Working in a remote lodge in the middle of the Fiordland National Park, New Zealand felt far removed from the increasingly worrying news about Coronavirus. We had a minuscule amount of cases and at the time all were related to overseas travel.
As the spread began to gain momentum, the government reacted quickly with extreme measures. At first we were told our season with Ultimate Hikes would end early and we were preparing to leave the lodge within the week. The next day I awoke from an afternoon nap to find chaos, the government had put the country into alert level three, with level four (the highest alert level) beginning in forty-eight hours - a nationwide lockdown implemented by police and military if required.
My manager Tom explained everybody needed to have a plan for the four-week lockdown. Luckily my friend Ellis invited me to come to his family home in Timaru, a town about four hours drive from Queenstown. To give me time to get there before all non-essential travel around was banned, I had about twenty minutes to pack my bag and jump in a helicopter that would bring me to Milford Sound where a bus was waiting to take me the five-hour drive back to Queenstown.
That day I barely had time to register the severity of the situation and what was really going on. Ellis and I set off in my car early the next morning and arrived in Timaru that evening where we have been locked down for the last two weeks.
My name is Clare and I’m originally a Belfast girl from Northern Ireland, this is my second stint in New Zealand and this time I arrived at the beginning of 2020 when I began my job with Ultimate Hikes. My whole world has changed significantly in the last few weeks just like the rest of the world and Ellis and I are finding ways to keep productive, stay in touch and be creative while in lockdown.
I am very close with my family and would regularly call them for a catch-up, being in lockdown has given us more time to do this. We’ve organised a weekly family video chat with my mum, aunty, two sisters and my little cousin which is a huge bonus that has come from being quarantined. We’ve been doing quizzes together and enjoying the type of catch up we would when I come home to visit.
This isn’t the only use Ellis and I have found for video chat as we are now the hosts of Quizatine, a weekly pub quiz with twelve teams, each with between one and ten of our friends taking part. We use the app Zoom to create a mega video call which feels much like a big catch up at the pub. It keeps us busy during the week with ten rounds of questions to prepare and we’ve had really positive feedback from everyone involved.
A positive trend from the extended free time is that everyone is doing more exercise. Daily HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions have become a habit for us. We have a HIIT app we use, we follow Youtube videos or we get on a video call with a group of friends and organise our own HIIT session with a pumped-up playlist. We used to exercise together pre-social distancing so being able to do so on a video call is great for extra motivation.
Speaking of trends we couldn’t help but get on board with TikTok the app best known for its dance challenges and as it’s been sunny lately we’ve spent many hours practicing dance moves in the garden. We’re lucky to have space outdoors and have been making the most of it learning useless skills like how to do a two person tumble roll or how to cartwheel. We also invented our own game, currently called Drainpipe Ball, which involves us playing a version of tennis in a miniature court with a much higher net, the drainpipe. So far the overall scoreboard is pretty even.
Ellis is great at guitar and over the years has acquired enough guitars to open a small music shop. I love to play but am still very much a beginner and we have been practicing almost every day. We learn songs together, sometimes he teaches me or I’ll use YouTube. Most recently we’ve learnt Shallow from A Star is Born, and Cosmic Dancer by T.Rex. Ellis has also been playing the guitar over video chat with friends he would usually jam with in person.
Guitar is not the only new skill we have been learning, the New Zealand Department of Conservation offers several free online courses through which we’ve been learning about Bird Identification. Edx is an app that has been recommended to me and it offers a whole bunch of free educational courses. I’ve decided to enrol in one called From the ground up: Managing and Preserving our Terrestrial Ecosystems. This is an industry I have always been really interested in and I’m excited to have the opportunity to learn more about.
Being in lockdown gives you an excuse to play computer games and not feel guilty that you are wasting time, which Ellis and I have been taking advantage of with the game Terraria which is a 2D Minecraft style game. Offline I have been teaching Ellis to play card games of which I know many and could happily play all day long.
Another pastime which I thoroughly enjoy is cooking and Ellis’s parents are on the Keto diet which has challenged us to be creative with recipes so we can cook for the whole family. We have also baked focaccia bread and made a vegan, keto, paleo-friendly snickers style dessert. To avoid cabin fever Ellis and I have been going for a short walk in the evenings when it is quiet, we are lucky to be right on the coast so we can walk along the seaside.
I count myself really lucky that I am not alone in isolation and have been trying to make sure those who are, aren’t feeling lonely giving them lots of phone calls, messages, organising activities and sharing funny content as well as movie and tv recommendations. Ellis has also contacted his elderly neighbours who may struggle during this time to share a contact number in case they need anything from groceries to a friendly phone call.
Life is strange right now and everything has changed from mundane tasks like grocery shopping to bigger aspects such as employment being on hold but it is important to remember this is only temporary. Here in New Zealand there is a sense of togetherness, we are all locking down to help everyone else and everyone is depending on each other to stick it out which is a great incentive. Ellis and I are thinking positively about the future and planning for a hiking road trip once the alert level in New Zealand has dropped.