Christchurch, New Zealand and COVID related Lockdown (Levels 4 & 3)

March 25 – May 13, 2020

When the world stopped, we stopped.

The day we were scheduled to travel from Wellington to Christchurch, during the few hours we were on a ferry to the South Island, it was announced that, in 48 hours, the whole country was going into a strict lockdown. Wherever you were on March 25th, that’s where you would have to stay for at least a month.

We were originally scheduled to pick up a motorhome in Christchurch on the 1st day of the lockdown. That plan was immediately obsolete, and as soon as we got off the ferry, we had to figure out the next best option.

While Pedja was driving us from Picton to Christchurch (a 4-hour drive), I was on the phone, frantically trying to find us longer-term accommodations. The cost of available Airbnbs doubled immediately due to the darn supply/demand algorithms. I was having a really hard time finding anything remotely affordable and suitable for a family of 5, for at least a month, and possibly longer.

Finally, I found us a 3-bedroom townhome that looked like it would suit our needs and our budget.

For that, I have to thank Google Fi worldwide cell service that provided us with good-enough phone coverage during that 4-hour drive, my resourceful, talkative nature that makes me a natural connecter, and heaps of luck in every way. That’s how we landed in Christchurch, and 7.5 months later, we are still in the same place, happy with our location, fantastic neighbors, and the overall set up.

In New Zealand, Level 4 meant that we were not allowed to drive further than 10 km from our residence. The only open places were a few big grocery stores, some pharmacies, and hospitals. Everything else was shut down. Public transportation could only be used by essential workers. If, for example, someone had a primary residence and a vacation home further than 10 km from their residence, they weren’t able to go between their two homes. We couldn’t go hiking unless we walked to the hills (more than 10km away from our place (so we didn’t do)).

We could walk outside any time, with the understanding that we must keep at least 2 meters of distance from others. That was easy to do in a small enough city like Christchurch. We never even crossed others on the street. Instead, we would cross the street and put a lot more than the necessary distance between us. Pedja was the only one that went food shopping (as rarely as we could manage), and the stores were organized very well.

We watched daily live TV news updates from the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and the Ministry of Health’s Chief Executive, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield. They would occasionally add other relevant resources (e.g., Minister of Education, other health officials, etc.) when needed. The government seemed to be incredibly quick with providing financial emergency support to businesses and individuals. Not sure how helpful that support was, but judging by the recent reelection landslide, I would say that Jacinda’s handling of the pandemic was a hit among the record number of New Zealanders.

It feels uncomfortable to say this, but our family truly enjoyed the lockdown. After traveling for 12 months across 5 continents, 19 countries, and sleeping in 80 different accommodations, we welcomed the downtime, in one comfortable place, in a country that seemed to be addressing this crisis seriously.

It was probably the most peaceful time of our lives, ever!

Since the whole world stopped, we completely stopped too.

We baked too much, made tons of cakes, fresh pasta, fancy meals. Pedja, Petra, and I had a long-standing bread baking contest that Petra won. We ate every meal together. Maksim was practicing setting/cleaning up the table. We established some new routines. We played Monopoly cards, board games, did lots of puzzles. These lockdown days were indeed the highlight of our overall Refresh Journey – being able to spend this time together in the most peaceful, relaxed state.

Nina kept doing a few of the 100-piece puzzles we had in our Airbnb, but once he mastered them, we were in search for more. We came across a sweet lady during one of our walks and I flat out asked her if she had any puzzles to share with us. It was a random ask that resulted in a successful addition of new puzzles for Nina. Then our wonderful neighbors asked some of their friends, and before we knew it, Nina’s puzzle collection grew considerably.

We watched an embarrassingly high number of streaming shows. Pedja made it his mission to introduce the kids to all sorts of classic movies – Back to the Future, Rocky, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day off, Home Alone, etc.). We celebrated Maksim’s 9th birthday via Zoom with friends and family in Seattle. During one of our daily walks, we passed by 3 skateboarders in their 20s, and I asked them if they possibly hd another skateboard that we could rent from them. It turned out that these super sweet guys were living close to us, and they just gave Maksim one skateboard to use during the lockdown. From then on, Maksim got into skateboarding on sidewalks and parking lots, and much later on, when we got into Level 2, we started going to skateparks.

Since our travel stopped abruptly, we had a significant amount of prepaid travel arrangements that we weren’t able to use – motorhome rental in New Zealand, airline tickets to Fiji, then Japan, and finally back to Europe. We also had our tickets from Europe back to the US and prepaid Airbnb reservations for a month of stay in Paris. Successfully recovering the funds from these reservations was the only serious work I did during that month.

I know that I have experienced a mixture of guilt (knowing that people worldwide were dying or suffering) and gratefulness for the privilege of not currently working and being able to stop and truly enjoy the quietness of that time with just the 5 of us. We were stuck in the country that did the lockdown well. We could get out of the house every day, without the need to wear a mask, just keeping the distance from each other. We were staying in a comfortable place, in a perfect location, in the city center of Christchurch, steps away from gorgeous parks, with all the comforts of a well-stocked home, food, and internet entertainment.

Our Level 4 lockdown lasted for 5 weeks (March 25 – April 29) straight, during which time community transmission was brought down to virtually nothing. The next stage was another 2 weeks of Level 3 (April 29 – May 13) and from that moment on, we were done with any noticeable covid related restrictions. Nothing changed for us during Level 3 except that a few more businesses were able to open their doors for deliveries only, and some construction projects were resumed.

It took 7 weeks to bring the community transmission down to 0, and from that moment on, the whole country then enjoyed 100 straight days with no new community transmitted cases.

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