A narrow escape to New Zealand: How we made it to the best possible country just in time for lock-down

In October of 2019, when my then boyfriend – now husband, convinced me to quit my job and go traveling around the world with him and to apply for a New Zealand visa before I turned 30, I didn’t realize he had encouraged me to make one of the best decisions of my life.

Five months into what was supposed to be our 24-month trip around the world, things went a little sideways. We had arrived in Vietnam on March 11th, finally excited for some warm weather and a new destination to explore. We had booked our Son Doong Cave Expedition, a food tour of Hanoi, and a hostel down south near the start of the expedition. We ended up locked in that hostel as locals were no longer interacting with tourists, and our Son Doong Cave Expedition had officially been cancelled. We were fairly out of touch with news while traveling, but this bit of news was unavoidable and it was becoming obvious we needed a plan before we either got stuck at a party hostel or kicked out of Vietnam with expired visas.

After weighing our options, the US, the UK, or New Zealand – we decided the head to New Zealand. Only 8-days after landing in Vietnam and warm weather, we had to leave and were headed to the Southern hemisphere and right back into fall and winter. Even though we had just spent the last 6 months traveling to snowy locations and enjoying a long winter, New Zealand was our best bet even if it meant over a year of cold weather. Not only was it the place we new we could be together the longest, as we had a year long visa, it was also top of the “best place to sit out a zombie apocalypse” list. You know… just in case.

Twenty-two hours after we landed in Christchurch, New Zealand closed it borders for what would be the better part of two years. Visa or not, had we decided one day later we would have been turned away at the border. I thank my lucky freaking stars every day we made that choice. It led to some of my favorite memories and we got the rare opportunity to explore New Zealand without the throngs of tourists – but that all came later. For now, we thought we were just going to sit it out for a bit while Covid ran it’s course. How little we knew then.

Landing in New Zealand, they already had a mandatory two-week travelers quarantine in place, though we could stay at an Airbnb of our choice and Oli chose an epic location outside of Christchurch in Governors Bay. Quarantine protocol dictated that we could do one grocery shop to stock up for two weeks. We filled two massive carts full of food, snacks, and plenty of booze to entertain ourselves for two weeks.

Arriving at our Airbnb we were met with a fairly hilarious reality – our “kitchen” appeared to be a closet converted into a kitchenette and we only had half a fridge. Needless to say cooking in that kitchen was an adventure and organizing was a daily game of tetris.

A week into our quarantine, the whole country went into full lock-down and our two-week travelers quarantine was now an indefinite lockdown in a very tiny apartment. On top of the tiny apartment, we only had a rental car for the first few days we arrived. Considering the nearest grocery store was 20km away in Lyttelton and we were unwilling to pay rental rates indefinitely we had to figure out a game plan fast.

We managed to score two hybrid bikes the day before everything locked down and they even did a contactless drop off since we were in travelers quarantine. Thank f*%$ for the kindness of strangers, those bikes were sanity savers. Our quaint little home had a million dollar view, but we didn’t have a tv and our hosts had minimal Wifi. We did end up ordering a SIM but wifi in NZ is finicky on the best day, so those bike rides were the only thing we really had to look forward to. Two backpacks were all we could carry, but it did force us to go to the store twice a week whether we felt like it or not, and there were two outside pockets perfectly sized for two bottles of wine.

Looking back our 6 weeks spent in Governors Bay was truly lovely. We were a 5 minute walk from the beach and a bird sanctuary, a 2 minute walk from trail entrances to the forest covered hills, a very steep but amazing ride to a mountain bike park, and the road to Lyttelton was full of epic views. Since we also didn’t have much Wifi or TV, I picked up drawing again, read a bunch of books, and wrote a lot in my journal. Though at the time things felt intense and the world had come to an apocalyptic halt, only the good memories remain two years later.

Governors Bay (and New Zealand in general) was full of birds so I became a bird nerd and photographer, I was transfixed by the songs of tui and bell birds each morning as I watched every sunrise for 6 weeks. Landscape photography became my therapy, and I even took a whack at star photography. Cups of coffee and wine were savored slowly and I taught myself how to cook without repeating a meal for 42 days. I even made Oli a banoffee pie completely from scratch for his birthday and threw him a picnic under fake cherry blossoms since we missed them in Japan.

Lockdown wasn’t all fun at the time and I remember forcing myself to put my headphones in and have solo dance parties in the living room to just get out of my head and some days I just laid on the floor and became one with the dust bunnies under the sofa contemplating what the fuck it all meant. Somehow though, we managed to make the best of it most days and looking back on all the beautiful photos I miss the simplicity of coffee at sunrise, midday walks to the beach, and squeezing joy out of all the little moments.

Sunrise Compilation

Once the country went to Level 3, we were allowed to move one direction (aka you could move but not take a trip) and we set our sights on Queenstown where I had two friends awaiting to expand their bubble and welcome us with open arms. There was a few more weeks of Level 3 lockdowns, which allowed for slightly larger bubbles and take out was now allowed again. It felt like a luxury ordering food and hugging friends, and it was the beginning of our 15 months living in New Zealand.