OPINION: Back in late June, which feels like several lifetimes ago, prospects for my first Aussie sojourn in almost two years were looking bonza.
My daughter in Melbourne was coming out of Victoria’s fourth lockdown and began to believe I actually would make it over to see her, after more than five months apart. For my son at uni in Queensland, it’d been almost a year. I am not the kind of mother who can easily bear that kind of separation; when it comes to my tamariki, I am a right sook.
We’d already jettisoned plans to meet up in Sydney, which even back in June was beginning to resemble a dog’s dinner. At least we’d have Melbourne, and my personal record of seeing at least two performances of each and every stage show my daughter’s performed in since high school, would remain unbroken.
The first flight back into New Zealand has arrived from Melbourne, after the bubble was closed last month due to Covid-19 cases.
On nightly FaceTime calls (huzzah! for technology, it really has been a game changer for empty-nesters) we counted down the days. The travel bubble’s reopening on June 22 was a milestone. The final week before departure was a minute-to-minute nailbiter. I’ve never been so grateful to get on a plane.
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Melbourne in winter is no balmy Noosa or Port Douglas beach holiday, but week one was terrific. The daughter’s show was a triumph, the weather was mild, the shopping was as advertised. A week after I arrived, I smuggled two of my daughter’s closest friends, who’d also flown over from Auckland, up to the hotel room to spring a surprise on her. The cocktails flowed, we went out to dinner at the city’s hottest new vegan restaurant, and we had ourselves a ball.
For 24 hours we did, anyway.
The following morning I collected my son and his partner from the airport. At that point, rumours had just begun to swirl about a pair of house movers who’d come from Sydney on a job, and may have been infectious. I can’t adequately describe how quickly it all happened after that – normal life to lockdown in a matter of hours. We tried to get ahead of events by racing to a testing station, in the hope we might catch the next available flight home, but the second the words “infectious at the MCG” were uttered on the evening news, we knew it was over.
In the end my son and his girlfriend were on a plane back to Queensland, at the Premier’s firm suggestion, less than 20 hours after arriving. By midnight that same day, the four of us left were facing a stay of unknown length together in a hotel room.
It could have been much, much worse had it not been for the fact that my older sister is one of those curious people who have invested in hotel timeshares. I may have been less than enthusiastic about this choice in the past (I may even have scoffed), but her inability to travel overseas through the pandemic was definitely our windfall – she blew a bunch of points on a multi-bed room for us at a very nice hotel. Thanks to sisterly love and generosity, all we had to do was wait it out.
This turned out to be both easier and more difficult than it sounded. On the surface, we had everything we needed; a supermarket a short drive away, books and games, and patchy but operative wifi. For the first few days everything was hunky dory – we waited until a decent hour for home-made margaritas and played round after round of charades (including a sudden death final round performed under a sheet, like some demented Halloween trick or treater. Don’t ask, it was hilarious).
But even the best of buddies and their mum will get a little over each other’s company given enough enforced time together. After a week, we’d sunk into lockdown torpor, moving through the endless days as if through molasses. I lost track of time altogether.
As was the case with New Zealand’s 2020 lockdowns, the daily high point was without doubt the press conference; particularly the daily New South Wales stand-up, where Premier Gladys Berejiklian tried to keep a handle on the crumbling of civilisation in Australia’s biggest city.
Whether you rate the Aussies as a people or not, they do a nice line in gallows humour and will bet on anything that moves; hence the ‘Berejiklian trifecta’ has become the national game, and the combination of two of Gladys’s clothing items (must include jacket colour) plus the daily case number, is a popular option at sportsbet.com.
A week passed, and so did our tenure at chez fancy-hotel; once again, my sister came to the rescue, securing us an AirBnb near her home in the hills north of the city. A tip; if you must be locked away somewhere for several weeks with no escape, choose nature rather than a grim, grey view of the Supreme Court building if you can. Gumtrees and kangaroos made a very welcome change from the rainy ghost-streets of the central city.
All-in-all we did pretty well, and I cannot and will not complain. Everyone who travels to Australia when the bubble is open knows they must go it alone if, or when, Covid strikes again. We’ve been told travel is at our own risk, and shaking your fist at the Government is an exercise in futility.
Another week passed, and we were beginning to talk about options for Australian citizenship and changing our name to Shazza when suddenly, fortune smiled upon us*. Repatriation flights would be open for one week, no hotel quarantine necessary. I have never in my life negotiated an online purchase as quickly as I did on the Air New Zealand website that day.
I have to isolate at home, and I have had to get my third Covid test in the space of a week, but no matter; this time I really have never been so grateful to get on a plane. Tēnā koe Aotearoa, it’s truly lovely to see you again.
*for a limited time only