auckland** (where there had been a second lockdown in August), on public transport. And yet the news from overseas (apart from our neighbours in Australia, who have been through the mill themselves in recent months) is progressively worse, with no signs of improvement. I know how lucky we were. So when I write happily about my trip, please know that I am not taking it for granted.

* I spent the morning out and about in Wellington, and noticed a few more people scanning, which was encouraging.

** The government has just announced (as I was editing this post) that mask wearing on public transport in Auckland is now mandatory.

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