Pandemic Diary from PAPAMOA, New Zealand: week 4

Officially, we are just completing Week 2 of our “Freedom from COVID” visit to New Zealand. We spent the first two weeks in a managed isolation facility after leaving San Francisco on a flight to Auckland via Los Angeles. We were released and allowed to enter normal society on November 23.

After celebrating Thanksgiving at Papamoa Beach in a sprawling suburban house with our family in the Tauranga area, my husband Gee Kin and I transferred to a cozy cottage in the Papamoa Hills. There is a view in the distance framed by the Bay of Plenty, Mt. Manganui and the South Pacific Ocean.

Our short walks up the road from the cottage revealed plenty of flora and fauna. Without much effort, we sauntered past sheep and cattle grazing in the rolling hills, a horse next door, and birds including tuis, pheasants, and hawks.

I picked a bouquet of wild hydrangeas and daisies along the roadside in the midst of tropical ferns hidden in an alien pine forest. The non-native species here are now shunned. A massive national campaign is underway to return the natural environment to native species.

By the end of the week we couldn’t wait to get back to the beach. We could roll out of car in the free parking lot in 15 minutes and immediately feel the sand between our toes. We walked an hour each way without seeing many people as the beach stretched miles before us.

Daughter Julianne, partner Jeff, and precious Baby Felix are having lunch on the balcony of their barn on the avocado and lemon farm where they are staying in Te Puke, kiwi fruit capital of the world.

Why are we in New Zealand?

Five million residents in New Zealand (of which 13% are Maori) are currently able to move about and conduct daily life normally as they have always prior to the advent of COVID-19 in March, 2020. Under the leadership of the prime minister, the New Zealand government tackled the pandemic early and “hard”. 

Around 70,000 New Zealand citizens who were living abroad have been repatriated. Qualified spouses or partners of New Zealand citizens, like me, are allowed to join members of their families. New Zealanders have had a tradition of taking a couple of years abroad to do an “OE” (overseas experience). Many who have been living in other countries are now returning for the first time.

In March, there was a complete lockdown throughout the country. The international borders were closed and all incoming travel was banned.  All businesses were closed (no takeout or delivery) and residents could not leave their homes except to buy groceries. This lasted for about a month.  Except for a few minor breaches, the country has managed to contain any major outbreaks. Services and facilities were gradually opened by levels in a rational, consistent fashion with minimal reversals.

Around 6,000 hotel spaces are provided throughout the country to monitor and test returnees before they are released after 14 days with no symptoms. Travelers cannot come to New Zealand without a voucher for managed isolation facility. Over the upcoming holiday period, spaces are booked out. Airlines do not allow passengers to fly to NZ without a valid voucher for quarantine. Other island countries such as Taiwan, Korea and Japan have implemented similar policies for quarantine.

During the 14-day isolation period, travelers are given two nasal tests. The Ministry of Health calls daily to check in and take temperatures. The only times isolees are allowed to leave their rooms is for pre-booked 40-minute exercises in a confined outdoor area, where those exercising are escorted and monitored by Defense personnel.

New Zealand has always been extremely protective of its land and environment and prevents external hazards or pestilence to enter the country. COVID-19 policies are an extension of existing policies. Because New Zealand relies heavily on its tourism industry, it is also important to preserve its crown jewels for the future.

While only a tiny country by international standards, New Zealand has focused on what it can do in a responsible manner to protect its people. In close collaboration with the Ministries of Immigration and Quarantine, Health, and Defense, the government has maintained an explicit program to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

And to complete the punchline for being here: it was a serendipitous adventure by Gee Kin’s father, who arrived in New Zealand in 1906 at the age of 19 from China to discover, like all immigrants, his fame and fortune. He stayed and left a legacy for his descendants from which we now benefit.

6 thoughts on “Pandemic Diary from PAPAMOA, New Zealand: week 4”

  1. I am so happy for you. Things are really bad here. People travelled during Thanksgiving and we are expecting a surge on top of the surge we are dealing with. Your grandson is really good looking. Miss you and Gee Kin. Stay well and be safe. s

    On Sun, Dec 6, 2020 at 1:49 PM Travels with Myself and Others wrote:

    > VickieVictoria posted: ” Officially, we are just completing Week 2 of our > “Freedom from COVID” visit to New Zealand. We spent the first two weeks in > a managed isolation facility after leaving San Francisco on a flight to > Auckland via Los Angeles. We were released and allowed to ” >


    1. Hope you and Victor are able to hold on until after the holidays and the vaccine program is established! We are reading about all the disasters since we left. We never imagined that we were escaping such dire circumstances at the time. Felix is a joy to behold and I hope you will be able to see him soon! Thanks for the good wishes and for writing!


  2. Hi Victoria:

    Great to get your news from NZ and to see all three generations, smiling & happy. It’s truly a blessing in these benighted times.

    I can certainly understand your enthusiasm for getting back from sheep-in-the-hills to sand-between-the-toes at the beach.

    Spare me a small self-indulgence. Te Puke is stuck in my memory for two reasons. First, when I was 18, I spent a summer in Antarctica with two other callow youths. One, John Gemming, was from Te Puke. A very nice guy, who died suddenly in his early 30s and I still don’t know why. But, more generally, Te Puke was known to us now elderly Kiwis as the first place in NZ (and perhaps the only place in NZ) to see a “millionaire boom”. The kiwi fruit export boom started in the Te Puke area in the 1960s. Exporters made millions—very unusual in NZ—and predictably built mega-mansions, etc. The boom lasted maybe 10-20 years before kiwi fruit growing spread to Chile, Italy, California, etc. At which point prices collapsed and there were no more millions to be made. But you might still see the occasional kiwifruit mansion around Te Puke. Also, it was the first time that NZ had pulled off a real marketing coup. When I was a child, this fruit was known as the “Chinese gooseberry”—and I believe that it really did come from China. But the NZ Horticultural Marketing Board (one of NZ’s finer socialist institutions) decided to rename it as Kiwifruit (later just Kiwi). And, amazingly, the name stuck. So there you have it, my potted history of the Kiwifruit, most likely inaccurate.

    Lots of love from the Bay Area…😎😎

    David Craig

    PS, I have password issues with WordPress, so am replying by regular email +1 (917) 399-0219



    1. Hi David, what a delight to hear from you, and your musings about Te Puke and its kiwifruit history. Gee Kin had never heard the story before. I am not surprised by the lucrative kiwi growing in this temperate area–it reminds me of the Salinas Valley in California. We drove through the town of Te Puke yesterday, and although it did look very traditional and dated, it certainly was affluent and comfortable. The schools are very impressive with huge lawns for any type of sport imaginable. The further north you go, the more upscale the neighborhood. We really enjoyed a week in a sprawling suburban style home at Papamoa Beach that simulates Newport Beach. And further beyond are all the tourist areas with food, bars, shopping and activities for all. Tauranga is now the fourth largest metropolitan area after Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin, so the population has mushroomed to 140,000. Please continue commenting as we go! We love hearing your perspective on your childhood memories of places near and dear. I will send you another invitation to subscribe and that may take care of any connectivity problems with WordPress.


  3. “Except for a few minor breaches, the country has managed to contain any major outbreaks. Services and facilities were gradually opened by levels in a rational, consistent fashion with minimal reversals.”

    As opposed to the shambolic response to the virus in the US!


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