Reflections on coming out of seven weeks of lockdown in New Zealand

New Zealand moves to Level 2 tomorrow, after seven weeks in ‘lockdown’ due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Level 4 started with me away from my husband and three children, as a result of having recently returned from overseas and therefore needing to self-isolate for 14 days. I self-isolated in our holiday home, in rural Martinborough. My husband had met me at the airport with a car loaded with groceries and the family dog. It was so hard to not hug him, but we both understood the importance of me needing to self isolate. I was really touched with the basket of goodies my family had packed for me – it helped to put a smile on my face.

After my 14 days of self-isolation I was relieved to be given permission to rejoin my family. I drove from the Wairarapa to our family home on the south coast of Wellington. The roads were exceptionally quiet, with only the occasional courier van, police car and essential worker vehicles passing me.

By the end of two weeks by myself, with only our family dog for company, I was wondering how it would feel to be back in the bosom of my lively, fun loving family. I’d started to adjust to being on my own – after feeling like an emotional wreck for the first few days; exacerbated by having just said goodbye to my folks in England and not knowing when I’d be able to travel to see them again. I also felt jet-lagged and under the weather, with a sore throat and extreme tiredness, so went for a swab to test for Covid-19 – which thankfully came back negative.

After a week of being on my own I started to get into a routine, with daily walks, workouts, gardening, reading, playing the keyboard and doodling (also binge watched a fair bit of Netflix!). It was strange not being able to pop into a cafe and exchange daily greetings with people. Walking along the rural roads I smiled to see essential workers out in the fields, picking the grapes of the 2020 harvest. When I passed someone else out walking I let out an excited ‘Hello!’, elated to see another person in real life. I walked along pavements adorned with chalk greetings saying, ‘Kia Kaha’ and ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’. The windows of houses displayed teddy bears and rainbows. Seeing other parents out cycling or playing ball with their children made me yearn to be with my own family, but I was also totally accepting of the need for me to isolate myself as a precaution.

Travelling back from the UK, via Dubai, on an Emirates flight with masked flight attendants and nervous passengers had been a scary experience. There were hundreds of people packed in the planes and thousands flooding the airports, desperate to get on a plane before borders around the world shut. My initial flight back from the UK was flying via Los Angeles. The weekend before my flight back the USA closed their borders to non-residents and wouldn’t even allow travellers to transit through Los Angeles. I couldn’t get a refund on my flight – as it was strictly speaking still flying (only I was no longer permitted to board it). I had to seek out a new way of travelling home fast, costing me a couple of thousand NZ dollars. I was nearly going to transit through Australia, after Dubai, and onto Wellington, New Zealand – but travelling on a UK passport with a NZ permanent resident visa meant I couldn’t have done that. I was just so fortunate to get on the plane I did – along with hundreds of other travellers in the same position as me.

Boarding my flight.

New Zealand did the right thing in closing their border fast and requesting people to self isolate – as the cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand could all be linked to overseas travel initially. Thankfully NZ managed to identify the clusters where overseas travellers had infected others and contain those clusters quickly. Within a few weeks of level 4 lockdown the number of cases started to decrease rapidly, until there were two days in a row of zero cases. New Zealanders, on the whole, listened and stayed home. They left their kayaks, surfboards and diving gear at home, refrained from hunting excursions and mountain bike rides. All shops, cafes, post offices and restaurants closed. Supermarket shopping was done by one member of each household, or via click-and-collect or home delivery. The roads fell silent and the sky was empty of airplanes.

When I drove back to Wellington I felt ‘naughty’ to be cruising along the highway. I bid the rural tranquility of Martinborough and the vineyards a fond farewell, skirted around the deserted city centre and headed for the south coast. The smell of the sea air was a welcome greeting and I drove at a snail’s pace along the coast road, allowing for people to step out onto the road to give one another 2 metres space to pass each other.

Island Bay, Wellington

I couldn’t wait to have my first hugs in two weeks and talk with my family face to face. I’d been in touch them all via frequent video calls and they were all coping so well (particularly my hubby who had been single parenting our three daughters for a month!).

Video calls keeping us connected.

I was so proud of them all for adjusting and was almost a little worried that my return would ‘rock the boat’ on their new equilibrium – but I needn’t have worried. The first afternoon back was full of good vibes – a walk in the afternoon and a fun evening of dancing around the living room together.


We then all settled into a new normal and here’s a few slices of what I loved most about this time:

Loved not having to drive anywhere. With our oldest daughter having to do school from home and all extra-curricular activities cancelled, there was no need for us to drive anywhere. I’ve always disliked spending much time in the car and resist driving as much as possible – preferring to take runs straight from my front door. My two home educated daughters have friends scattered all around the greater Wellington region – but again we limit the visits we make, as we find time in the car tiring. My daughters often choose to connect via Skype or Google hangouts instead, with periodic meet-ups in person.

Loved the roads being quiet. The need to social distance on our walks has meant stepping into the road has become a necessity in some situations – but in Level 4 that wasn’t a problem – there were hardly any cars on the road – particularly along the scenic south coast of Wellington (where there is a pavement on only one side of the road along most sections of that route). The lack of traffic has made it so much safer for families to ride their bicycles too. It’s been so peaceful to walk by the coast without the roar of an engine passing by, churning out smelly exhaust fumes into the air. When we moved to Level 3 the increase in traffic was hugely noticeable – but I can’t blame people for wanting to drive down to the coast and enjoy time at the beach. We have had gorgeous autumn weather and as soon as the Level 4 restrictions were lifted on beach activities people were keen to get out on the water again (and there’s been some epic surf conditions!).

Lyall Bay, Wellington, from View Road one evening in May under the glow of the full moon.

Loved the take-away places being closed (yes, really!). To be honest we were in quite a bad habit of getting take-aways maybe three times a week. With busy schedules for everyone it wasn’t always easy to time a family meal, but since lockdown started we’ve been ordering ‘Hello Fresh’ meals and eating those five times a week. Home cooking, without any option to get something else, has made everyone accept whatever is on the table each night – and the ‘Hello Fresh’ meals have been scrumptious and healthy too! All five of us have really enjoyed our evening meals and everyone has been noticeably more relaxed with the quieter evenings and no one having to rush to be out the door for some activity or other. We’ve actually saved money with not getting take-aways and hubby has lost 5kg!

That’s not to say we didn’t have a take-away when Level 3 kicked in. When take-aways resumed we enjoyed a curry from our favourite ‘Planet Spice’ (and our oldest daughter was delighted to be able to get bubble tea again!). It was also to see the local fish and chip shop open in Lyall Bay, along with locals surfing in the sunshine and enjoying a Friday evening take away on the beach – the happiness in the air was palpable.

Hi-Tea, Cuba Street, Wellington

Hubby and I didn’t miss barista made coffees as we’d invested in a machine a few years ago and I’m lucky that hubby makes cafe style lattes (which I’ve really enjoyed in bed most mornings, with a good book!).

Loved daily walks with great company. I normally run a lot more than walk – grabbing a run when I can, in between taking my daughters to their activities, but without the need to rush them about and with hubby working from home I have been switching up my runs with long walks.

Hubby and I on one of our many walks!

We’ve had some fun evening walks under the light of the full moon. The first evening that we moved to Level 3 we had a fun walk, under the stars, with glowing balloons, jumping out of bushes to startle one another.

First evening of Level 3

Loved home workouts. In Level 4 ‘Les Mills’ screened at home workouts for free, which my middle daughter – in particular – has loved (she normally goes to the Big Air gym a couple of times a week, to participate in free running classes, but of course those have been closed). Our oldest daughter found some fun ‘Broadway’ workouts themed on various musicals and they’ve been a lot of fun. I’ve continued to do ‘Life in Motion Motivate’ workouts – which I was doing anyway, but I’ve enjoyed doing more of them to balance out not running as much and feel stronger all over as a result. The workouts have been great in strengthening muscle groups I’ve neglected, ironing out any niggles and balancing out my body – all good for helping to prevent injuries when I do run – and I did do a few runs in April – including a 10km run with my 14 year old daughter.

Proud of my Miss 14!

One day my daughters joined me, whilst I was still in self isolation in Martinborough, to do a backyard run – we were face-timing throughout and I loved the medals they created for themselves (I also had aid station envy, as they’d stocked up the table outside the kitchen with lots of goodies!).

Loved family time. It’s been lovely to go down to the local park as a family and throw a ball or frisbee about between us. The community has felt alive with families all doing the same – whereas Monday to Friday is normally a time when everyone is shut away in their offices or behind school fences. I loved hearing all my daughters singing, playing the piano or chatting with friends online. Our evenings have felt so relaxed, with us all home at the same time for dinner. We’ve taken to watched ‘The Chase’ every evening at 5pm.

It’s been lovely for our oldest daughter, in year 13, to have some time with her sisters too – we hardly see her in term time, what with her long school day and extra-curricular activities. She’s been using her extra time to sew and craft – sharing her skills and knowledge with her sisters.

Makings by Charlotte (@webofcharlottes on Instagram)

Loved the autumn weather! We have been so fortunate to have glorious autumn sunshine to make this lock down time so much easier. A daily dose of vitamin D makes everyone feel better. With shorter day light hours (sunset around 5:15pm) we’ve loved being able to make the most of flexible days – without the need to be shut away in an office or school, to enjoy the sunlight during the day, as well as some stunning walks under the light of the full moon in May.

The ‘Flower’ full moon in May 2020 on the south coast of Wellington.

Loving our neighbourhood. We are so fortunate to live somewhere with trails and walkways that zig zag the hills and coastline of the south of Wellington. We never have far to go for a stunning view and nature is all around us.

South coast of Wellington

We’ve lived in this neighbourhood for mostly 14 years (with the exception of our 15 months living away in Santa Barbara, California). We know so many people in our neighbourhood and it’s been an absolute joy to walk around the local pathways and see friendly faces.

Loved having more time to read. In a normal week I am rushing around, transporting my daughters to their various classes and meet-ups. I always carry a book with me – for those opportune moments when they are running late on finishing a class. During this lockdown time I’ve had complete control of my days and loved swapping up driving duties for reading time!

Loved my ‘lockdown’ Birthday! It was so lovely to feel no pressure and to simply enjoy the day in every way within my bubble.

Birthday breakfast in bed – with company!

I’ve also loved ‘Zoom’ or ‘Skype’ calls with friends overseas – normally our busy lives make it hard to catch up – but with us all at home, and not rushing out the door anywhere, it’s been lovely to have catch-ups with old school friends in the UK.

So much to love!

Of course I’ve missed seeing local friends in person, hugging without a care, and meet-ups within our local community of home education families. Our daughters have coped so well, but our youngest can’t WAIT to play in person with her friends again. It will be lovely to know we can access libraries, museums and art galleries again. It will be handy to pop some of the local shops we’ve missed (and to think about booking haircuts, a groom for our dog, and knowing we can visit the dentist – oldest daughter has an orthodontist appointment booked in for tomorrow – first day of Level 2!).  Wellington is normally a very vibrant city with so many art and cultural activities on all the time – which is really wonderful, but I have enjoyed not having so much choice and not having to respond to a multitude of invitations on behalf of my children (I normally feel like their full-time secretary!).

Tomorrow New Zealand moves to Level 2. Our oldest daughter will be back at school on Monday. It won’t be long before all the extra-curricular activities for all our daughters start back up. But right now, for the next few days and this weekend, I’m going to hold on tight to this slower pace, which I have absolutely loved.

I hope you’ve found something to enjoy during lockdown and can take that forward with you into level 2 – be it a new appreciation for what’s in your own backyard or home cooking?!

Princess Bay, Wellington