Hello again from New Zealand.
I haven't written lately, because it felt kind of frivolous, with all the serious stuff going on in the world, for me to blather on about what we've been doing. But then, recently, I thought, "Why not? Maybe somebody wants to know." So here goes.
Eric and I are still living aboard SCOOTS, who is still tied up snugly in the Hatea River at the Town Basin Marina, in Whangarei. Along with New Zealand's resident "Team of Five Million," we lived through nearly two months of a complete lockdown (we called it Level 4), during which we reduced and then squashed the virus's transmission in New Zealand. This allowed us to progress, cautiously, over the next few weeks, through Level 3 lockdown ("Level 4 with takeout"), Level 2, and now Level 1, where we've been holding since mid-June. As of this writing, New Zealand has no community transmission of the Covid-19 virus.
The Bubble Buddies celebrating the end of lockdown
Level 1 feels very much like what I would call "normal" life, with the notable exception of the continued closure of New Zealand's border. All businesses are open, large group events are allowed, we can hug friends again, and no one wears a mask to go grocery shopping. Though domestic travel is allowed again (it was banned during Levels 4 and 3), and even encouraged, international travel is barely a trickle, consisting almost entirely of Kiwis returning home from overseas. These returnees go straight into two weeks of supervised isolation in hotels, with a minimum of two mandatory Covid-19 tests during their stay, including a negative one before they're allowed to leave the hotel, all paid for by the NZ government. All of NZ's current Covid-19 cases have been brought in by returning Kiwis, detected and contained during quarantine.
The border is still closed to everyone who isn't a New Zealand citizen, with no indication of when it might be opened. And with the state of the virus in the rest of the world, there's not a lot of pressure to let potentially germy foreigners in, anyway. If we left New Zealand, we couldn't come back, so our plans are the same as they've been since March: stay here as long as we're allowed to, until next May or June, if possible, when the 2020-21 cyclone season has passed and we'd have our next chance to sail north to the tropics for the winter.
Like many foreign yachties, our visitor visas are good through September 25. When I wrote the first draft of this blog post, a few days ago, we didn't know what would happen after that, but we expected that NZ Immigration would come up with a reasonable policy. Breaking news: they did! Yesterday, NZ Immigration announced that they'll allow yachties who are already here on visitor visas to apply for another visa which will be good for up to a year. Woohoo!
Enough about the pandemic. Let me fill you in on some of what Eric and I have been up to.
Once we'd stepped down to Level 1, and were allowed gather in large groups again, of course we cruisers threw a party. Not just a party for ourselves, but a multi-faceted, multi-venue, "thank you!" kind of party, open to everyone, to thank the people and council of Whangarei for making us feel welcome and safe here, during the pandemic.
So many of us foreign yachties had said, "We love it here!", so often, that we thought it appropriate to share this sentiment with the people of our neighborhood. It also happens to be the motto of Whangarei, so quite fitting.
We held our party on the winter solstice, which as you know coincides with the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, on which auspicious astronomical date many boating-related events (including parties) are traditionally held. We decorated our boats with lots of brightly-colored flags, creating a sea of color in the marinas.
A sea of color
We planned to have a live band on the covered bridge at the head of the marina; a blessing by a Maori elder; a cannon salute with real (small but loud) cannons;
Small but loud
a presentation to the mayor of Whangarei of a banner signed by all of us cruisers;
The banner signed by the yachties
a big dinner with a DJ and dancing; a putting tournament on a small green constructed on the marina's dinghy dock;
Putting for bragging rights
and slideshows displaying videos and photos shared by cruisers, shown on several video screens.
One of the aspects that felt really special to me, was how each person contributed to making the party happen in whichever way that he or she enjoyed, so none of it felt like work. Those who liked to plan events did so; those who liked to cook for the big dinner did so;
The fabulous home made fajita spread
those who liked to set up and decorate did that;
Decorating the putting green
someone who enjoyed putting slideshows together collected the videos and images and created a stunning presentation; those who liked to publicize events did that; those who were artists painted the banner and signs;
one cruiser who is a talented photographer (Michelle Marshall) documented the events of the day, and in fact most of the photos in this blog post were taken by her; those who liked to sew created seat covers and banners; those who liked to play golf constructed the putting green and held putting tournaments on the day of the party; those who liked to play music played with the band.
The RDM Band and Friends
That last was how Eric and I contributed.
Eric playing bass
Having reunited with the other half of our musical buddies - we'd been separated during the lockdown, since their boats are at a nearby, but different, marina from us - we practiced every day for the week prior to the party and then had a great time playing several gigs during the party weekend.
I felt inspired to splurge, adding a bongo stand and a guiro to my percussion stash.
Van playing bongos
We even got the mayor to dance!
A few of my friends who jokingly call me the "weather goddess," put me in charge of the weather for the day of the party, since many of the events would be held outside. I don't know how much you know about Northland New Zealand winter weather, but to call it "changeable" would just about begin to cover it. Anyway, after reminding my friends that it's much easier to plan an event based on a forecast, than to plan an event and then change the forecast (which was not looking good in this case) to a better one, I promised to do what I could. I even burned my sage bundle on a couple of occasions, in case the fragrant smoke might please the weather gods, thereby enticing them to dispel the rainy day that was predicted.
It was pouring as we set up under the cover of the canopy bridge in the morning. I walked the docks one more time with my smoking sage bundle, protected under my umbrella. Over the course of the next couple of hours, the rain began to let up, until, just as the Maori elder completed his blessing at noon, the official starting time of our party, the clouds broke, the sun shone through, and the rest of the day was sunny. Thank you, weather gods!
It was fun to mingle with people from Whangarei, who came by to see what the "crazy foreign yachties" were up to this time, to enjoy the music, the slideshow, and the putting green, with the colorful backdrop of hundreds of flags flapping in the breeze on our decorated boats. The dinner party that evening, with its dancing and merriment, was a great release, after weeks of strict separation.
The idea of being in one location for such a long time is strange to many of us yachties, who've spent years traveling from place to place. Strange, but not necessarily bad. In some ways, I find it a refreshing change, a different sort of adventure. As we yachties tend to be an adaptable bunch (a useful quality for our way of life), many of us have embraced our unexpected "bonus time" in New Zealand as an opportunity to do more exploring here, and help the local economy in the meantime. This year, instead of having a tropical adventure, we'll have a sub-tropical, temperate, or an alpine adventure - maybe even all three! - as we set off to get to know this land that has taken us in during the pandemic. Eric and I, for example, recently returned from a fun two-week driving trip with a couple of our friends, around the central part of the North Island. More on that in another blog post. This week, about a dozen cruisers are embarking on a ski trip to the South Island. Others are currently scattered all around New Zealand, exploring by camper van, motor home, or car. There's plenty to see and do, right here in New Zealand.
Another positive aspect of knowing that we'll be here for awhile, is that many of us have begun longer-term activities, that we really couldn't commit to, when we knew we'd be here for only a short time. Cruisers have begun volunteering at the local SPCA, second-hand shops, and other places that can use extra hands, or enrolled in multi-month classes and workshops. Besides feeding the sparrows, ducks and gulls at the marina each day, I've begun volunteering at the Native Bird Recovery Centre, a place where sick or injured birds can find medical help and a safe place to get back on their feet - or wings.
Robert with a kiwi
Wendy with a big gull
The visitor center
I love working there, and look forward to "being with the birds" each week.
This year, we're settling into our lives here in a more substantial way, putting down some semi-permanent roots, extending our energies more widely into our community, than we would in a "normal" year, when we knew we'd be leaving in a few months. This year, maybe as a result of weathering the lockdown alongside the "Team of Five Million," it almost feels as though we're residents of New Zealand, rather than just visiting. We may even start saying things like, "Sweet as!" or "I reckon," or Yeah, nah." Oh, wait...we already do.
But though things are going well, at this moment, here in New Zealand, we all know that it only takes one or two slip-ups to allow community transmission to take off again, and throw us back into lockdown. We're all very cognizant of how things are going in the rest of the world. The news - especially that coming out of the States - regularly dismays or perplexes us, as it does everyone who's paying attention. All of us cruisers have families elsewhere; we miss you, and we worry about you. We can't be with you, and you can't be with us, for awhile. And it weighs on us. Take care of yourselves and each other, stay safe, and Be Kind.