On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Just as things rapidly changed for millions of people around the world, so too did our travel plans.
Traveling to New Zealand
Shortly after the release of our final Go North series episode (Episode 20) at the end of February, we hopped on a plane with friends and co-hosts John & Peter heading for New Zealand. We had 5 weeks planned for RVing around the country and filming for The RVers TV Show, as well as our own YouTube channel.
Us and our Wilderness Rental Motorhomes along Lake Pukaki
When we first arrived in NZ at the end of February, coronavirus was not yet declared a pandemic. But just a couple weeks into our touring it was, which made the last few weeks interesting to say the least.
The New Zealand government responded very swiftly and strictly in locking down the country, starting with foreign nationals being prohibited from entry starting March 19th. When they reached response Level 4 on March 25th, ferries were locked down, domestic flights were cancelled, and only essential travel by emergency services was allowed.
New Zealand Lockdown
Fortunately, within a span of 48 hours from the Level 4 announcement we were able to get from the southern end of the South Island, across on one of the last ferries to the North Island, and to a RV Park just 2 hours outside of Auckland before everything was locked down, and we were there for just over a week.
Catching one of the last ferries to the North Island before the shutdown
Our sites at the Cambridge Top 10 Holiday Park during the lockdown, waiting for our flight
Foreign nationals on the South Island were stuck as they could not ferry or fly to the North Island to reach international flights. The rental RVs enabled us to stay self-isolated pretty easily in the time leading up to the full lockdown and during.
We were able to be outside and still hang out with John & Peter who were part of our “isolation group.” It was great to have friends with us so we could support each other and distract each other as we waited for our flight day.
Because of the essential travel order, we couldn’t leave the RV Park until the day of our flight, when we could provide proof that we had a flight out the same day should we be pulled over. We were only allowed into the airport with proof of flight.
Just a couple days before we were to fly, they opened domestic flights to foreign nationals so travelers on the South Island could connect to International Flights out of Auckland. Because of this our flight was 100% full.
Fortunately, Covid-19 case numbers in New Zealand were still very low. Unfortunately, we were heading back to the United States, whose cases were skyrocketing. This was going to be like flying directly to Wuhan at the beginning of the outbreak, as US cases had at that time already exceeded every other country outbreak and were on the rise.
The days leading up to our flight and the day-of were honestly pretty scary. The choice to come home or stay in New Zealand was a personal one, and we debated it daily. Between us and our travel companions, we had tons of reasons for and against either choice, and if need-be would could have rented an AirBnB and stayed. The NZ government had policies in place to assist stranded travelers find housing and extend visas, but the future was so unknown to be able to create a solid plan.
At the end of the day, we decided to come home.
At the Auckland International Airport, the day of our flight, April 4th
We wore masks, kept our distance (as much as we could), used disinfecting wipes on our seats and tray tables. Still there was little you could do as there were people all around you. We only removed our masks to eat and drink.
On our Auckland-LAX flight as it was filling up. It ended up 100% full. We wore our masks the whole 12+ hours except to eat and drink. Upon landing in LA, the airport was dead. Going through Customs was fast – no questions on how we were feeling, no temperature checks. Short lines, social distancing, about half the workforce wore masks, fewer passengers wore them.
Flight to Chicago – American Airlines reassigned seats to physically distance people. The flight was about half full so we each had our own row of seats.
Flight to Florida – American Airlines again reassigned seats to distance people, which was easy since we were 2 of the only 6 passengers on ~150 passenger plane.
Upon arrival in Florida we went straight into a 14-day self-quarantine without any contact with anyone. We came home, immediately showered and bagged our travel clothes, sanitized handles and the outsides of bags, devices, anything we could think of.
So relieved to reach our destination – and finally able to breathe some fresh air! At the time of this blog writing we are halfway through our self-quarantine here at home in our fifth wheel RV, and they have been stressful in their own way — besides the jet lag recovery. We don’t know if we were exposed to coronavirus during our journey home, so it has been a waiting game to see if symptoms arise. The average incubation is 2-6 days, so we are hopeful that since neither of us have symptoms today
We are happy to see that the rapid and strict lockdown New Zealand imposed is not only flattening their curve, but “squashing it.” Before the lockdown, we were able to see and film some of the incredible things this country has to offer, and we expect to share the videos of our New Zealand adventure ready in late summer 2020.
Watch the teaser below:
Hanging in there & Thank You
As we were driving through NZ during our lockdown, signs in NZ had helpful and grounding reminders. We’ve been using them as a mantra of sorts to get through this:
Be Kind. Stay Calm. Stay Home. Save Lives. We’re all in this together.
We are grateful to have work that we can do from home, and have lots of projects coming up that require little to no travel. We know this isn’t the case for many people around the country and the world, and our hearts go out to them.
Before we sign off we want to say “thank you.” Thank you to the people on the front lines all around the world. Thank you to the people helping from the sidelines. And thank you to everyone who is staying home from parties, churches, events, and non-essential activities to stop the spread of this disease and avoid diverting emergency services resources.
Hang in there, everyone! Wishing you & your families health,
~ Cait & Tom