It's hard to believe that just over a month ago, my love and I were in Sydney, basking in the colourful revelry of Mardi Gras. We drank bubbles on the plane, went shopping in the CBD, and joined the crowd of thousands to watch the parade. It was legal then to congregate. It was also legal to travel. It seems like a lifetime ago, in much sunnier times. Such a trip across the Tasman would be inconceivable now.
While we're stuck staring at our four walls, I'm sure many of us have daydreamed about lounging about on a tropical beach, cocktail in hand. It's an attractive fantasy that seems a long way off, as even when travel restrictions begin to ease, travellers will grapple with a vastly changed travel industry.
While I wholeheartedly encourage daydream-travel to faraway tropical islands, bustling metropoles, and the many wonders of our world, when we're all let out of home detention, I'd humbly suggest that we stay local – at least for the first 12 months.
I was lucky enough to be born into a tourism family. My parents owned and operated hotels, cafes and other tourism businesses in the tourism capital of New Zealand – Rotorua. Tourism is an exciting industry packed full of fascinating characters. It employs all kinds of people, from cleaning staff to adventure tourism practitioners to pilots to marketing executives. It's creative, innovative, and can be hugely fun to work in. It's also tough, particularly on the hospitality side, and can involve long hours and exhausting work.
It's much tougher, however, when there are no tourists.
I can't put into words the magnitude of the impact that Covid-19 is having upon our tourism and hospitality industries. My heart breaks for the many New Zealanders who will lose their incomes not only for the period of the shutdown, but for many months, or even years afterwards as the tourism, travel and hospitality industries slowly kick back into gear. Many of us will do it tough over the next six-12 months, but I can think of few industries that will be as utterly decimated as tourism.
With that in mind, I'd like to propose a return to the good old Kiwi holiday. While our tourism industry grapples with the worst downturn it's likely ever seen, let's help out our fellow New Zealanders by travelling within New Zealand. When we're finally allowed to travel domestically again, if we're financially able to, let's try to take holidays in our own backyard.
There's a reason why people travel from all over the world to visit New Zealand. Even if you're a regular domestic traveller, there will undoubtedly be things here in Aotearoa that you haven't yet done. Have you ever, for example, eaten a hāngī? Trekked through one of our national parks? Been skiing? Watched kapa haka?
Have you been to see the glow-worms at Waitomo Caves? Have you ridden a horse along Ninety-Mile Beach? Been to FAWC (the Food and Wine Classic) in Hawke's Bay? Attended the Waiheke Jazz Festival? Been to Lanarch Castle in Dunedin? Gone bird-watching on Stewart Island? Been bungy-jumping in Queenstown?
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Or, have you been to Rotorua in the last 15 years? If you haven't, you're in for a big surprise. My beloved hometown sometimes suffers from out-of-date hangover perceptions from the 1980s, but particularly over the last decade, it has evolved into an amazing place to spend a weekend, or better still, a whole week.
For example, for a weekend getaway, you could arrive on a Friday evening, hit Eat Street for dinner, and head to the Polynesian Spa for a relaxing dip in the mineral waters beside Lake Rotorua before turning in for the night. On Saturday morning you could get out to go mountain biking on Rotorua's world-class mountain biking tracks before going to grab a bite at Lime, Capers or Terrace Kitchen to refuel.
In the afternoon you could go luge-ing at Skyline, before returning to the bottom of the hill for a wine-tasting at Volcanic Hills winery. After that evening after dinner at Urbano or The Regent Room you could head to the Redwoods to do the night-time tree walk, or you could head to Tāmaki Village for a hāngī and a cultural show. On Sunday you could play a round of golf then pop over to Te Puia to walk around the thermal valley before heading home.
Whatever your idea of an amazing holiday, our little country likely has something for everyone. While it can be tempting to dream of jumping on a big jet plane at the earliest opportunity to cure our national cabin fever, let's try to think of our domestic tourist workers and businesses first.
In a time when any and all silver linings are welcome, here's a bright side to this awful situation: the aftermath of these economically devastating Covid-19 restrictions could give us the opportunity to reconnect with our beautiful country. Nau mai, haere mai, New Zealand. Let's explore our own backyard.