Welcome to Auckland, where you can't buy a house or a hamburger.
Welcome to Auckland, gateway to Wānaka (via Hamilton).
Nau mai, haere mai to Tāmaki Makaurau, a small island at the top of the country where, last week, the team of 1,630,092 million benched two players pending an inquiry into how anyone aged 26 or 35 could afford a holiday home in the Queenstown-Lakes District.
In the fourth week of the level 4 lockdown, the City of Sails was beached and becalmed (assuming said beach was less than 5km away by bicycle and you were definitely exercising on said bicycle). Nobody was going anywhere. Nobody was doing anything. We tracked courier parcels of cheese and price-checked air fryers and, for a complete change of pace, followed the progress of a bar-tailed godwit enroute from Alaska.
On Saturday, the Pūkorokoro Miranda Naturalists' Trust announced the only adult kuaka with an operating transmitter was well on his way to Aotearoa. Yesterday, an update:
"Well, the godwit has had quite an adventure but ended up where he started, after flying for 57 hours and covering 4200km he is back on the Yukon delta. Now he will have to refuel and hope he gets better weather on his next attempt."
We are all that tiny godwit now. Two steps forward, 33 new daily community cases back.
On the day the current Delta outbreak case numbers totalled 955 people, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced what surprised nobody - Auckland would stay at level 4 for another week, and the rest of the country would stay at level 2.
For a while, there had been a light at the end of Auckland's tunnel. I imagined it the colour of the sun striking bach curtains, church windows, restaurant doorways and all the other places we couldn't go. It was the glow of something golden in a glass sipped in the company of friends eating food that didn't contain mince. In those dreams, my pants had a waistband and the gap between hot showers had narrowed by at least two days. Now, that optimism is on hold. Again.
Since last March, Aucklanders have clocked up 106 days and counting in lockdown limbo. If you didn't cry, you'd dress your entire family as bananas for their daily walk. A woman on Twitter reported this exact scenario and the responses were astonishing: "One of our neighbours drags a lil sailing boat, he's dressed up as a pirate ship every day, while his kids run around sword fighting on it." My friend who is renting in Herne Bay says she'd be happy if her neighbours just wore masks.
In lockdown, the smallest things irritate. A crucial work password expires and the logon I can't remember is on a Post-it Note in an office that feels as foreign as lipstick. When the Covid 19 Response Minister drinks from a novelty mug at a 1pm update my fury mounts: I'm tuning in for the numbers, not the jokes - save the levity for the level 1 after-party.
On the strangest, saddest days my inner provincial pragmatist demands I soldier on because I have a job and a roof and homemade pizza. I shave my legs for the first time in a month and consider collecting the clippings to knit socks. I pull a shoulder muscle stirring approximately $1m worth of glace cherries, currants and tradition. Christmas is still not guaranteed, but at least there will be cake.
There will also be vaccines. Government negotiations have resulted in an extra 250,000 Pfizer doses from Spain; twice that from Denmark. As of 1pm yesterday, 35 per cent of us were double-jabbed and 68 per cent had received their first dose. And there is more positive news.
The end of level 4 is further away than we'd like, but at the end of the fourth week, there was a silver lining; an unexpected and unprecedented shift in the national narrative.
Once upon a time, the rest of New Zealand hated Aucklanders - now, it is offering thanks, discounts and free shipping to the '09.
"We owe you a debt of gratitude," said Ardern.
This is Auckland as you've never seen it before. Hero, underdog and absolute freakin' legend. The New Zealander of the Year is a team of 1,630,090 million.