You always hear me talking about our little bubble of paradise here in Wanaka. A place that seems immune to the problems of the rest of the world, a place that attracted friendly people who loved the outdoors.
A month ago, it seemed that nothing could disrupt our bubble. We ignored warnings and statistics from the rest of the world and reassured ourselves, “not here.”
The chaos that was suffocating other countries wouldn’t bother us much. But before we knew it, Coronavirus in New Zealand was beginning to spread its reach.
Oh, how young and naive we were just a few weeks ago.
With a rapidly changing situation, New Zealanders around the country are coming to grips with the severity of the Coronavirus and the threat it poses not only to our health but to our tourism-fed economy as well.
As of now, our cases are under control, and our government is reacting much quicker than other governments around the world (Hi USA and UK!). Still, despite our denial, COVID-19 is here in New Zealand, and our country, much like many other countries, is preparing for an uncertain future.
New Zealand’s economy is projected to take a worse hit than the global economy.
Our national carrier, Air New Zealand, has canceled 85% of long-haul flights and is on the brink of bankruptcy. Our borders are closed, ensuring whatever hope we had reviving our tourism economy is officially squashed. As a result, thousands have lost their jobs overnight.
There’s no question about it. We are in scary, uncharted waters here. Still, despite the grim outlook, the Wanaka community remains hopeful and is leaning into each other for support (from a distance of course!) Our streets may be empty, and our loved ones may be out of work. Still, we’re down here spreading the positivity as much as we can.
Let’s take a break from the doom and gloom and look at some of the ways Wanaka is thriving in a time of crisis.
Neighbors are offering to cook food for people in self-isolation
Last weekend, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, ordered a mandatory self-isolation period of 14 days for any person (Kiwi or otherwise) upon entering the country.
As you can expect, not everyone has chosen to obey the new rule (looking at you, tourists here for only ten days). However, for the most part, the people in our community are obeying and laying low.
They are restricting contact with other people and staying put, which, as you can imagine, makes it hard for them to go to the grocery store to get food. One community chef has offered up free meals (delivered without contact) for anyone in isolation while supplies last. Others offer land for seasonal workers to camp out on. Posts on the Wanaka community Facebook page are encouraging others to reach out if they need help.
The compassion is flowing, and damn, it’s a good look on this town.
Landlords are preemptively reducing rent
This town is run mostly one tourist dollars, and for as much as the locals love to complain about the tourists running all over the town, it’s become blatantly evident that we need tourism to operate.
People who work in tourism and hospitality are losing their jobs at an alarming rate, and Wanaka, unfortunately, doesn’t have the industry to sustain many workers outside of tourism.
Kiwis freshly out of a job are looking to help fill rosters at the local grocery store or picking fruit as they struggle to make rent and buy groceries. We’ve seen several tenants already praising their landlords for offering reduced rent for the next few months or allowing late payments.
In a town that has never typically favored tenants, it’s remarkable to see the humanity in the housing market.
Grocery stores are offering call-in delivery services
As things begin shutting down in the coming weeks, grocery stores and pharmacies will be braving the risks and staying as Coronavirus in New Zealand spreads.
Our local grocery stores in Wanaka know how important it is to have access to food. Still, they also recognize the uneasiness that comes with going into the store right for those who are self-isolating, whether out of instruction because they are high risk. They have started to offer phone and email orders delivered to your doorstep.
They are encouraging Kiwis to shop as usual and avoid panic buying. They are assuring us that as longs we do our part to buy normally, their supply chain will remain healthy and ready to serve the community.
Kiwis are calling out those who refuse to protect the community
Most people arriving from overseas are complying with the order to self-isolate for 14 days after their arrival to halt the spread of Coronavirus in New Zealand. Still, a few travelers are not willing to cut their holiday short by self-isolating, and our local Kiwis do not have it.
Many Wanaka businesses have reported travelers who have admitted they have just arrived in the country and are not following self-isolation rules. The local iSite has been refusing to assist customers who have only just come to the country.
One couple who flew in from Hong Kong took a scenic help flight over Franz Josef only to have their heli pilot fly them straight to the police upon finding out on the glacier they had only just arrived in New Zealand.
Others in the community are being vigilant and confronting travelers who are not complying and alerting immigration. Our community knows what’s at risk, and they’re not afraid to get in your face about it. Our health is more important than your holiday.
The distillery is springing into Action
While the Wanaka community seems to be doing a better job of shopping regularly to avoid shortages in the supermarkets with Coronavirus in New Zealand, hand sanitizer has been out of stock for weeks with no end in sight.
Our local distillery, the Cardrona Distillery, has recently offered up free Cardona-made disinfectant spray for household surfaces, which is also safe on hands.
They have encouraged members of the community to bring an empty spray container, and they will fill the container up to 500ml per household per week, all free of charge.
People are learning what their priorities are
New Zealand is an island nation, and many of us have moved here from overseas. As an expat, I moved here under the assumption that I was only just a phone call away from home. If needed, I could hop on the plane and be home within a day. None of us could have predicted our new reality. In many ways, New Zealand feels even more isolated than before.
As our economy crashes and jobs are lost, a small silver lining is a communal reckoning of what our priorities are.
Yes, the economy is going to be bad for a while, but at the end of the day, lives are more important.
It has been an uncomfortable but necessary reminder that the only things that matter are our health and the wellbeing of the people around us.
Wanaka has always been a gathering spot for the curious. While there are undoubtedly dark days (and months) in our future, we are leaning into our community now more than ever. We are lifting each other’s spirits, supporting local businesses where we can, and helping each other put one foot in front of another.
Must of us here are not Wanaka-born and as the reality sets in of Coronavirus in New Zealand, while many of our biological families are thousands of miles away and out of reach given the drastic decrease in international flights, our chosen families in our community are just as essential and will be there when we need a shoulder to lean on.
Kia Kaha New Zealand and the rest of the world. We will get through this one day at a time.