Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19 2020’

Three weeks ago, my sister, brother-in-law, and niece came to stay. We had a lovely time, walking around the harbour on the one day we had beautiful weather followed by authentic Italian pizza, introducing my niece to the concept of  yum cha for lunch (it was a hit!), and a day later, going out for Vietnamese for dinner in the city. And on two of the coldest, bitterest days we have had this winter, there were several successful shopping trips. By night, we were cosy at home, with the heating cranked up, nice wine, and home-cooked Thai curry and (the next night) lamb tagine (to round out our international eating tour), and good conversation.

And of course, when we needed some quiet time, we would all delve into our devices, in which we read about COVID-19 cases skyrocketing around the world, and even closer to home (in Melbourne, Australia, where another niece lives). I read about the despair of my international friends in the UK and US at their fellow citizens or governments, or the cautious reopenings in Malaysia and Thailand. And in Japan, my AFS sister was finally released from her Tokyo apartment to visit her in-laws in the country, relishing her day out in the garden. Perhaps because my social media is full of these offshore friends and family, my life has felt particularly surreal, simply because of its easy conviviality, its normalcy.

We walked into stores displaying COVID-tracing bar codes, and – along with 99% of Kiwis – didn’t scan them. We ate in crowded restaurants. We weren’t bothered by the crowds, or by the occasional sniffle or cough from someone else. So far (and I always say “so far” because I am well aware that nothing is certain), we are free of community transmission. And as we hugged hello and five days later hugged good-bye, I knew how lucky we were and are, to visit friends and family, to be able to travel freely within our islands.

I do however feel a degree of survivor’s guilt, whenever I think of my friend isolating in DC on her own, and my sister-in-law and another friend going through cancer treatments on opposite sides of the world, and a niece about to give birth in a pandemic in Australia. Rest assured, I am not taking our freedoms for granted. I know it could all go away again soon.

But we’ve now been out of lockdown longer than we were in it. We’ve had approximately 80 days since our last community transmission case. It feels completely surreal, that today we are so free, and yet the pandemic rages offshore. John Clarke, aka Fred Dagg, told us in the 1970s, “We don’t know how lucky we are!” He was right. With a cultural inferiority complex, mMost of the time, in New Zealand, we don’t know that. But today? Yes, the difference today is that right now we know just how lucky we are.

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Anyone who knows me knows that my favourite thing to do is to travel. Right now, of course, there is no chance of travelling internationally. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, I immediately told myself that I wouldn’t be travelling until the rest of the year, and made my peace with that. Not long afterwards, that got extended by about a year, and so since then I have been hoping for travel in 2022. But I am not relying on that, and I know there is no guarantee, especially as I see cases skyrocket overseas in developing countries that will struggle to contain the virus. Worse, I see the cases still skyrocketing in developed countries with educated citizens that should know better. So there is considerable uncertainty as to if, not when, this situation will ever resolve.

Ironically, the EU and other countries would welcome New Zealand tourists right now – Fbk was advertising Greece to me today (ads I’d never seen before). But the reality is that most Kiwis will not be risking travel, as to get to Europe or many other places we have to take at least two long haul flights, sharing planes with passengers from countries that have not contained COVID19 as we have.

So, the reality of the situation is settling in, and I am starting to feel a little trapped. We’re here at the bottom of the world in the little dinghy lifeboat, with a few other little dinghy lifeboats in pockets around the world. And together those of us in the tiny lucky lifeboats are watching the rest of the world go down with the COVID-19 ship. This analogy is not mine, but courtesy of a cartoon I saw recently. (I’ve been trying to find it online to give credit to the cartoonist, but I can’t.)

So, for the time being, we are socially distancing from the rest of the world here in NZ, yet with full freedom of movement and the comfort that – almost certainly – there is no COVID-19 out in the community. That means that we can travel domestically, so our only travel options are here, on the islands of New Zealand. (There is talk of opening up a “bubble” with other countries that are effectively COVID free, but these seem a long way off.)

I remember a NZ Tourism promotion in the 1980s, exhorting us to travel in New Zealand before we took off to see the world.

Now of course, we don’t have any other option. New Zealand is a relatively small island country – bigger than the UK, but slightly smaller than Japan or Italy. The advantage of New Zealand though is that we have very different terrain (and therefore, experiences). This is not true of many other places we have been. The US might share tropical islands and volcanoes and deserts and mountains, but not as close together as in NZ. Switzerland or Norway are both stunningly beautiful, but they don’t really vary. Yet here we can drive through rain forests with glaciers followed by lush farmland, cross desert plateaus or mountain passes,  visit vineyards, and end the day in lakes surrounded by snowy mountains. Nowhere is more than a few hours from the coast. You can see an example of this in my Favourite Road Trip post about a particular route driving around the South Island here. Even in winter, the north has mild temperatures barely requiring a coat, and the south (or the mountains and plateau in the north) has snow and freezing temperatures. This gives us a great choice of destinations and things to do.

But our landscape’s variety means that it is easy to drive past some wonderful areas that are worthy of exploration – especially if we have time constraints. The road trip I wrote about could take months if you stopped at each place to truly investigate it and enjoy what it had to offer. So although I’ve driven past a lot of places in the past, I now have the opportunity to explore destinations in more depth. I can simply relax in different environments, or take trips that are usually dominated by overseas tourists, and support our local, suffering, tourist industry. Right now it is winter, which means I won’t be sitting out in vineyards sipping on wine, but maybe I’ll be inside enjoying a glass beside a roaring fire. I’m not a skier, though I’d love to be, but maybe I can take advantage of the temperatures to travel to the mountains to enjoy some snow for a change.

Whilst some people might suggest that NZers are smug about our country (as a British rugby writer recently pointed out – out of jealousy, if you ask me!), there has always been a tendency amongst us of “cultural cringe” or thinking that “real life happens in other places.” Despite our distance from the rest of the world, Kiwis travel a lot. Many of us are having to put international plans on hold, and look inwards. Perhaps for this reason, some internal destinations have begun advertising themselves to NZers as if they are international destinations, knowing that we are all having to refocus our travel aspirations for the rest of the year (at a minimum). Dunedin, for example, is one of our main cities, and sits in the south of the South Island. It is known for its Scottish heritage, beautiful surroundings, and university-town vibe. It has come up with a slogan, “Not a Bad Plan D.” Its tongue-in-cheek humour compares its hills with the pyramids, its beaches with Bali (“but with a wetsuit”) and its buildings with Edinburgh (“It’s not exactly Edinburgh, but it sort of is”). Another region only four hours north of Wellington is taking a similar stance. Hawke’s Bay, one of our largest wine regions, compares its offerings with wine regions around the world, including Sonoma (California), Barossa (South Australia) and Tuscany, and urges us all to take a Baycation. I like all these regions, but I have to say that my favourite parts of this country are uniquely New Zealand, and that’s what I love the most.

School holidays start in about a week, so we’re staying at home for most of July, both because Charlie and parents are coming to visit, and to avoid crowds. But in August or September, we intend hitting the road and enjoying our fabulous country. We can’t go away for too long at any one time, because of elderly parent care. But that is the joy of not having to fly across the world to our destination. We can come and go to different destinations much more easily here.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue going somewhere when I am actually going nowhere. There are lots of ways I can do this. As I write this, I have a video going beside me of one of the safari drives I’ve already talked about. And over the lockdown, I’ve taken some YouTube trips on some great rail journeys (courtesy of Mel’s blog here), and (also thanks to Mel and Google street view) have “walked” around one of my favourite towns in Italy reminiscing about my visit seven years ago. I haven’t visited the dozens of online museums yet, or got into planning future trips (as they feel a little too distant right now), but they are all options for me to travel when I’m going nowhere. Of course, visiting international blogs and talking to friends on social media exposes me to other countries and people and makes me still feel connected to the world. The wonderful aforementioned Mel also introduced me this morning to WindowSwap, and that makes me feel like I’m somewhere else. I can almost smell the flowers, and feel the heat from the northern windows. And I haven’t yet mentioned reminiscing. That’s always a good way to transport myself to other times and places, when I can remember the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of exotic destinations.

The great thing about travel is that it is all about opening your mind to possibilities and experiences. And that’s the way I’m going to travel during this pandemic – both domestically in person AND internationally, thanks to photos and technology. For the rest of the year, at least.


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Week 14 of Blogging with Friends

Last week, my husband and I ventured to Zealandia, a nature reserve and bird sanctuary that was established about 20 years ago. We’ve been only once before, accompanying elderly family members. This time we were ready to walk, and I went with camera in hand. It was cold, and it had rained the day before, so paths were a little muddier and more slippery than we had expected, so we kept to the easy path to start. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zealandia is free to the public until the end of June, and so we’re hoping to go again this week, after a few dry days, and will venture onto other paths.

Zealandia was made as a bird sanctuary to be predator free, with high fences to avoid predators (cats, stoats etc) jumping over it, and dug deep into the earth to avoid predators (rats, etc) digging under the fence. There are multiple gates to walk through, to keep the birds safe. New Zealand birds are particularly vulnerable to predators, having evolved free of them until the arrival of humans. This is why many of our birds are flightless – they simply no longer needed to fly to survive. Sadly, the huge moa was such a good source of meat that they were hunted to extinction as a result. This sanctuary now has many protected species that call it home. Its extraordinary success has seen an absolute explosion in the bird population across Wellington, including the tui and kaka and kereru I love to photograph at home, and have talked about here ad nauseum.

As we arrived, we could see the endangered kaka parrots circling above the hills around us, squawking like the parrots they are. We knew we’d see plenty of tui – there is even an area called the Tui Terrace, where they have feeding stations, offering good photo opportunities.

A tui in Zealandia

But I didn’t actually expect to see a takahe, once thought extinct and still one of New Zealand’s most endangered species with a population of only around 400, to wander out in front of us. Apparently they feed them around 11 am every day, and the takahe turn up right on time.

These birds may be living in an enclosed reserve, but they are free to survive and thrive here without fear from predators. So too, their human kiwi cousins are now free to survive and thrive within our borders without fear of COVID-19. Today it was announced that we are free of the virus, after the recovery of our last case. At midnight tonight, all restrictions on life within New Zealand are lifted. Our borders are still closed, and we are still asked to keep track of our movements for contact tracing purposes, but other than that we can get back to life as normal. As free as a bird. I wish the rest of the world could enjoy this feeling too.

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