Local resident, Mike, has gone home for Christmas to visit family. Following all the Government Guidelines for both countries he is now awaiting release from New Zealand quarantine.
16th December 2020
The first thing I notice as I flew into New Zealand on a perfectly calm, sky blue afternoon, apart from the stunning beauty of the Island is how quiet Auckland airport is when you land, it’s like a ghost town. There are no planes taking off, no planes landing and the only movement is airport staff heading towards our plane to unload it.
We come to a standstill outside the terminal, the engines are switched off and then there is just silence. I am on a Boeing 777 and there are very few people on board as at the moment all NZ borders are closed for tourists and only NZ citizens can return after they have spent two weeks in managed isolation
There are 32 hotels being used in Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington and Christchurch for Covid-19 quarantine and managed isolation. These range from a 3-star backpacker-style accommodation to a 5-star luxury hotel on Auckland’s waterfront. You have no say where you end up, and usually find out your hotel – or your destination city – when you arrive.
A policeman introduces himself over the PA telling us the plane will need to be disinfected before we are allowed to disembark. We are told that wearing face masks is compulsory (which we had been doing since London) and to keep to the two metre rule. He also informs us that after we clear immigration and customs we will be put on a coach and then spending the next two weeks in Rotorua which is about a 3 hour drive on the East Coast of NZ
From the plane to the bus is actually very quick as there are very few of us and the terminal is empty, plus no duty free! There goes my cheap Christmas presents! They also ask us a number of medical questions and individually check our temperatures.
As we are directed to our coach there is a small table with brown paper bags and bottles of water on it. We are told to take one so we have something to eat and drink on the journey
One thing I always love when I come back to NZ (and this always happens) is when the custom officer checks my passport their parting remark is “Welcome home Michael”
The Hotel in Rotorua is situated next to Lake Rotorua. It is surrounded by a double make shift 6ft wire fence with about a metre between them. They are covered so you cannot see in or out. From the coach you can see the Army and security guards patrolling as the gates are opened. A soldier hops aboard and briefs us about what is going to happen over the next two weeks. One by one we are allowed off the bus. We are told to wait until there is a spare X on the ground before we move forward (2 metre distancing)
As we move through the foyer of the Hotel we pick up a welcome pack, medical form and our temp is checked again.
Once checked in I am directed to my luggage that has already been taken off the coach. I pick it up and am lead by a hotel employee to my room.
The room is fairly basic, reasonably clean but very dated. It has a TV, fridge, air conditioning and two double beds. I was very excited that it had a balcony but then find out this had been locked. (Well-screwed shut!) I have since found out this is the same throughout the whole complex.
What I had forgotten about Rotorua is the unique smell. It smells distinctly like rotten eggs or those stick bombs we used to have as kids. The aroma is a reminder of the geothermal activity in this stunning area. My first thought was my room needs a bloody good airing! You do however very slowly get used to it or so they tell me!
I was fortunate to find out there is an exercise area, which is normally used as a car park. This is the only reason you are allowed out of your room during your stay. You have to sign in and out but remember its summer in NZ so having this is a godsend.
Today I saw them put up a sign saying you are only allowed 30 minutes. I am not sure if this is 30 minutes a day or 30 minutes as often as you want. I am using it as often as I can and have been managing over 20,000 steps a day, which is 14 km/9 miles. It is marked out as a one-way system. Soldiers and security guards are patrolling to make sure you keep to the two-metre rule as well as to make sure you have your mask on the correct way. They watch you like hawks and I have already had several minor run ins with them. Once because I didn’t sanitise my hands before removing my mask for a smoke, once for having my mask on the wrong way and once for not putting on a clean mask after I had a smoke. They are always incredibility nice about it, but it does make me feel like a muppet!
Every morning about 10am there is a knock on your door. It is a nurse covered from head to toe in full protective gear like she’s going to a war zone, accompanied by a soldier to check your temperature.
During your stay you are tested twice for the coronavirus. You are summoned by phone to a hall downstairs where you join the queue, with your passport and a completed medical questionnaire. I actually felt very nervous and the guy in front of me was slightly shaking. The soldiers and nurses are so friendly, efficient, and organised you don’t mind having what seems like the size of a broomstick forced up your nose! I have had my first test yesterday and now have to wait 48 hours for the result.
You are also assigned a welfare officer, who does what it says on the tin. She has already rung me twice to make sure I am okay and if there is anything I need.
The information pack given at reception has everything in it apart from the kitchen sink. Things like, what are my health rights, a welcome colourful drawing from a local school, and mental health wellbeing materials for people experiencing stress, depression, and anxiety. There are masks and leaflets about coping with grief and loss. It does make you think that if you turn into a raving lunatic you will have plenty of reading materials! No, seriously it tells me they really care about my wellbeing. It really is an amazing pack with a huge amount of information in it
You are provided with three meals a day. There is always a brief knock and your meal is left outside your door in a bag. The food has been very good although you don’t get any choices. Once finished rubbish goes in a recyclable bag and left outside the door. Every morning along with breakfast there a menu of what you are having the following day as well as “The Daily Bubble” newsletter, which has a crossword, a carton strip, a word puzzle and a workout out for the day.
No one is allowed in your room. You are provided with a self-service cleaning kit to clean your room. You are allowed 10 items per person per week of laundry which you place into a yellow bag and place outside your door to be collected.
You can order food from outside the complex. I placed an online order yesterday from a major supermarket and got delivered some NZ foods and drink I really miss, namely biscuits (I now regret ordering so much! It was a bit like shopping on an empty stomach!) that I cannot get in the UK. These were delivered to reception, and then left by my door.
I did, however, have a small problem with rubbish. There are two small bins, which I filled quite quickly. Once they were filled I put everything in a plastic bag and left it outside my door. After two days the bag was still there which is amazing as in that time they had picked up 6 bags of my meal rubbish. I began to wonder maybe I haven’t used the right bag. Maybe I have mixed non-recyclables with recyclables? Maybe the rubbish hasn’t been sourced from the right country? Maybe it’s the wrong colour? Dozens of reasons run through my head so I brought the rubbish back in. I had spotted a large rubbish bin under the stairs on the way to the exercise area and decided that would be a good place to dispose of it. I first sorted out anything that could be tracked to me and dumped the bag in the bin shortly after. I then got paranoid and thought, there maybe there are cameras in the hallway where the rubbish bin is and had imagines of my room being raided at night and being deported back to the UK! Anyway to date I am in the clear but on refection the simplest thing to do would have been to dial zero and ask reception!
The whole experience to date has been very surreal. I am absolutely ‘wowed’ by how organised everything is and how much detail has gone into the planning of this whole operation. I have found everyone to be extremely friendly and helpful, yet it’s a strange feeling to have your freedom taken away from you. I know it’s only for two weeks, which is nothing in the bigger picture and it hasn’t worried me at all, I am actually enjoying my time here, but it does make me feel uncomfortable that I can’t just get up and walk out that door when I want to.
I can completely see and understand how New Zealand got a grip on this pandemic early on. I don’t however think it is fair to compare what has been done here to other countries. There are so many variables and unique circumstances that every country has, that need to be taken into account before you can do that.
New Zealanders have done an amazing job and it makes me very proud to be a Kiwi and of course fortunate enough to be able to come home and see my family in these very strange times.