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Lake Wakatipu view from Queenstown
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2020: a year of local travel

Last updated 20 April 2021

Like everyone else, 2020 didn’t go the way we had planned. We had high hopes for the year. We’d put our house on the market and quit our jobs and were due to leave on a round-the-world trip. It was going to be our first long-term trip since we’d had a baby, and we were looking forward to showing our little toddler around the world. The plan was to fly to Shanghai and spend some time in China, before moving on to Europe.

Early in the year, it became obvious that we were going to have to change our China plans. We had every intention of still going on our trip, but realised we’d have to change the China leg. Then the virus popped up in Italy, and we realised that wouldn’t be an option either. At that point, we’d sold our house and we were in the process of trying to buy another house, when New Zealand went into full lockdown.

I’d just finished my job, and my husband only had a couple of weeks to go, when we found ourselves trapped at home with an 18-month-old in a house we were due to move out of in just a few weeks. I quickly organised flight credits and cancelled all the accommodation I’d booked, glad that almost everything I booked was refundable (I’m paranoid about making plans I can’t change, especially since I’ve started travelling with a child). We still thought there was a chance we’d be able to travel later in the year, so in our minds our plans were delayed, not cancelled.

The long weeks passed, and New Zealand’s restrictions were lifted slightly, meaning we could finally complete the sale of our house (almost two months after we were due to move). Then, we found ourselves homeless and unemployed with the borders still closed. So, we put our household in storage and went to stay with family while we figured out our next steps.

It didn’t take us long to realise that with everyone still in a panic over the lockdown, there were very few houses to rent and next to no jobs. Luckily, only a few days after we moved out of our house, New Zealand’s restrictions relaxed to level 2, meaning domestic travel was allowed. So, we packed our bags and our little boy, and went on a road trip through New Zealand’s North Island.

This trip included many places we’d already been before, plus a couple of new ones. We went from Auckland to visit family in Hamilton, staying overnight in Cambridge. Then we continued on to Rotorua, Hawkes Bay, Palmerston North, Taupo and then Papamoa, to stay with my father in law. The trip took us about three weeks and we saw numerous beautiful lakes and forests without the tourist. We stopped by empty tourist sites and had hot pools entirely to ourselves. There was something both magical and heartbreaking about the experience.

We still had social distancing restrictions, and this trip made us realise that we didn’t want to travel internationally while Covid restrictions were still in place, especially with a very sociable little boy who loves talking to people. We noticed small changes in behaviour even within the country and thought navigating some of these interactions would be more difficult with greater cultural and language differences.

As we turned our minds to home, we realised there were still no jobs and places to live on the horizon, and reluctantly admitted that our long trip wasn’t going to happen for a couple of years. So, we decided that we really needed a longer break before attempting to resurrect our daily lives and booked flights to Queenstown. We based ourselves in Arthurs Point, just a few minutes out of Queenstown, for the next month. The day after we arrived, all social distancing measures were lifted and New Zealand was officially covid-free.

We spent our time in Queenstown exploring the region and doing all the activities we hadn’t before. We went on a scenic flight to Milford Sound and tried paragliding. We drove around the region, from Kingseat on the other side of the lake, to Alexandra, a town heading towards Dunedin. We found beautiful playgrounds around the region, my little boy played in snow for the first time and learnt the words for mountain and cold. I went to local playgroups and fell in love with the region. We’d visited Queenstown before, but spending more time there was a wonderful experience. We seriously considered staying, but the job market wasn’t practical and all our babysitters were in Auckland.

So eventually we found our way back home, rented a house and sent our now two-year-old back to daycare… Just in time for Auckland’s second lockdown. Thankfully that was relatively short lived, and we managed to pick up some freelance work, then a contract, and life resumed in a relatively normal way. We’re very blessed in New Zealand to be able to live more-or-less normally, even though the borders are closed and every sniffle demands a covid-test (you start to realise just how often little children have runny noses)!

Before the end of 2020, we managed to squeeze in one more local trip – heading to Lake Tekapo in MacKenzie Country with a stop in Mt Cook National Park. One of the most photographed sites in New Zealand, the Church at the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo had just a small trickle of visitors. Once again, while was lovely to enjoy the place peacefully, with the luxury of being able to take our time, the feeling was marred by how wrong it was for this spot to be so empty.

We’re still planning on doing our long-term trip at some point – we’re tentatively thinking mid-2022, depending on how the vaccine roll-out progresses. Until then, we’ll definitely spend our time supporting local tourism providers and seeing parts of the country which are usually too expensive or inconvenient to visit - a Milford Sound cruise is definitely next on the itinerary! New Zealand is a beautiful country and I’m very grateful we could see so much of it this year.

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