The new New Zealander

Moving continents in midlife

MIQ: Week 2

Our second week in MIQ continues pretty much like the first. To be honest, these final days have all merged into each other. We read more books and watch more TV. The hotel has cable and we spend a good deal of time bingeing episodes of Salvage Hunters, something we never did back in the UK.

I watch a lot of news programmes to try to get to know more about the country that will be our home for the foreseeable future. It feels very uncomfortable seeing the presenters on TVNZ's breakfast show sitting so close together, having just arrived from Plague Island, with social distancing on live TV programmes for the past 18 months.

I've been trying to learn some Te Reo Maori. The language is increasingly used in public settings and on TV. There's a big movement to change the country's name to Aotearoa (often translated as 'land of the long white cloud') and Government ministers now commonly talk about Aotearoa New Zealand. A poll soon after we arrive found 40 per cent of people back incorporating Aotearoa in the country's name.

There's a dedicated Maori channel to watch and I bought an audio book on Audible to practice, but I'm pretty useless. Very little is going in and even less is staying there for more than five minutes. MIQ should have been my opportunity to devote myself to study but instead I'm watching re-runs of the original Starksy & Hutch and have become obsessed with My Life Is Murder. It's like a 40something Murder She Wrote, and stars Xena Warrior Princess's Lucy Lawless as a retired detective, working as a consultant for the police in Melbourne.

The second series starts while we're in MIQ and is set in Auckland. It's fun to watch, the two female leads are great and it's exciting to spot some of the places we're looking forward to visiting in the city once we get out.

The first episode starts off at the top of the Sky Tower, which we can see from the hotel roof and the tiny concrete area at the front of the hotel when we exercise. We feel very close to the action.

Zomboat on TVNZ on Demand is also a favourite. It's set on a canal boat in Birmingham during a zombie apocalypse and is as good as it sounds. We can't believe we missed it when it was shown on ITV in the UK.

But what we do most is eat. We plan our days around the three meals that are left in paper bags at regular intervals outside our door. They arrive with a cheery 'room service' from the staff who leave them. These people tend to our every need. They knock and disappear before we get the chance to open the door. It protects the staff from us and means we never see their faces. It's weird and we never quite get used to it. But my god, it's wonderful to be waited on like this and we're both worried how it's going to feel when we have to cook for ourselves again.

Like everyone else, I am bored stupid by other people's food shots on social media. But this isn't social media and these little packages and the routine of getting them have kept us both sane. So here is my little tribute to the staff of Auckland Rydges.

Breakfast for two. Note to Brits, Weet-Bix is not Weetabix.

Corn fritters and poached egg for breakfast, alongside the puzzles delivered daily. I keep them all 'to do later'. Needless to say, I don't.

This is lolly cake. It's a New Zealand thing – very sweet and soft, with fluffy chunks of fruity 'lollies' rammed in. This tiny taster was more than enough for me. I've tried it now and never have to again.

Friday night is fish night. After two weeks of (too much) good food, it is a perfect MIQ last supper. If the world ever gets back to normal and Rydges returns to being a hotel, we're definitely coming back for those chips.

This is the old Farmers building. Once the headquarters of the famous Kiwi retail chain (think M&S with toys instead of food) it's now the Heritage, part hotel, part home to hugely expensive serviced apartments. It's also where the All Blacks rugby team hangs out to do whatever it is they do before matches. The road to the left is where we once spotted them getting into their coach just before the team's Bledisloe Cup test against Australia at Eden Park.

Before we flew here, we watched an episode of Grand Designs New Zealand showing the makeover of the penthouse flat, though we can't see that apartment from our room. It's a lovely building and we talk about coming back to stay for a night once we're out of MIQ.

I'm really going to miss the sunsets over the Heritage. It's been a real privilege to have had this view for two weeks, especially as we didn't have to pay through the nose for it. in fact, as long as we stay in the country for 180 days, New Zealand tax payers will be paying for it. Which is mad, but also shows what happens when you have functioning government that's not run by sociopaths. Thank you Aotearoa.

On Saturday morning, we wake up early. I'm not sure why I bothered writing that, because we always wake up early.

We had our – hopefully – final COVID tests on day 12 and we can't leave without them coming back negative. Even though we had them done at the same time, Phil gets his result at 8.30am when we have our final temperature check and the nurse gives him the good news. 'Yours isn't here yet,' I'm told and I get a cold feeling in my stomach.

A few minutes later we read on Twitter that there's been a positive test in Rydges. I, of course, assume it's me and we won't be able to leave. There then follows a tense couple of hours, where I get increasingly worried. To kill time, I end up watching an infomercial for an adjustable ladder. It plays on a loop for an hour and by the time my negative test comes back at 10.45am and we're given the go ahead to leave, I have made a note of the telephone number and I am going to buy a Transforma Ladder System(TM) as soon as we get our own place in Auckland. (Spoiler – I don't.)

Everything moves quickly. We're due to leave at 11.15am (it's all very precise) and 10 minutes before, there's a knock on the door and we're signing forms and being given instructions on what to do when we leave if we develop symptoms.

And that's it. Almost 336 hours after landing at Auckland airport, we take a final look around the room that's been home for the last two weeks and roll our huge suitcases out the door, along the corridor, into the lift and down to the lobby.

Aiden, Phil's son, is picking us up with his son Mason. We wiill drive to Phil's sister Sarah's house in Onehunga, where we will be staying for the next three weeks. Phil's mum Mary will be coming too, and so we'll see four generations of his family together for the first time since our last trip to Auckland in January 2019.

One more form to fill in and we're out of the hotel doors. The military personnel at the gates are wishing us well and pointing to a bin to put our masks in. As I take mine off, I feel a bit strange. The excitement of being free is real, but going maskless outside for the first time since we got in the taxi in Walthamstow to head to the airport a fortnight before makes me feel vulnerable.

After over a year of masking up in shops and on public transport, I'm not sure how long it will take us to get used to not wearing them again. Little do I know, we aren't going to get the chance to find out for a very long time.

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