The beginning of the pandemic found me in the north of New Zealand, in a small town, with a choice to make; fly back to New York City, then the epicenter of the virus, or, stay, be locked down, and have no idea when I could get out again. I chose the latter, thinking it would be for a few months. Almost 2 years later, I have a lot about New Zealand to be thankful for.
I Had A Safe Refuge From COVID Most Of My Time
I chose to ride out the pandemic in the town of Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands because I thought it would be less touristy and less expensive than other parts of New Zealand. I booked an Airbnb for a week. Once I made the choice to stay, I had to find alternate accommodation. I went for a walk and found a sculpture garden. Upon entering, I read a sign with a man’s photo explaining what to expect inside. I walked in, and after a few steps, saw the man whose photo was at the entrance. I said, “Didn’t I just see your photo?” He replied, “Yes! Are you by chance looking for long-term accommodation?” And that’s how I ended up staying at the beautiful Wharepuke Accommodation, Restaurant, Garden and Art. I felt not only safe but also, in good company. I had wonderful American neighbors who were also stuck.
Once we came out of the first lockdown, New Zealand enjoyed over a year of being COVID-free. While the rest of the world endured constant lockdowns, mask-wearing, and huge COVID counts, I wandered around the south and north islands of this beautiful country. Even though, as a nomad, I found it hard to be in one country for so long, it was also refreshing to be able to travel freely. When I was in Kerikeri, I also enjoyed Latin Fit dance classes and remarked we were likely the only country in the world where we could not only hug but do it while we were sweating.
Nature Became My Protector
As a native New Yorker, I’m accustomed to having to walk to Central Park to get to a patch of grass from which I can still see tall buildings, and never lose my connection to a big city. In New Zealand, it’s impossible to avoid nature. Even in Auckland, there are parks and forests that make you feel like you’re in the wild.
During our first lockdown, up in Kerikeri, I was grateful for 5 acres of paths through lush nature, normally open to the public, reserved just for us. Straying into nearby walks, I found a giant, knotted tree I would frequently hug because it had faces that reminded me of wise old women I wanted to connect with. This was a wonderful way to endure the strange situation in the world today.
I Feel Part Of A Team
While being alone and far from home during lockdown was hard, Jacinda Ardern constantly reminded us that we’re part of a team of 5 million, and we must all have compassion for one another. The majority of New Zealanders tend to follow rules, and because they so diligently wore masks and observed social distancing, the mutual respect made it easier to also follow the rules. Even now, in Auckland, I find that most people wear a mask, and observe social distancing.
I Learned That Life Can Be Simpler
As an American, it took me a while, but I’ve learned to appreciate how much simpler life is in New Zealand. Work-life balance is a thing, that’s why most coffee shops shut by 3 p.m. People love helping each other here. No matter what the problem, there will probably be someone that will offer to see you through it.
I Found Most People Incredibly Kind
I know it’s a big judgment, but pretty much everyone I met in New Zealand has been not only wonderful but bend-over-backward helpful. So many people have taken me in, or offered to, over my 2 years here.
My very first night in New Zealand, I had dinner out and met a woman at the table next to mine. She offered me a place to stay for a week. When I visited Kerikeri after traveling last summer, several friends took me in, rent-free, and one even lent me her car for almost a month. Now in lockdown in Auckland, the friends I’m staying with have put up with me for over 2 months. I am incredibly grateful for all the kindness I have received from so many different people. I’ve found most Kiwis have a tendency to want to help you out. It’s beautiful.
I Learned About Waste And The Environment
I won’t pretend everything is perfect, but New Zealand has taught me how wasteful I’ve been in my life, and how to stop the bad habit. Permaculture isn’t easy to do in a New York City apartment. In New Zealand, most homes have at least a small garden. The ones that don’t use window boxes to grow herbs. What I learned here has forever changed me. I now make a point to travel with a sustainable cup so I don’t have to waste paper for a smoothie or a cup of coffee. I think about food shopping as ingredients to go with what’s already in the house, as opposed to buying an entirely new meal and letting other foods go to waste.
I’ve Experienced A Lot Of Humility
Coming from a place where celebrities are the focus of our attention, it’s been wondrous to live in a country where fame isn’t a thing. I saw a movie here I loved, James & Isey, and reached out to the star on Facebook just to tell him how much I enjoyed his movie. He not only answered me but took me out for a cup of coffee! I also interviewed Chris Booth. For me, he’s a world-renowned sculptor. In real life, he’s just a wonderful, humble man, more concerned about his work, the environment, and how we treat people than his reputation. I’ve even been surprised that when I called an editor at The New Zealand Herald about an article I pitched, she picked up the phone and spoke with me. This is a very special country.
I only expected to be in New Zealand for 3 weeks. Instead, I’ve created a life in a small country that’s got a huge heart, beautiful people, and nurturing landscape I’ll remember the rest of my life. Though it was difficult to decide to stay here long term, I’m really pleased with my choice.
Read about other reasons why New Zealand is so attractive here: