Mark and I had the home trip of our round trip tickets on Air New Zealand, but our flight on April 19th was cancelled, and all international flights cancelled until after the end of June. We were unable to talk to an actual live person, except for once face to face at the airport, and spent many hours on hold calling the Air New Zealand help number. Finally, in the middle of the night Thursday, March 26th, and into the morning of the 27th, Mark finally got in touch with Air NZ to ask about using our tickets on the next available flight, which we thought would be in July. The woman told us there was an unscheduled flight on Sunday, March 29th, at 7:30PM and we could get on it!! We never would have been informed, even though we had signed up for travel updates, etc. I can’t express how happy we were. We couldn’t believe we were really going to the USA after thinking we were settling into this tiny apartment for the next few months. The pilot on the flight announced that we were on the last flight to Houston for the foreseeable future. We had to throw away quite a bit of food, but none of the food banks would take it because of NZ lockdown/isolation policy. NZ is not allowing any restaurant to open, not even for take out or delivery. I will say, if isolation has any chance of working anywhere, it would be NZ. I hope the nonchalance here in southwest La. is not nationwide. We were disturbed by the number of people seeming to be oblivious to the isolation request of the local governments when we got off the plane in Houston. No announcements or posters in the airport about maintaining distance, washing your hands: there were no extra hand sanitizer stations. Many family members had suggested we would be safer in NZ, but we didn’t realize how true that might be. We stopped at a market for basic supplies, since we had cleaned out our trailer before we left, and people were shopping with their families like nothing was going on. At least there were employees spraying the carts, and hand sanitizer at the door.
I guess I am having a little culture shock. We are so glad to be home, and are self-quarantined in our trailer next to family in La. We aren’t taking any chances of being infected with the virus after being on the plane, and exposing vulnerable people in my family. So far, we feel fine. We are planning to isolate until the middle of April, and then will feel safe to go into the family’s house. My brother is still working in an oil refinery, but he puts his clothes in the washer and gets in the shower before he touches anything else when he gets home. No one in this family is going out for anything, unless he can’t pick it up, since he is out already.
Our first week in NZ was great. After that, there was a cloud over everything we did, worrying about where we would be and what was happening. I would like to just post pictures, with a caption describing where we were at the time. We picked up our campervan on March 10, and were off.
Most of the roads in New Zealand are two way traffic, narrow, and winding.
Banks Peninsula, Akaroa, and Okains Bay, southeast of Christchurch were our first destination.
Christchurch had an earthquake in 2010 that didn’t seem to be that bad, but aftershocks continued until a major earthquake in early 2011 took 180+ lives and damaged many historical cathedrals and other buildings. One particularly inventive building is the cardboard cathedral, built of cardboard tubes and shipping containers as its main components. It was designed to last 50 or more years. The stained glass was salvaged from the cathedral that was destroyed.
After going back through Christchurch for sightseeing, we headed across the southern island, through the middle of the south island, a region known for beautiful lakes.
Might as well mention some New Zealand oddities(to us anyway):
Coffee is ordered as “tall black” or “short black”. Short black is a small shot of espresso with a little pot of hot water to dilute it as you like. Tall black is already diluted, and they offer you some cool water to add. Great coffee, scalding hot and very strong. I’ll really miss it! Not so many cutesy coffee drinks, although some are available.
No pennies. We were already familiar with this from traveling in Canada.
Very few billboards, and the ones present are very small and advertise local businesses that are coming up off the road.
The price at the pump, in the store or restaurant, includes the tax. Also, there is no tipping. The exchange rate is very favorable to the US dollar right now. So, all together, the sticker shock is not as bad as you first think.
Gas was from $6.00 to $8.00 a gallon. Ouch!
Campsites charged by the person. The few paid sites we camped at had no real sites. You paid the fee and found a place to park it.
There was an almost total lack of roadside trash.
Opossum road kill was prevalent. They are a non-native species introduced for their fur. They multiplied rapidly and are now a huge problem. Rumor is that Kiwis go out of their way to run over one. Counting opossum roadkill is a game for kids to play on trips. Several species of deer were also introduced by early wealthy settlers for game hunts. They became so prevalent that it is open season on deer almost all the time. Big herds of red deer in particular are being raised for food and can be seen roadside as you would cattle or sheep.
Don’t say “hike”. In NZ you go tramping.
Unbelievable number of rental campervans on the road. Very rarely do you see any RV with slideouts or bigger than a typical van or truck, probably because the roads are so narrow.
We saw many huge hedges in the place of fences. The hedges were trimmed and shaped. I’m talking miles of hedges 20 feet tall or more.
Things to see along the road: sheep, cattle, deer, vineyards. We didn’t get to visit as many wineries as we would have liked, but the vines were beautiful.
Mark may have done a little too much tasting! The tasting were quite generous, and while we find wines at wineries in the US to be more expensive at the winery, these tended to be about the same price as at local stores. We tried to do our part to support the local economy!
One of our most beautiful drives was up the west coast of NZ on the coastline of the Tasman Sea.
Arthur’s Pass was also beautiful. Many of those wonderful mountain vistas in Lord of the Rings were filmed in this area.
One roadside stop got into the spirit of the Lord of the Rings connection.
We continued on to the east coast and back north. We found out we could not continue to Australia since both NZ and Australia started requiring a two week isolation for anyone incoming. Spent some time cancelling hotel stays, flights, campervan rental. We were becoming uncomfortable with the way flights were being cancelled, isolation requirements becoming more restrictive, etc. New Zealand and Australia were late in getting Covid-19 present, but once it showed up, both countries moved quickly to lockdown type isolation requirements. Both soon closed their borders to any but citizens. We wanted to get to Picton and over to the north island as soon as possible. We had to be in Auckland to turn in the van.
Up the east coast by Cook Strait was very pretty, but was construction for many km and impossible to stop for pictures.
We got to Picton on March 20 and went straight to the ferry office to purchase tickets. We couldn’t get on a ferry until Monday afternoon. We did find a nice place to camp south of Picton.
Since we couldn’t get on the ferry until Monday afternoon, we decided to explore Picton and take a scenic drive west to Nelson.
These are scenes from the drive from Picton to highway 6 as it continues into Nelson. The first picture is of the ferries that go to the north island.
Nelson had a beautiful cathedral, surrounded by gardens.
Monday we went into Picton. The library and public buildings are closed now. We walked around Picton and tried to enjoy the beautiful day.
While we were on the ferry, the NZ prime minister made an announcement that in 48 hours a Level Four, total lockdown would begin. The delay was to give people a chance to take care of necessary details. In NZ this meant that only grocery stores and pharmacies would be open. Shoppers could line up outside, 2 meters apart, and only a certain number allowed inside. It could take a while. You are dispensed hand sanitizer on entrance. No restaurants open, not even for take out or delivery. Encouraged to take a walk every day, but remain at least 2 meters from anyone except those in your Bubble (living with you). The streets were deserted, limits on necessary items started immediately. I know many US areas are doing this now, but remember, this was as soon as they got a few cases. There were frequent public service announcements showing all the products made in NZ and reassuring public that there would be no hoarding or shortages. NZ is not that big, and the program was nation wide, very much a feeling of everyone doing their part.
We had already made a VRBO reservation for March 31 (day of our cancelled flight to Australia) until April 7th, but we decided we should turn in the van early and try to get our accommodation a week early. When we got there, we found the hotel was closing to facilitate following the Level Four directive in remaining buildings. I have to say, the staff was wonderful. They found us a spot in another of their holdings, and honored the price we were originally quoted. Our little room/apartment was not new, and not fancy, but we were grateful to get it.
We had a park near by, and a view of the Sky Tower, the tallest free standing structure in the southern hemisphere. There is a rotating restaurant at the top, which was closed for the lockdown.
We walked in Albert Park every day. These trees reminded me of hobbits and elves. There was a person living in the bottom of one of these trees.
When the Level Four started, the staff of the hotel was limited to a minimum. We were taking our garbage down to the lowest level garage, getting our own towels, etc. We were laughing at the stacks of toilet paper and tissue down there. How long would that have stayed available in the US right now?
Time to close this out. I am trying very hard to have on my big girl panties and get over my disappointment. We were so excited about this trip, and probably will never be back in that area. We don’t do a big trip very often, and we are likely losing a lot of money on this one. That remains to be seen, with uncertainty on policies and how the circumstances will affect cancellations. When I was still working as a nurse, I always told myself that one person’s pain is only related to themselves, and not how much someone else is hurting. Still, I know that so many people are hurting so much more than us. We are not depending on a job to have an income. We are safe at my brother and sister-in-law’s house and have our trailer to be in until we can interact with them in their house. We don’t have anywhere we have to be. We are incredibly blessed and I know it very well!