There are more than 50,000 tourists hunkering down in New Zealand at the moment; only 3000 left the country after lockdown ended.

Figures released to the Herald by Immigration New Zealand show, as of May 27, there were 53,244 temporary visitors in the country, excluding Australians.

These were people in New Zealand on a Visitor Visa, which allows them to stay for up to nine months but does not allow them to work. The figure also includes people travelling to New Zealand on a visa waiver agreement.

The number is about 20,000 fewer than the same time last year.


United States couple Brooke and Buddy, who did not want their surnames used, are two of the 50,000 who stayed in New Zealand to weather the coronavirus storm.

A major factor in their decision to stay was their fears America could not adequately handle the pandemic - fears that have proven true as the US became the world's epicentre for the virus.

Numbers of confirmed cases in the States are nearing 2 million, and the country recently reached a sobering milestone of 100,000 deaths related to the disease.

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Brooke and Buddy, who sheltered near Dunedin during level 4, said they were "lucky" to be in New Zealand when the shutdowns began.

"We've been travelling full time for three years," said Brooke, who told the Herald their trip to New Zealand was supposed to finish at the end of April.

As lockdown approached and Covid-19 spread across the globe, the couple had to make the difficult decision to stay put, knowing it cast uncertainty over when they would see their loved ones again.

"For a long time we've felt like the healthcare in the United States was just, you know, really awful," Brooke said.


"We knew the healthcare system wasn't prepared for that.

"Every single friend and family member we spoke with just told us to stay in New Zealand . . . we are really glad that we stayed."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives at Te Puia in Rotorua for meeting with tourism leaders. Video / Kelly Makiha

Brooke and Buddy knew if they returned home they would need to cross the whole country to reach family, meaning they faced numerous contact points with other people where they would need to find gas, accommodation and food.

Then they faced the prospect of exposing their loved ones to the virus unknowingly, something they weren't willing to risk.

They did not feel "stuck" in New Zealand, but did struggle with the knowledge it could be a long time before they returned home or continued their lifestyle of regular travelling.

"We were getting these messages from the US Government like 'come back now or be prepared to be gone indefinitely,' and that's such an intense thing to read and you do kind of panic a little bit, but luckily we were able to take a breath and logic it out," Brooke said.


"My husband looked at me and was like: 'it might be years before we can go back and see our family and friends.'

"We've been travelling for multiple years, and as a traveller you kind of have that in the back of your head that if something big happens and someone needs you, you might not make it back in time, and that's just a sacrifice you make."

They had found New Zealand a great place to stay safe, and appreciated that even during the height of the lockdown strangers on the street would still wave and smile.

"We've realised how lucky we are to be in New Zealand during all of this, which the whole world has looked at as probably the best place you could be."

The number of tourists in the country has plummeted by 30,000 since the beginning of the lockdown.

On March 27, two days after level 4 began, Immigration NZ recorded 82,281 temporary visitors as being in the country. This was compared to 134,824 on the same day last year.


By April 27, the number had fallen to 56, 224, half as many people as the same time in 2019.

Brooke and Buddy are unsure what the future holds for them when their visas expire later this year, but have tentative plans to head to Hawaii so they can at least be on US soil.

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