When I traveled to New Zealand in February, I expected to stay for roughly one month. Now it’s my temporary home.
As the coronavirus events unfolded, I initially planned to table my Asia plans and, instead, make my way to Australia and then South Africa. When it became clear that my choice was to stay in New Zealand or return home to New York City, I faced a grueling and emotional few days. Was it better to be close to friends and family, even though I couldn’t see them, or stay someplace in New Zealand among strangers? Would my health be in better hands in New York or in a less populous town? I decided to stick it out in Kerikeri in the North Island, close to Paihia. It turns out it was the best decision I could have made.
Here’s how my adventure has unfolded.
I Traded A Crowded City For Life On A Nature Reserve
Instead of being cooped up in my mom’s apartment in New York -- where Central Park has been closed, which would have limited me to walking from one side of the apartment to the other -- I’m living on a 5-acre nature park with four other people. I’m allowed to walk to the nearby waterfalls, and whenever I go out, there’s so much space that stepping away from everyone like we all have the cooties is easy. They take the distancing guidelines seriously in New Zealand.
I found this modern-day Eden by accident. I’d been staying at an Airbnb down the road and took a walk. A sign for a sculpture garden and art gallery caught my eye. I walked down a hill onto a magical nature path where I unintentionally met the owner. He asked if I was looking for a place to stay for a month or more. I said yes!
Instead Of Isolating Alone, I’ve Found A Family
In the cottage next door to me are Jess and Aaron from Virginia. Not only are they some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but they’re also Jewish. This turned out to be wonderful for Passover. We assembled on one of the cottage porches, 6 feet apart, and held an informal seder. We read from the Haggadah and compared the tribulations of the Jewish people to our circumstances today. It was not only a profound and uplifting conversation, but it also deepened our connection to each other.
I’m grateful for their presence every day -- they help me feel less alone. We also do dance-a-thons on the restaurant porch for exercise. I could not have asked for better neighbors.
I’ve Forged A Deep Connection With Fauna And Flora
Being a native New Yorker, Central Park was once the extent of my connection to nature. Now it surrounds my porch, it chirps outside my window, and it blooms all around me.
Walking around the grounds, I’ve begun to recognize the calls of certain native birds and to easily spot them in trees. There’s the tui, with its delightful white bow-tie like cockles; the wood pigeon, with its colorful head; and my favorite, the fantail. These little birds fly right up to my face and hover and chatter so much that I’ve started talking to them, and I hope they’ll start perching on my arm after they get used to me.
As the season changes, I’m witnessing the death of summer flowers and the budding of all things red. I’ve never seen half the plant life here, and now I’m surrounded by it.
Nature Healed Me
Speaking of plants unknown, Jess has been teaching me about the comfrey right outside my cottage, the rosemary 10 feet away, and other plants that I can use to make teas. Drugstore remedies did little to battle the viral cough I’ve had for over two months, but a few days of tea made from nature did the trick!
The Produce Is Amazing, And There’s Plenty Of Toilet Paper
The food here is delightfully fresh, and I can feel how good it is for my body. Back home, I’m used to so many bad ingredients in my food that I find it refreshing to know that everything here is fresh. Most of it is grown in New Zealand, and my body feels the difference.
While the rest of the world obsesses over toilet paper and food, the shelves here are always full. Every day, the supermarkets urge us to buy only what we need so that others don’t have to go without.
I'm Eating New Fruit Fresh Off The Tree
The place I’m living has trees full of fruits I thought were for the birds, but apparently we can eat them, too. So instead of buying fruit in a supermarket, I’m eating it right off the trees. I had never heard of a feijoa, but now I have an eternal supply just up the hill from me. A strawberry mango bush is a few steps from my house. I’m hooked. Nature offers us everything we need if we treat her right.
The Prime Minister Puts People First
Watching things unfold in America, especially in New York, I feel blessed every day that I’m here and not there. I’m worried for my friends and family. I’m appalled by what I see in the news.
The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, is not only handling things efficiently, but in every message and public appearance, she urges kindness. It’s refreshing to hear a leader ask citizens to be kind to one another. The feminine energy guiding the country through these turbulent times somehow makes them less scary and overwhelming. Though I know she’s not perfect, she’s well liked and inspires confidence.
The nation’s commercials make urgent points, but they also contain humor and compassion. They make me happy to follow their rules. I’m not inclined to fight about politics here because everyone seems to be on the same side.
New Zealanders Are Kind And Calm
Not only are New Zealanders kind, but throughout the quarantine, they have been calm and, for the most part, have followed orders and kept 6 feet apart from others.
Even before the quarantine, however, I noticed that New Zealanders are just plain nice people. They like to be helpful, they smile, they ask about my day, and they genuinely care about the answer. The worst temper I’ve seen was from a woman who learned the supermarket was out of eucalyptus oil.
I’m Never Alone
Even in moments when I feel alone, I know I’m not. I’ve had several guests. A praying mantis visited my living room. A cockroach made itself comfortable on my bedspread, and a family of spiders nested in my bathroom. I try not to kill anything, except mosquitoes. I left the mantis alone, picked up the cockroach and put it outside, and transported several of the spiders outdoors. It was just the giant one that got away from me. The day after I chased it out of the bathroom and then lost it, about 50 baby spiders hatched on my porch, hopefully from my giant spider. I still check the floors and walls every time I enter my bathroom.
I have an exciting mystery I’m currently working on -- what animal is living under my house? Every night around 10 p.m., there’s a loud thud and thrashing outside. Sometimes it sounds like a door is slamming. Last night, I heard heavy breathing and scraping against the outside of my bedroom wall. So far, I’ve only seen a shadow. One morning, I heard a noise on my porch, and a trail of wet footsteps marked what looked like two different visitors.
I’m hoping it’s a kiwi or a possum. The owner joked with me that it might be a yeti. Trying to identify my mystery animal is even more exciting than having a Netflix subscription.
I hadn’t planned to be in New Zealand this long, but these unexpected adventures have made the detour worthwhile.