Seeing the welcoming beauty of Bream Bay from the top of the Brynderwyn Hills last Saturday was quite something for two weary Northlanders returning home after an almost three month road trip.
My partner and I left Whangārei on January 8 for a trip to the South Island. We took the ferry crossing on the 17th and began exploring the Tasman / Marlborough area.
This was followed by time spent on the West Coast, then a zig-zag of alpine crossings as we took in Christchurch, Tekapo, Timaru, Mt Cook, Wanaka and Dunedin, venturing as far south as Stewart Island. Then from Invercargill across to Te Anau and up the West Coast again taking in the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers to Hokitika before crossing to Kaikoura via Hanmer Springs for the journey home.
Hovering in the background all this time, particularly from mid to late January, and gradually emerging into a daily consideration from late February, was the Covid 19 Coronavirus outbreak.
When the announcement was made that the country was going to level 2 on Saturday March 21 we were in Kaikoura. People aged 70 plus had to stay home, said the prime minister.
We had booked a ferry crossing in early March for Friday the 27th. This could be interesting, I remember thinking. As part of the arrangement for this trip, I had been working Monday to Wednesday remotely. We had to park in a town or city for this as I needed power for my laptop.
Then on Monday the 23rd the PM announced we were going to level 3 immediately then level 4, 48 hours later on Wednesday, March 25.
Let's try and change our ferry crossing booking, I thought. We tried but without success.
I have to admit a fair bit of panic began to creep into the rest of the day as I worked behind the scenes on the next edition, curating the website and social media.
The messaging from the PM had an apocalyptic tone and sense of urgency. Where you are on Wednesday is where you will stay for the next four weeks, I think she said. Ugh, I thought. I'm in Kaikoura. Hmmm. Not so bad though, nice little town, the mountains right up against the coast, so beautiful. Good climate too. But what if this goes on for much longer? Not so good. Do they still have earthquakes?
So I rang the government helpline explaining my situation. An hour on hold and finally someone answered.
Because you are travelling to self-isolate at home this is essential travel. You can keep your booking and drive home, she said reassuringly. Oh well that's a relief, I thought.
However during the next 48 hours the messages to get home were 100 to 1 on the "get home now" side of the fence. Understandably I was getting stressed.
We couldn't get home of our own volition - there was a bloody big stretch of water in the way. The situation was beyond our control. But the messaging continued - where you are on Wednesday is where you will stay for the next four weeks.
Unable to control things ourselves we would have to trust that the government helpline lady had given us the right info.
The 48 hour deadline of 11.59pm passed on Wednesday but had been extended to Friday in a last minute announcement. Our ferry crossing was at 2.15pm on Friday arriving in Wellington at 6pm. Six hours to get to Whangarei? I don't think so. My anxiety levels increased again.
The next day the birds were up as usual and so was the sun. And so our journey north was to begin.
We decided to travel to Picton on Thursday and stay overnight at Koromiko. The 150km trip was devoid of vehicles apart from several police cars and trucks. Would the police pull us over I wondered? Nothing happened. We arrived without incident at the Motor Caravan Association park over property for the night. A calm and peaceful rural spot with about 15 other travellers in the same situation.
Getting to the ferry was a bit of an ordeal. We still weren't sure what would happen. The traffic control folk directed us to come back in a couple of hours. We waited in anticipation of the next step - check-in. The relief was profound when we were handed our boarding passes.
Soon we were in the queue to drive on to the ferry Kaitaki. The atmosphere on the vessel was subdued. The passengers were mostly tourists. Everyone was cautious about the distancing, which was good.
We got off the ship and started our trip north with a strong sense of urgency. No traffic, apart from trucks heading south. We found a place to park and sleep at about 2am, just past Hamilton. What a ride, the road was ours. Is this what life after people would look like, I wondered?
Up early and through Auckland, across the bridge, through the tunnel, Warkworth, Wellsford, Kaiwaka and over the Brynderwyns.
As we got closer to Whangarei we saw a few police cars and wondered when we might be stopped. Sure enough we were pulled over near Mata. Everything was fine and we could carry on home.
The lady on government helpline had given us the right info.
* A big shout out to the people of Kaikoura for their kindness and hospitality, especially Kaikoura RSA president Yvonne Morrison who let us park in the driveway of her house.
Nick Unkovich is the digital editor production for the Northern Advocate