In our new series, Life after Lockdown, Stephanie Holmes talks to Kiwis overseas to find out how they're faring and what the world is like for them now. First up, TVNZ's Europe Correspondent, Daniel Faitaua.
Daniel Faitaua first headed over to London in August 2019 to take up his dream job as TVNZ's Europe correspondent. Just over six months later, he was plunged into strict lockdowns that went on (and off) until July this year.
Travel opportunities have now opened up again for those in the UK, and Daniel and family have certainly made the most of it, with a recent holiday to visit the Greek Islands.
He shares his thoughts on lockdown, home, and his advice for NZ-based Kiwis who are once more stuck in alert level four.
What was the hardest part of the ongoing UK lockdowns for you?
Dealing with the pandemic on two fronts, as a journalist and as a husband and father. As a visual journalist I can't work from home, so reporting in the field on a daily basis posed a big health risk – for me and my family. As a father, it was hard to watch how lockdown upturned the lives of my teenage boys at a time when they were becoming more independent and taking steps towards their future. Instead, they were confined to home.
How does life in London feel now things have opened up again?
Life here in London is largely returning to normal. High streets have regained much of their former bustle, restaurants and bars are buzzing again, commuters are packing the capital's underground stations and capacity crowds have returned to sports stadiums. It feels like everybody's moved on, even if the virus hasn't. The UK's recording more than 30,000 new Covid cases a day as hospitalisations and covid deaths continue to rise and it feels here in England, we're just accepting it – this is the price of freedom.
You've recently been on holiday on the Greek Islands – did you have any hesitation about travelling overseas again?
No hesitation at all! Living in some form of lockdown for a year meant work travel across the UK and Europe was non-existent. On top of that, I got to experience my first English summer this year – wet and dreary - so I was hanging out for European borders to reopen safely, so we could chase the summer sun.
What was the process like getting to the destination?
In all honesty, it was a smooth process provided you did your homework. Departing Heathrow, we checked in online by uploading vaccine certificates and proof of negative anti-gen Covid tests for my two older boys. On arrival in Athens, police at the gate inspected our vaccination certificates and passenger locator forms - within minutes my family were ushered through immigration and passports stamped.
What were your first impressions of Greece?
Hot. 36C! And, those postcards were not Photoshopped – Greece is truly that beautiful!
What were some of your highlights from the trip?
Experiencing the Acropolis in Athens, getting lost in the narrow cobblestone streets of Mykonos, souvlaki and history on the island of Naxos, and falling in love with Santorini's stunning panoramic views, romantic sunsets and beautiful beaches.
What is it like in Greece from a Covid-logistical point of view? Masks? Social distancing?
Masks are mandatory indoors and on public transport. If we dined indoors, we had to provide our full Covid certificates (phone app or hardcopy). Full Covid certificates were also required when travelling from Athens to the Cyclades islands by ferry, and our two older boys (12 and 14) had to provide negative lateral flow tests which cost around €3 from the chemist. A maximum of three persons could ride in one taxi/Uber. There was no social distancing at all. We had planned to travel to Crete but the week before we arrived Crete was put into partial lockdown so we tweaked our itinerary and stayed longer in Santorini.
Has the holiday helped bring more of a sense of positivity to you and your family? Are you feeling more hopeful about the future since you travelled?
Absolutely, this holiday has helped us all de-stress and boosted our mental health. We all feel well-rested and less anxious. I've noticed a fresh wave of motivation and the strength to keep life moving forward.
Will you be planning more overseas holidays now?
Europe is filled with diverse countries, cultures, cuisine, history and languages so as autumn looms then turns into winter, I'm planning to visit Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany.
You've signed up for another year in London – what were the main factors that helped you make your decision to stay?
I've fallen in love with London. Two years on, London continues to surprise and excite me. I still discover interesting things and never run out of people to meet. Covid and the UK restrictions confined me professionally and personally, so the extension is all about making up for the lost year.
What does your family love about living in London?
Our support network, the London underground, double-decker buses, royal palaces and castles, the array of markets, Harry Potter, Europe on your doorstep, museums, catching a West End show and the magic of Christmas in winter.
What do you miss most about being in New Zealand?
Family and friends, great coffee, steak 'n' cheese pies, Whittaker's chocolate and being within close range of a beach.
What advice do you have for New Zealanders who are once again back in lockdown?
Remember this isn't going to last forever. Get some fresh air and sun, check on your neighbours, support small businesses and be kind to yourself ... you will all come out of this stronger.