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Thankful to be home in Aotearoa

In May this year, Sandra Walsh wrote about thriving during lockdown on the narrowboat Areandare she shares with husband Barry Teutenberg in the UK. They recently returned to New Zealand, timing their trip home to coincide with the 30th birthday of Barry’s son. Sandra tells us about their journey and Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) experiences.

Wearing masks from the morning of August 20 until we entered our MIQ room after lunch on August 22, was a unique experience we hope never to repeat. The only times we were ‘allowed' to remove them were for eating, drinking or relishing a quick breather in the loo!

Heathrow Airport was eerily quiet the day we left. The taxi ride through almost deserted streets was unnerving. Gratitude at being able to fly to New Zealand overcame any mask-wearing soreness or boredom from sitting in an airport lounge for 11 hours at Hong Kong. Every step of the journey was well managed. It was a surprise to be told we'd be flying to Christchurch for our MIQ stay but that was great because Barry's daughter Jamie lives there.

Another flight ensued, then a short coach journey. Once through procedures at Sudima Airport Hotel reception, we didn't return until day 14. Heading directly to our room, we finally removed our masks. What a relief that was! Any time from thereon, masks were worn when we left the room for outside exercise.

Three times a day a meal was delivered in a brown paper bag. The day's menu was included in the breakfast package. Some MIQ facilities offer menu options — ours was delivered as a fait accompli. However, we'd been asked at check-in if we had any food preferences and they would've been followed.

Alcohol could only be purchased in-house. Barry was bereft! Their cheapest wine was $28 a bottle, which, having been used to our cheap ‘home brew' wine seemed extortionate. It was a small price to pay to be back.

Early in our second week, I discovered an immensely helpful Managed Isolation Facebook support group. From entering until we left, almost everyone from the hotel staff, the NZDF, the police and security, were amazing.

The only hiccup was a sombre security guard in the exercise area who scolded me like a naughty schoolgirl for wearing my own mask. Nowhere was it stated you HAD to wear one provided. The hospital-type . . . you know, the one that doesn't fit correctly so slips down your face and you have to keep touching it to pull it up? No prizes for guessing why I wasn't so keen on those. That was a minor inconvenience.

Similar to our UK lockdown experiences, we watched a snippet of spring's blossoming on our walks around the carpark and gardens. Covid-19 brain-tickling nasal swabs were taken on days three and 12. Although unpleasant, they weren't painful.

We had a couple of visits from Jamie, chatting through the two-metre wide fence. A Wellness Team called the room frequently, and NZ Healthline contacted us regularly. We downloaded the well-functioning NZ Covid Tracer App. They've spent billions in the UK and still don't have one anywhere near as good as this.

Payment for MIQ commenced shortly before we arrived. We came on one-way tickets, with the intention of staying at least six months, so haven't had to pay. Since then, a place in MIQ must be booked BEFORE a flight.

We completed our managed isolation exactly 14 days from landing. We realised a couple of days beforehand we'd miss our cosy third floor room, with Christchurch Airport and the snow-topped Southern Alps glimmering majestically in the distance.

We had a king-sized bed and large bath. We hired an exercise bike, and relished time to catch-up. For me that was working (I'm a digital marketing consultant) and writing daily blog posts about MIQ; for Barry getting his purchasable digital jigsaws finalised.

On September 4 we were informed of the time of our specially-chartered flight to Auckland. When we'd rearranged our flights for the third time, Air NZ booked us a flight to Gisborne on Sunday December 6, insisting we'd have to remain until then. By the time we were able to rearrange this only one seat remained on the Saturday afternoon flight. Barry took this and surprised Tom at his 30th birthday party.

We're incredibly thankful to be in an almost Covid-free country. Having bought a campervan to travel around New Zealand, we've called her NZAreandare and continue to blog about our journeys. Barry's taking some superb photos you may want to check out.

• Anyone with relatives or friends coming home may find this post helpful.

Sandra Walsh and Barry Teutenberg masked-up at Heathrow Airport before flying home to New Zealand. Pictures by Barry Teutenberg
The flight from Heathrow to Hong Kong was only 25 percent full.
Heathrow Airport eerily empty on August 20.
Sandra getting some fresh air in the exercise area at the Sudima Airport Hotel in Christchurch.
Sandra hard at work in their comfortable third-floor room at the Sudima Airport Hotel in Christchurch.
Sandra and Barry with their campervan, NZAreandare.