Wondering what it’s like to experience the government-run and military-ruled New Zealand quarantine? Read on for one Kiwi’s take, pies and all.
The Golden Ticket
Imagine a world without face masks. A world where bars are open and local sports teams have actual fans in the stands, not cardboard cutouts or sex dolls. How great does that sound?
Well, this world exists and it just happens to be one of my favourite places on the planet, New Zealand.
NZ is home to Hobbits, incredible scenery, and more sheep than people. It’s also home to fewer than 2,220 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Thanks to strict restrictions from the get-go, New Zealand has handled the pandemic like no other country. As such, life, as many of us used to know it, has gone on. The only thing missing are the tourists.
Yes, the Covid free utopia is, obviously, closed off to the rest of the world with one exception – New Zealand nationals living abroad.
Those holding a New Zealand passport can return home and, potentially, ride out the pandemic in a relatively unaffected paradise. The one catch with this “Golden Ticket” is you have to endure a strict New Zealand quarantine process.
Being travel deprived and fascinated by what this means, I reached out to Glenn Whyte, a travel mate who, along with his wife Sarah, has capitalized on his birthplace and headed home. What’s it like to go through New Zealand quarantine and what’s it like on the other side? Let’s find out.
New Zealand Quarantine Requirements
Before diving into what the actual New Zealand quarantine experience is like, I asked Glenn some obvious (and not-so-obvious) questions.
What Made You Decide to Go Home?
Mainly, the opportunity for a break from the pandemic, and the freedom realized by fully remote work. The pandemic made us realize that living in a one-bedroom apartment with a train outside the window probably wasn’t the best for much longer. We sold up, bought a plane ticket, and then set off to New Zealand. Both my wife and I aren’t able to work in our company’s offices, even if we wanted to, so we are able to work remotely for a few months. And if you’re going to work from anywhere, why not work where there are no pandemic restrictions!
What Were The Requirements to Return to New Zealand?
You need to be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident to even be considered. There are some limited other visa classes available though. My wife obtained a visa as the partner of a New Zealand citizen through a friendly but rigorous process with Immigration. She was able to get a non-working visa within a few weeks. A work permit would have been harder to come by.
From there you need to apply for a voucher for the specific date you plan to arrive for a Managed Isolation spot. This books up several months in advance. With that in hand, you can book a flight, which are pretty limited. From North America, the only flight goes via LA a few days a week. We planned everything about 3 months in advance.
The last requirement is to have a negative COVID test. I’d strongly recommend paying the money for a dedicated test for travel. We didn’t and got some serious questioning about our results, nearly to the point of not being allowed to board the plane. It wasn’t worth the stress (and potentially disrupted travel plans) to save a couple of hundred bucks.
Flying Home To New Zealand
The flight home had us flying from Vancouver to Los Angeles to Auckland to Christchurch over about 30 hours. If I have any advice for you about flying in a pandemic, it would be “don’t”.
The flights themselves weren’t that bad, but from constant worry that at some point an overzealous gate agent would tell us our COVID results weren’t comprehensive enough to fly (we saw it happen more than once), to nothing being open in the airports, to a surprise extra leg when we learned we were being quarantined in a city 1000 miles from our destination, it was a long and tiring day. So much so that I claimed I’d lost my bag, when I really just couldn’t pick it out from the baggage claim.
New Zealand Quarantine Experience
The Government Mandated Hotel
After being escorted from the terminal by some very friendly soldiers, we were dropped off at the Sudima Christchurch Airport Hotel and shown to our room. It was a good size – enough room for a bed, couch, an exercise bike (hot tip – get one), and two desks for each of us to work at. We had a view out over the approach road to the airport. This was both a blessing and a curse to see normal life going on outside.
The team at the hotel were wonderful. It was a mix of New Zealand Defence Force personnel, public health nurses, and some hotel employees. All are friendly, empathetic to what we’re going through and incredibly nice, even when they’re confiscating your third bottle of wine.
We got our first COVID test just after arriving (and I swear they put the swab deeper up your nose than elsewhere in the world), and were confined to the room until we got that result back the next day. We got three meals a day (which is way more food than I can handle) and we’ve had a range of things delivered – groceries (including the contraband wine), fresh ground coffee, a pie, an extra desk, and even a spin bike. It feels a little weird having a soldier deliver your lunch, but you get used to it.
The attention to wellness is pretty amazing. Half of the material the team gives you is about keeping yourself sane through this process. We had both phone and in-person check-ins from the team every day.
It’s also good to have work to do. Spending 9 hours a day looking at a computer screen fills a good chunk of time. We were maladjusted to the time, so we would sneak in a quick afternoon nap before dinner also.
The three meals are the highlights of the day, but the breakfasts are a little weird. Yesterday was a bacon and egg pie, which I thought was awesome. Today’s was a doughnut and a brownie, which is a little much for 7 in the morning. Last night’s dinner was roast lamb, and it was amazing. I forgot how good meat is in New Zealand.
Lunch on one of the first days was smoked salmon, which is not my favourite. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, within minutes, Brent from Uber Eats was off to the local gas station to pick me up a Mince and Cheese pie. I could quibble that it wasn’t as hot as it could have been and that they didn’t have the pepper steak flavour on the online menu, but at the end of the day, I ordered a delicious pie off the internet while being housed in a military-run quarantine facility, and that isn’t a sentence I thought I’d ever type.
Exercise is interesting. After passing the first COVID test, we got three sessions a day to walk around the ‘exercise area’, which is the hotel parking lot. It is screened off from the outside world with black fencing. Exercise slots are the only time you’re allowed out of the room, and we only ever exercise with those on our plane. Even still, we’re not allowed to get too close to each other. There’s a couple of windows in the fence that people are using to chat with locals outside. Despite that, it’s good to be outside and to see some different faces. We really came to appreciate the simple act of being outside during our 3 sessions each day.
Was it Worth it – Post Quarantine Experience
I asked Glenn if two weeks of New Zealand quarantine was worth the isolation, stress from flying, and cold pies. He has not replied, which says it all.
Looking at his and Sarah’s Instagram stories, it’s easy to see that life is 100% better on the other side. From music concerts and cricket matches to sailing and Air BnB’s with incredible views, life certainly looks good without masks. Add to that the fact that they are doing it all in New Zealand, and you have one envious friend on the other side of the globe.
Still, I am incredibly happy for them and was great to share their experience. For the first time in a long time, I am living vicariously through someone else’s travels.
If you want to follow along you can find them on Instagram @theoverfriendlyconcierge and @lovesnowcity. All photos by Sarah and Glenn.
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