Have you heard of Dave Dobbyn? He sings a very ‘famous in New Zealand’ song called ‘Welcome Home’ which I’ve been listening to rather a lot recently. Touching down once again on New Zealand soil this morning, I recited the words in mind, crying silently with relief and happiness that we made it back. So many of our kiwi friends have said ‘welcome home’ today, it’s wonderful.
“Tonight I am feeling for you
Under the state of a strange land
You have sacrificed much to be here
There but for grace as I offer my hand
Welcome home, I bid you welcome, I bid you welcome
Welcome home from the bottom of my heart”Gorgeous Maori version
The Longest Journey
Out of the 14 journeys I’ve made to New Zealand since 2001, this one has without a doubt been the longest and hardest. Hardest due to the current situation around the world, the uncertainty about whether we’d make it back at all, and the strangeness of the experience. Three flights (I’ll reveal more about the unexpected third one later) which were around a quarter full – or three quarters empty depending on your perspective. Aeroplanes sitting static in rows at airports, looking forlorn. Sparsely populated airports with vastly reduced services.
I’d recently put in a bid for Premium Economy on our Air New Zealand flight, and unfortunately, it feels in retrospect we were successful! It wasn’t free of course, but less than it would’ve been if we’d booked in advance. Premium economy was packed – no physical distancing was implemented there. Economy Class, however, was similar to our flight to Hong Kong, with passengers having three seats each. We should’ve asked for a down-grade! However our seats were wide and comfortable, able to be reclined with a footrest, and the service and food was excellent.
Arriving in Auckland at just after 8 am this morning, Saturday 22nd August, a government official boarded the plane to inform us where we’d be heading to for managed isolation.
We’d had a bit of forewarning whilst waiting at Hong Kong airport, in the form of an email from Air New Zealand, and an update in the App:
Consequently, we’d been a little more anxious about our ‘mystery’ managed isolation – or quarantine – possibilities. Barry joked that we may end up in the army base at Waiouru, which apparently isn’t somewhere we’d want to be stuck in a room for two weeks – especially at this time of year!
About As Far Away As We Can Get
We’d read many stories about returning kiwis being put on a bus without knowing where they were being taken. With the new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand currently, the rules are being tightened. Auckland are now at Level Three again, and will be for at least another week or two. For us we didn’t have to wait until we got on a bus before being told where we were going – the government official announced it before we left the place.
We were rather aghast to hear we were going to Christchurch. Yet another flight away. And where Barry’s daughter Jamie lives. Not that we’ll be able to see her of course.
“Of the approximately 7100 people in managed isolation in 31 hotels around the country, about 860 of them are in five hotels in Christchurch.” (https://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/news/122396874/isolation-in-comfort-for-returnees-in-christchurch-hotels)
It was a bit of a shock to everyone on board. Apart from a handful of passengers arriving as part of the American team of the America’s Cup. They were called out by name, and we assume taken to Auckland somewhere for their managed isolation.
For us, and all the others, it was a long wait. Moving through the airport was unlike anything we’d experienced before. The International Terminal it seemed is highly regulated and managed. We saw dozens of people all doing separate stages of the managed isolation planning process. Questions were asked, forms filled in, and eventually, we got to a lounge with all the others, and given new boarding passes for the Christchurch flight. Except that they didn’t have one in either mine or Barry’s name. Thankfully that was swiftly rectified. Phew!
Feeling The Increased Military Presence
We never once came into contact with other members of the public. The transition from our Hong Kong plane to the Christchurch one, although laboriously long-winded, was meticulously managed. The one-hour twenty-minute journey consisted of only the passengers from the Hong Kong flight. No refreshments were served. People were requested to go to the toilet one at a time and not wait outside. It was highly apparent that physically distancing was paramount.
At Christchurch, a member of the military, who we later discovered would be staying at the same hotel as us while we’re here, boarded the plane and read out the strict and comprehensive instructions. It definitely felt as though the process had recently been tightened up.
We disembarked ten people at a time from the plane and were put into three buses along with our luggage.
About seven hours after landing at Auckland, we finally arrived at our managed isolation hotel – and have a ‘Junior Suite’ at the ‘Sudima Airport Hotel‘. It is, to be completely honest, perfectly splendid. I’ve no doubt we’ll cope admirably being ‘stuck’ here for a minimum of 14 days (336 hours), starting from clearing customs at Auckland. Additionally and importantly, we must have two negative COVID-19 tests on days three and twelve in order to be allowed to leave.
“Everyone who enters New Zealand and is deemed low risk to have COVID-19, is required to stay in a managed isolation facility for a minimum of 14 days. During this time you may not leave the facility. This is to protect from COVID-19 and will be enforced.”Welcome Pack – Managed isolation facility for returnees to New Zealand. Ministry of Business, Innovation & employment. Hīkina Whakatutuki New Zealand Government Version 3.2|Updated 11 August 2020
I was ecstatic in the way live aboard narrowboaters will recognise, to discover a bath. I ran a hot one once we’d unpacked, and felt the stresses and strains of the long days of travel begin draining away.
Some of the amenities and services include:
- We’ll be provided with three meals a day, and snacks. These are delivered to the room, left outside the door, in a brown paper bag. We have stainless steel cutlery in the room.
- There is a Countdown supermarket next door, that we can order online groceries from should we require more. They will obviously be delivered. However, we’re NOT allowed to buy alcohol from outside the hotel. It seems that once again, a few folks in managed isolation have spoilt it for the rest of us by abusing the rules.
- We have a tiny fridge and a kettle, with tea and coffee provided.
- No-one will clean the room, but we have access to a cleaning pack per room.
- We can have two lots of laundry done per person during the two weeks. A maximum of 10 items per bag. Any more than this will be charged $35 per bag.
- There is a nurse onsite 24/7 if anyone feels unwell.
- There’s a ‘wellbeing team’ from 0930 to 1900 hrs every day. We can call them with any questions or concerns, or simply to chat.
There’s heaps more to say, but I’m rather weary and the large bed in our new home is looking too inviting to resist. We’ve just enjoyed a butter chicken curry and naan bread. Washed down with a cheeky glass or two Marlborough Festival Block Sauvignon Blanc.