Four weeks ago New Zealand entered the level 4 lockdown. Like many backpackers, I got stuck. I graduated UCR (then RA) 10 years ago, and have spent a fair few of the years in between then and now working and traveling around the world. As the upper age limit to apply for the New Zealand working holiday visa creeped up on me last year, I decided to bite the bullet and apply. I landed in the land of kiwis and Kiwis in September 2019 and planned to stay for 8 months. I spent the (southern-hemisphere) summer months of my self-fashioned ‘sabbatical’ by working in a hostel and diving. In March, I hit the road again and I planned to explore more of this gorgeous country.
Very quickly it became blatantly obvious that something was off. Just after I visited the northernmost tip of the country the prime minister made the announcement that the country would face four levels of crisis management, and that the country was currently at level 2. Two days later level 3 was announced, and merely 48 hours later the country was in complete lockdown: Supermarkets and pharmacies were the only shops allowed to trade, campings were closed down and non-essential travel was prohibited.
Through a friend of a friend of a friend I was offered a place to stay for the duration of the lockdown. The owner was moving back to his parents, and meanwhile he allowed me to house-sit. I was impressed and moved by the generosity and kindness of the Kiwis. This sentiment was reflected on the billboards along the highway as I was driving from the campground to the house: urging people firstly to be kind, and secondly to be calm. As I settled into my new routines, discovered the new supermarket and the local park, I noticed other signs of this kindness. A few examples: My new-found neighbours gave me a large box of freshly picked kiwis from their farm when I was unpacking my car. The owner of the dive shop where I’d spent my summer months diving sent a message every other day to check whether I was doing ok. I also found some kindness in the news, when Prime Minister Adern announced a few days before Easter that the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy were considered ‘essential services’, and by doing that probably settled the worries of many children.
The few weeks I spent in lockdown in a country roughly 18,000 kilometres away from my own could easily have been lonely and miserable. But through the kind acts of strangers and friends they became another fond memory of my time in New Zealand. Luckily for me, the Dutch government announced very shortly after the start of the New Zealand lockdown that they would start repatriation flights. Two weeks ago I landed back in a country that has changed considerably from the country I left 7 months ago. I’ll spend the next few months as a tourist, re-exploring the Netherlands (truth be told, the weather helps!).