When we left home back in late November, if anyone had told us that the World would soon be seeing a catastrophic event like no other, we’d have thought them mad. It’s shocking how quickly things change immersed in idyllic travel plans to suddenly living life on the road in this Coronavirus nightmare.
Our fabulous Singapore stopover en-route to New Zealand now seems like a distant memory. Whilst we strolled the humid and historic streets of this fabulous metropolis, over in China, the events that would change all our lives were already beginning to unfold.
As we landed in Auckland during the first week of December, there was no indication of what lay ahead. Our Singapore Airlines flight was full, the airport bustling as excited travellers happily went about their transit though the hectic terminals.
Passing through immigration and customs was quick and easy. The only questions asked were the usual cleanliness of our camping and hiking equipment and if we’d packed any food in our baggage. Cheerful officials and not a face mask in sight, things couldn’t be more relaxed.
Looking back now, I’m not quite sure of the exact moment when Nigel started reading to me the reports of a strange virus spreading through China.
My guess would be early in the New Year, when he began to follow news bulletins coming out of Wuhan. He became a little bit obsessed with it, so much so that I told him to just read to himself and spare me the details.
It all seemed so distant, something that was happening so far away. Although awful reading the reports of those people infected, we felt no need to worry about it here in New Zealand or anywhere else outside of China for that matter.
Before long, Nigel began finding more information of the virus spreading within China. Then the inevitable, it had started spreading beyond China and out into other countries, Singapore included.
Still thinking, this thing would just disappear as quickly as it came, I was rather blasé about it. Nigel, though was fixated, relaying to me every bit of information he found. The more he read, the more terrifying it became, yet despite this, I still felt things wouldn’t effect us – how wrong I would be.
Just one month ago, the thought of the whole world immobilised by this virus seemed like something that only happened in movies. Here in New Zealand we were carrying on as normal, with no confirmed cases here and ban on people entering from China, surely New Zealand would be safe?
Then things started to get really bad, Italy and Iran badly effected, as well as so many other countries with the virus rapidly spreading.
The ever growing reports still seemed slightly out of our reach, although ever more disconcerting. Certainly life here on the road in this Coronavirus nightmare wasn’t making much difference at all to our movements or daily lives.
When the first case of Coronavirus was announced here in New Zealand we knew things were about to change. This was only a couple of weeks ago, the person had come in from Italy and we knew things were going to get bad.
Trying to forget about the virus began to get really hard. In the ever changing circumstances across the world, we were forever checking for updates. Things were moving so fast we were beginning to loose track of what was happening.
With a 13 hour time difference between the UK and NZ, the first ritual each morning comes with checking the news and social media bulletins.
New Zealand news we’ve found to be really limited compared to our UK counterparts. I now follow official Facebook pages of everyone and everything from The Foreign Office to the NHS, The Prime Minister to the Welsh Assembly Government and so much more in between, including all major UK news channels.
When you’re away from home, sometimes things seem so much worse than they really are. This is one occasion when we don’t think but know things are bad and getting worse by the day.
As soon as the UK announced it’s first confirmed case, which seems like ages ago, the nightmare has just spiralled, in what is just a little over a week ago.
More and more countries began introducing travel bans, self-isolation and lockdown. Now our minds are focused on home and getting home, rather than travels in New Zealand.
I’m not sure if the New Zealand folk just didn’t realise the severity of the virus in other parts of the world or if they just didn’t think it would effect them here. Whatever their reasons, we can’t believe how incredibly naive some of them have been.
When talking to locals, all those we spoke to just didn’t think that it was a problem. Many times we’d heard them talk of “over exaggeration”, “they don’t get things like that here” or “it’s only like flu’.
Whilst we’ve tried to remain calm but with the sense of reality that is coming, some of the locals have definitely had an air of complacency around the situation.
Over the weekend, we’ve seen more and more flights cancelled, New Zealand introduced a 14-day isolation period for anyone coming in from anywhere in the world with just a day’s notice. Things have really hotted up here now.
More cases of Coronavirus were confirmed, cruise ships were told to leave New Zealand waters immediately and all are now banned. Queues at the supermarket have begun, empty shelves of soap, pasta and arguing amongst the frustrated shoppers.
Across the world in the UK and Europe, the news is just getting bleaker by the day. As we heard the first whispers of introducing self-isolating of the over 70’s for 3 months, the unprecedented events took to a whole new level.
The list of countries in lockdown or with closed borders or both and others with strict entry requirements, even for transit, will make our journey back to the UK an interesting one.
Our whole reason for trips to New Zealand is to visit our children. Having spent the past couple of weeks around Wellington, we’ll stay here now until our departure, spending quality time with our Sons, one of whom lives here in the capital.
The weather has been beautiful, hot and still, oblivious to the pandemic now circulating the globe.
Walks are a perfect way to get away from it all, as we try to have a piece of normality before things become more difficult for all of us.
Nigel would like to stay on here in New Zealand until things get better. I, however am unsure, it sounds idyllic but often in times of crisis, home is the better antidote. When lockdown comes, I’ll want to be home and ready to help relatives and the community.
Life on the road in this Coronavirus nightmare is at the moment somewhat unchanged for us. Yet, there are some big differences under the surface.
There have been so many Europeans in campervans that we’ve come across in recent weeks, many who’d just arrived. Normally, we’d happily exchange travel notes and polite conversation.
For us though, our habits changed dramatically. Keeping our distance to avoid talking and any close contact, we must be coming across a bit stroppy. Everyone seemed to be coughing, or were we just getting paranoid?
Hand washing, as with most people has become an obsessive ritual, whilst eating out or social drinks are a thing of the past. It feels strange to be so unsociable, yet sensible is the order of the day.
With our flight pre-booked, the countdown to departure is never far from our minds. Will it be cancelled? Are borders going to close? Could New Zealand tell all overseas nationals to leave? Are further restrictions going to prevent transit through Singapore?
The list is endless, but for now, we’re trying to hold on as planned. This though, is probably unlikely to happen. If we have to make a sharp exit, we’ll pack our bags and prepare for any flight we can get.
In the meantime, New Zealand is coming to terms with an inevitable recession. The tourist industry here is huge and is about to be wiped out almost instantly, as will many other countries around the world.
Wishing all our fellow Campervan, Overland and Motorhome travellers a safe road ahead.Wherever you are right now in the world, take care and look after each other and let’s hope this Coronavirus nightmare is over very soon.