With so much to see and do in New Zealand, three weeks just didn’t feel enough. Most would give anything to be fortunate enough to have a holiday of a lifetime exploring both the North and South Island. And they’d be desperate to end up with extra days in this beautiful place. And extra weeks? Well that’d be a dream come true, right?
On paper you’d think I’d hit the jackpot. 12 bonus days and still counting.
Except those bonus days have been confined to a small apartment in Christchurch. A city that I’ve spent the longest in during my once in a lifetime trip to New Zealand, and yet one that I’m still to see.
We’re Travellers Stuck in New Zealand
We’re on lockdown in New Zealand. And it may surprise you that isn’t because of Coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it now seems to be called. Well at least, originally, it wasn’t.
It was chickenpox.
How We Got Stuck in NZ
We were due to fly on Friday 20 March 2020 after what was an absolutely incredible road trip in a motorhome. On the 19th we noticed our 4 year old had spots. Spots that seemed to be spreading throughout the day.
We were on our way to Christchurch to hand our motorhome back. We made a pitstop to call our insurance and we were instructed to find the nearest doctors to confirm chickenpox.
Arrival there was the first realisation of what was about to happen with Coronavirus. Out on the road, without WiFi and newspapers, we’d missed the hype with it all. At the surgery people were encouraged to wait in their cars until their appointment. Some wore masks and gloves. It was unsettling.
Inside the receptionists answered call after call; worried patients with Covid symptoms. In a 20 second window I explained our predicament and I was told they had no appointments and to try a walk in clinic. I was shutdown.
By chance a friendly doctor overheard me and kindly overruled the gatekeeper, offering me the appointment there and then. He immediately diagnosed chickenpox and sent us off with a medical certificate and tales of the virus, which I tried to forget.
We made another quick stop to call our insurers back who advised, given how contagious chickenpox is, our flights home would be cancelled. They spouted standard policy about splitting the family up, so only one parent would stay with the poorly child, whilst the others would fly home as planned.
We put up a fight. With Coronavirus closing airports, borders closing by the hour, we were terrified of being split up. Thankfully they showed compassion.
Family Lockdown in New Zealand
Now with no flights home, we then had two hours to decide if we wanted to extend our motorhome rental or to check into a hotel. We were using patchy WiFi from a cafe, trying to read the news to guage what was happening, struggling to entertain two kids under 5 long enough to have a sensible conversation and basically feeling the pressure.
In the end we opted for an apartment-hotel. Our insurance had been clear that they wouldn’t cover any food so we wanted somewhere we could cook. Afterall, this was at the end of our trip when we’d drained our holiday spends. There was also talks of campsites being closed, which seem farfetched at the time, but we didn’t want to risk not being able to charge up the motorhome. We loved our wheels, but stupidly we thought we’d be at the airport again in no time at all.
How wrong we were.
Our fifth floor apartment is adequate – we have a small kitchen/diner/lounge, a separate bedroom for the kids, a small bathroom with a washer and dryer and an enclosed balcony (yeah I don’t get the last bit either). The only window that opens is on the ‘balcony’ and I have to stand on a chair to see out of it or to steal some fresh air.
I’m grateful we have somewhere safe, spacious enough and covered by our insurance policy, but I can’t say it’s amazing or home.
Since the level 4 lockdown this place has been closed. The manager lives in one of the apartments with his family and besides us, the block is being used as a base for emergency/essential workers (if needed).
I was worried it would feel eerie. However, we’re yet to see anyone else. Here in NZ the public are being told to act like they have Covid-19, i.e. don’t go out unless you absolutely have to and then, only for exercise, a medical appointment or to the supermarket.
There are no takeaways. No shops or cafes to explore. We’re hunkered down and then some.
The hotel staff are lovely. Since the level 4 lockdown they ring each day to see how we are and if we need anything. They then leave it outside our door so we can collect it without going near anyone. They bring us extra Nespresso pods, clean towels and even a laundry bucket that we used as a makeshift bath to ease the itchiness of chickenpox.
Flying With Coronavirus
Eventually the chickenpox disappeared. During the wait flights became more and more expensive. Like crazy expensive. Like remortgage your house expensive. We’d look at seats only to find an hour later they’d sold out.
We could sense the urgency to get home. More borders and routes were closing. We were determined and on a mission.
Our insurance refused to book new flights until we had a medical fit to fly certificate, so off we went to the doctors again. Only a week had passed, but it was even more unsettling this time.
The nurse had a full visor mask, surgical gloves and plastic overalls on. It was strictly one in, one out. Everyone had their temperature taken, with the reading stuck to their tops. Anyone with a slightly higher temperature was ushered elsewhere.
We got the all clear and found some flights, which by now were scarce to say the least. £14k for all of us to fly in economy in two days time. A bargain compared to some of the flights we saw. We phoned our insurance who put a stop to our excitement at getting home.
They wanted us to wait an extra three days so that we could go via the flights they’d found. The much cheaper flights.
We explained we wanted to go home as early as possible, which by now was the advice of the government.
We explained the likelihood of our second child getting chickenpox and us being trapped even longer.
We talked about our rational fears of more transit hubs and borders closing. We said we were extremely worried their suggested flights would be cancelled much like many others.
We recited their policy about going with average priced flights. They’d found 1 flight at £2k (the one they wanted us to wait for), one at £22k and one at £19k. Our £14k flights were a reasonable request.
We were denied. Although they did offer us the ability to book and buy them ourselves…
And by now I’m sure you can guess what happened.
Brits Stranded in NZ
Those flights got cancelled. More routes closed.
After a million phonecalls, all held while trying to juggle a restless 2 and 4 year old, the insurers booked us another set of flights. This time they had no choice but to pay £22k for them. Prices had increased and the only seats left were in business class and a further five days away.
I was annoyed that they’d caused us so many delays, but also secretly excited about travelling back home in business class. That excitement would often be dampened as soon as I thought of being in an airport or on a plane – supposedly two of the most worrying places for the virus germs.
During our stay we’ve barely left our apartment, if at all. We’ve been terrified of catching the germs and then putting our flights in jeopardy. At some airports there’s rumours of temperatures being taken and we just don’t want to take any risks.
It’s tough to pass the time in the apartment. We make dens, play hide and seek, and have exhausted my secret colours and activity packs that I’d been saving for the flights home. However, each day we got closer to our departure it felt worth it and doable.
How We’ve Been Surviving Lockdown With Kids (in a small space)
Prisoners of the South Island
And then three days before our flight the announcement was made that domestic flights would no longer be allowed, except for medical and freight. Even with proof of onward international travel it would be banned. And the ferries would close. Put simply we would be prisoners on the South Island.
We’re in Christchurch on the South Island. International flights go via Auckland on the North Island.
The new ban was very sudden. We saw it by chance on a Twitter feed. We checked the domestic flights and saw there was one last flight in Christchurch in two hours’ time. We realised this was our only chance to get to Auckland to catch our flights home. As we’re 20-minutes away from the airport, we decided the race was on.
Jay phoned our insurance, who were oblivious to this, and tried to get us on the last flight. I manically chucked our stuff into the suitcases, all whilst trying to appear calm and serene for the kids. I explained we might be going on a plane and then immediately had to manage the cheers in case we didn’t get on it.
Spoiler alert, we didn’t. The insurance didn’t pull through and we couldn’t get through to the airline to book ourselves.
We received a cancellation email for our international flights and went to bed defeated, but woke up elated when we read an email from our insurers to say the domestic flight was back on. In less than 24hours our flight had been cancelled and reinstated.
And the of course it was cancelled again. More announcements came out and it was made very clear that we would indeed be prisoners of the South Island.
The BBC news and government pages have recently been awash with stories of how all tourists need to return home and will be rescued where commercial flights don’t exist. I’ve been inundated with happy messages saying they’re so pleased I’m finally getting home.
But that’s not the case.
Domestic flights are still banned. The ferries are still closed, so we have no way of accessing any of these few flights from Auckland.
Family lockdown in New Zealand is our new normal. We spend our days in the apartment alternating between the iPad classes we’ve found, hide and seek and imagintive obstacle courses. The colouring pens now only show a faint, pale mark on the paper as if to mimic how I feel. Weary, beaten and fed up.
The kids miss their rooms and homelife. They wonder why we’re still in this apartment playing groundhog day. And frankly, I wonder the same.
Jay and I steal moments throughout the day to check the Embassy updates, to scour the news for signs of hope and come evening we’re glued to our phones to see if we’ve missed anything that might lead us home.
There are a few FB groups for Brits stuck in NZ and a rowdy WhatsApp group for stranded Brits who are now getting quite desperate. We read the rumours and cross reference them with the Embassy updates in case the suggested loopholes are true. But it’s all just misguided hope.
In the last few days my darling Omi, my lovely grandparent, has passed away and now more than ever I want to be home. I appreciate the UK is on lockdown too, but here we’re not even on the same timezone to talk to our families.
I hope at some point I’ll be able to update this post with the tale of how we eventually made it home.
A home that is just bricks and will no doubt bring a quarantine life whilst we ride Coronavirus out with the rest of the world. But it’s our home. One where we have home comforts, a small garden and toys for our little ones, a shared timezone with our favourite people. A home where we belong.
Spoiler – we made it home.
Read More About Our Family Trip to New Zealand
- The Lowdown on our Epic Family Holiday to New Zealand
- The Cost of Our Trip to New Zealand
- Everything you Want to Know About Family Motorhome Hire in New Zealand
- Our North Island Itinerary
- Our South Island Itinerary
- Family Packing List for New Zealand in March
- Flying to New Zealand With Kids via Economy, Skycouch and Business Class
- Flying NZ-UK in Business Class With Kids
- Flying NZ-UK in the Coronavirus Pandemic