The new New Zealander

Moving continents in midlife


Double bed in hotel room strewn with clothes

August 2021

So, we've actually done it.

Almost exactly a year after we had a conversation about returning to my partner's adopted country, we're looking around a small, very brown hotel room, knowing this will be our home for the next 14 days.

Or, to be precise, 333 hours. That's the 336 we have to spend in managed isolation, minus the time it took to get from Auckland airport and up to the 8th floor of the Rydges hotel in the Central Business District of Aotearoa New Zealand's biggest city.

From the cab picking us up to take us to the airport at 14:30 UK time on the Thursday to slumping on our hotel bed at 14:30 NZ time on Saturday, we spent just shy of 40 hours travelling, wearing a face mask for the entire time.

Woman in face mask asleep on the plane

But we're the lucky ones.

The media – mainstream and social – has been full of stories about the failings of the country's MIQ system recently. It's the only way Kiwis can return home during the COVID-19 pandemic and it's creaking under the strain.

Shutting the borders early has left the country with zero current community cases of the virus, but has left some residents stranded abroad. The process of securing one of the limited number of vouchers that will allow them to enter the strict two-week quarantine system has come under an avalanche of fire in recent weeks. (Excuse the mixed metaphor. The jet lag is real.)

We booked our golden ticket back in March, following a week or so of continually refreshing the MIQ website to find a slot. We chose late summer so we could sort everything out and spend both our birthdays with our respective families – me in London and him in Auckland.

We thought it was stressful at the time, but I've now seen so many frustrated, despairing and angry people who've been trying for months with no success, I realise we had it easy. Applying before the bots and 'pay me your life savings to secure your place' opportunists had taken control of the system had been a brilliant move that we had no idea we were making at the time.

Do I feel guilty that someone like me, who's been to the country a handful of times on holiday, is currently in an Auckland hotel room having a cotton bud rammed forcefully up my nose by a friendly tester in full PPE to check I don't have what my partner's son calls 'the Rona'?

Sometimes. I'm well aware that my place in this country is down to the fact that I fell in love with a Kiwi and I'm only here courtesy of a recently awarded resident partner visa. Which basically means that, legally, I'm merely an extension of a bloke called Phil.

But mainly, I feel excited and grateful, that at the age of 58, home-loving, cowardly me, who's lived most of my life in now-fashionable-but-before-that-generally-regarded-as-a-bit-shit-Walthamstow, is on the verge of my own Big Adventure, literally on the other side of the world.

Bring it on.

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