On the day that it is announced in the Netherlands that our lockdown will last three more weeks, Judith (47), Mark (48) and their two children Isis (15) and Koss (11) are having a barbecue. In shorts and a T-shirt, with friends who don’t keep a meter and a half away.
‘A hand? That people still do ‘
Judith still finds it strange, all those people who hug her or shake hands. “You’re the third to give me a hug,” she says. “But when I first got a hand here, I really thought, ‘A hand?’ That people still do that “. Her husband Mark adds: “It is strange how quickly something so usual suddenly becomes uncomfortable.”
The family has had some rather busy weeks – and doesn’t seem to fully realize that they are now in New Zealand. Two months ago they could not have imagined that they are now barbecuing with old acquaintances in Queenstown, a small town on the South Island of New Zealand.
“One day we looked at each other and said, ‘Why not? Why not go back to New Zealand?’” Says Judith. Less than two months ago, the family took the plunge and decided to come to New Zealand to sit out the pandemic. Corona overwinter. “Five weeks later we were on the plane,” says Judith.
No corona measures
The coronavirus has been eliminated in New Zealand. Due to early and harsh intervention by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the number of corona infections was limited to about 2000. Only 25 New Zealanders died from the consequences of the corona virus. After a strict lockdown, normal life in the country was resumed and, except for mandatory masking in aircraft, corona measures no longer apply.
The virus did crop up a few times in New Zealand last year, but those outbreaks were quickly brought under control with a regional lockdown or source and contact investigation. Sports competitions have been going on since the middle of last year, packed restaurants are the order of the day and the turn of the year was also celebrated:
The only real measure that still applies in New Zealand is that the national borders are closed. How Judith and her family managed to get in? They had lived in New Zealand for nearly eight years in the past and then obtained permanent residency. “Although I didn’t think I would ever live in New Zealand again, I always made sure that that stamp remained in my passport,” says Mark. “You never know.”
In their twenties Mark and Judith, then childless, traveled the world. First to Asia, then to Australia and finally they ended up in New Zealand. They never intended to settle there. “But I found a job, we managed to get our residence permit and one thing led to another,” says Mark.
While they happily look back on their time there, at one point it had just been enough. “We did not have such a large social network and it was difficult for us to get involved with the kiwis (New Zealanders, ed.)”, Says Judith. “So then I drove an hour to the other side of town to visit Dutch friends.”
Nothing against New Zealand or the residents, but after eight years Mark wanted to go back. “Our parents got older and we missed Europe.”
That was easier said than done. The two had come to New Zealand with a few suitcases, but eight years later brought a sea container full of stuff and two children back to the Netherlands. Isis, the oldest, was six when they returned to the Netherlands. “That was also a convenient age to go back to school in the Netherlands,” says Judith.
Less beautiful, but very cozy
Once in the Netherlands, the family ended up in the vicinity of Haarlem. “We lived in a place that was much less beautiful than we were used to in New Zealand, but it was really nice,” says Judith. She continued to work for a New Zealand travel agency, Mark found a job at a pension fund.
Actually, it was, as far as New Zealand is concerned.
Until the pandemic started and the envious pictures from the other side of the world also reached Judith (47) and her family. In the middle of the second corona wave, but before the second lockdown, the couple made the headlong decision to pack their bags and book a flight to the other side of the world.
“At first I thought: that’s not possible at all,” says Judith. Although the family was allowed to enter the country and plane tickets were still available, there were many other practical objections. The children’s school, for example. And what to do with their owner-occupied home? And Mark’s job? And how did they get a place in time in the packed hotels where you are obliged to quarantine when you return to New Zealand?
The compulsory education for Isis (who is in third pre-university education) and Koss (who will go to secondary school next year) worried Judith in particular. “I decided to give it a call. And yes, the schools gave permission for the plan. Isis has to keep up with the subjects physics, chemistry and mathematics, because they will be in her curriculum next year.” Also, the two must be attending a New Zealand school for the next few months.
When the schools had given permission, everything accelerated. Inquiries with the municipality showed that you can stay away for eight months without having to unsubscribe. “That was a condition, because it has enormous financial consequences if you are no longer registered with the municipality.”
The owner-occupied home also appeared to pose few problems. “Apparently we live in a very popular neighborhood, so we quickly found a tenant”, says Judith. “It just turns out that we have a messy layout, so it was quite a job to tidy everything up.”
Mark’s employer agreed that he would continue to work in New Zealand. Due to the time difference of twelve hours, this is not always convenient. “It means that in New Zealand I sometimes have to get up at five in the morning for a phone call that takes place in the Netherlands at the end of the afternoon, but working from home is now the norm,” he explains. “So it hardly matters that I’m so far away.”
Fear of corona
Everything had been arranged, but the greatest danger had not yet passed: corona. “We have always adhered to the rules,” says Mark. “But once the whole plan was completed and we had to wait a few more weeks for our flight, we suddenly feared the corona virus even more.”
A contamination in the family would mean that the whole plan would fall into the water. “We wouldn’t be able to travel around the world if one of us were infected.” Due to the crowded New Zealand quarantine hotels, a canceled flight would mean that they could not find a place again until March of this year. “That would never have worked with the kids’ school,” says Judith.
Fortunately, the family remained corona-free and so left the Netherlands. Together they traveled to New Zealand through abandoned airports. The last flight, from Singapore to Auckland, took place on December 13. Above Brisbane, Australia, they suddenly had Wi-Fi. “My phone was full of messages,” says Judith.
“All friends wrote: ‘What a luck, your timing could not have been better.'” They had just gotten off the hook: just before they landed in Auckland, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Corona Minister Hugo de Jonge announced that the Netherlands would be in lockdown again. to go.
But before the family could face freedom, they first had to quarantine for two weeks in a New Zealand hotel. During that time they were tested several times for the virus. If they were free of complaints after two weeks and tested negative, they were allowed into the country.
“Fortunately we were allowed to go out a lot”, says daughter Isis, who is a fanatic skater. After several returning New Zealanders tried to escape the hotels in recent months, the military was deployed to secure the sites. “But the soldiers were very nice,” says Isis. “Many of them said that they also liked skateboarding as a child.”
Mark: “You had to wear a mouth mask everywhere, except in your own room”. The family slept in two different rooms. “If you wanted to walk that one meter across the hall to the other room, you first had to put on a face mask and tell a soldier where you wanted to go. But you follow the rules because you know it has a purpose.”
The family also spent Christmas in quarantine, but luckily the hotel had prepared itself very well. “Soldiers in Santa hats, an excellent Christmas dinner and very friendly staff. They really went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable,” says Mark.
And then the moment came that Judith, Mark, Isis and Koss were allowed out, on December 29. “That was such a cool moment,” says Isis. “We went straight to a skate park,” Koss continues. “Very strange how close everyone gets”, says Mark.
Leaving friends and family behind
During the first few days, they did notice that people kept their distance from them a little more when they said they had come to New Zealand from the Netherlands. “We got through the eye of the needle,” says Mark, grabbing another sausage from the barbecue. “If only something had gone wrong, we wouldn’t have been able to get here.”
Although she thinks it’s a cool adventure, Isis is afraid she will miss her two best friends. “We call each other a lot and we will probably meet in class again next year.”
The friends are jealous that Isis managed to ‘escape’. “But above all they are very happy for me.” The same goes for neighbors, relatives, colleagues and friends of the family. “New Zealand has always had a huge appeal,” said Mark. “Even without corona, people would have been jealous if I exchanged the Dutch winter for a New Zealand summer for eight months.”
In the coming weeks, the family will travel through New Zealand, past old acquaintances such as the Dutch friends with the barbecue in Queenstown. Judith’s job at the New Zealand travel agency is also very convenient: “We can all try out attractions for free that are not fully booked, because there are hardly any tourists here. Tomorrow we will probably go on a boat trip. It’s like all the puzzle pieces are gone. instead. “
Judith and Mark are happy to show their two children – partly thanks to the pandemic – something of their ‘second country’ New Zealand. Although it may seem like an adventure for Dutch people who are stuck, according to Judith it is not too bad. “New Zealand is not really the most exciting country to go to.”
“But we are very grateful to the New Zealand government,” said Judith. Not only because the government has gotten the corona virus under control so well, but also because it has been possible for them to enter the country. “Sometimes you just have to go. And then you will see how it comes. It’s fantastic here.”
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