Date of Adventure: 18 Feb – 4 March 2021
During the COVID pandemic, the New Zealand government requires all people arriving into the country to spend two weeks under strict quarantine to ensure they don’t have the virus, or aren’t bringing it to the islands inadvertently. Since symptoms generally show up within two weeks, this is the most sure-fire way for the government to keep everyone as safe as possible.
At the time we were making our plans to move to NZ, we had to reserve our place in the Managed Isolation Quarantine, or MIQ. Originally, the process was to email a completed MIQ request form with your travel information and your date of arrival. This process changed after we had originally booked our first set of flights. The new system is all online, but you have to book your MIQ date first, then book your flights. So we had to cancel our initial bookings (for airline credit, of course) and book a second set of flights after reserving our MIQ slot. Once we booked our new flights, we had to report back to the NZ government MIQ system and enter our flight number and exact arrival time. After we had done all that, the second airline eventually cancelled that flight, so we were lucky enough to go through the whole process again! Fortunately, the third set of flights and new MIQ date had no problems!
The government has partnered with hotels across the country to place travelers in. We were never given a choice of where to go, nor did we know where we were going to end up until we were on the tarmac in Auckland (as stated in our previous post). After everything, we ended up at the Commodore Hotel in Christchurch, near the Christchurch airport.
It was quite nice! Way better than either of us expected! We were both thinking the hotels may be the lowest bidders on the government contract. I was picturing a very small room with a double bed and maybe a TV. Nope. Our room had a king size bed, a bathroom with a separate toilet room, a shower AND a bath! There was a large wardrobe, a “kitchenette” with glasses, instant hot water kettle, mini fridge, tea, and coffee. The room also had a desk/table, couch, and a balcony! It did have a TV, but we only turned it on to get the most up to date outdoor schedule. These were luxuries we were very honored and excited to have and take advantage of!
We overheard that some other guests were less than thrilled to be stuck in a hotel, but we were rather excited because we knew it could be the nicest and biggest living space we’d have for a while. We were spoiled! The meals were cooked for us and delivered to our door 3x a day! Because we weren’t working we had all day to hang out, work out, do some outdoor cardio, and work on photos and research a bunch of stuff (more on that later!). We heard that some MIQ hotels didn’t have a balcony or even a window that opened, and some locations only let their occupants outside for 40 minutes every other day. We certainly count ourselves fortunate that we landed at the Commodore for our Quarantine stay. The hotel staff, nurses and security guards were all incredibly welcoming and nice!
On the second day, we got a knock at the door. Expecting it to be another health check or a food bag, we were surprised with a delivery! My parents had sent us a balloon for Cameron’s birthday, a bottle of wine and a beautiful bouquet of flowers with a nice note for our anniversary! That was such an amazing surprise!
It was amazing!!! Compliments to the chef of the Commodore! The hotel had us download their menu app when we arrived. Each evening we would scan our room’s specific QR code, and it would pull up the menu for the next day. There were generally two choices for any given meal: a vegetarian option, and a ‘regular’ option, along with choices for desert and simple drinks. If we hadn’t picked our meals by 8pm they would call us to make sure we were going to get our food the next day. The meals were delivered within a certain time slot each day: breakfast between 8:00-9:30am, lunch 12-1:30 pm, and dinner 5:30-7pm.
They had our stomachs and ears trained. We found ourselves hungry when each time slot came around. Any shuffling in the hallway outside our door might indicate that our generic brown paper bag with our meals in it might be delivered soon! Most of the time we listen for the knock. If the kitchen was running a little slow one day, we (mostly Cameron) would pace back and forth to the door, looking through the peephole periodically. When the food did arrive, we would have to wear a mask when opening the door to the hallway.
After each meal, we were to put our trash back in the paper bag it came in and set it back outside of the door, to be collected later.
Here are some examples of food options we had:
Anytime we answered the door we each had to have a fresh face mask on. (A full box of masks was supplied for us in our room upon arrival).
Every morning we would get our daily temperature checks, where they would also ask if we were feeling well and if each of us had any of the known COVID symptoms.
Almost every afternoon we would get a phone call for our regular mental health check-in. They would ask how we’re doing, let us know that if we need someone to speak to, they can provide that, and ask if there’s anything we need.
There was scheduled COVID testing. We were nose swabbed on Day 1, Day 3, and Day 12. After the day 12 test we couldn’t go outside again, but we would be released on day 14 if the test results came back negative.
Each Group (those you came on the plane with) all had the same schedule based on the date we arrived into MIQ. Ours was 18 Feb. Each Group was allowed outside 2 times a day, a morning session and an afternoon/evening session, for a total of 3.5 hours per day. On days 11 and 12 we got 3 sessions each day, because for the next 2 days (prior to us leaving) we would not be able to leave our room.
Anytime we left the room we had to wear a mask, even while walking/running outside.
Before you could go outside, you had to check-out with the security guard at the front desk. We would tell them which room we were staying in, and how many of us are going out. When we came back inside, we would check back in.
For our outside time, we were only allowed to go out to the car park. There were two parking lots, one parallel to the hotel, the other perpendicular, connected by a small section. The first person out there gets to decide and set the direction for which everyone else would walk. So around and around each car park we would go.
Our group’s time slot varied from day to day. Each day we got a sheet of paper under our door, a newsletter which had any updates from the hotel; things to know, people leaving MIQ the next day, how to make a laundry request, etc. But most importantly it had the next day’s outdoor schedule!
We would wait for this schedule to come in and plan our next day based on these times. Family or friend zoom calls would have to be planned around our outside yard time. We wanted to take advantage of every opportunity to go outside! On the back of each Newsletter was an activity; a word game, a logic puzzle, maze, crosswords, sudoku, etc. Those were fun! We kept putting them aside, then one day sat down and worked through all the puzzles!
There was a white vinyl sheet covering the chain link fence all the around the carparks. The hotel had markers available to draw or write on the vinyl wall. As we were walking around, it was so fun to see what others before us had written and drawn! As the days passed there would be more art around, so on each walk we would look to see what was new! Most art had names and where they were from, some also included how many hours they traveled to get there. One afternoon, we finally decided to add some of our own art. I drew the Colorado flag and wrote our names and where we were from!
The check-in/check-out desk also had chalk available for anyone to use to draw on the asphalt, in the middle of the circle walkers. Someone had drawn a hopscotch, so every time we got to that as we were walking I would hop and skip down it! The chalk was a great way for families to give their kids something fun to do while being outside. It also added to the many art pieces we got to look at as we passed by.
Because we were allowed outside with only our plane mates, we would start to see familiar faces each time. We got to chat with several folks as we walked around and around.
Things we did to fill the time
As you can imagine, there are heaps of details that need to get figured out when moving across the world to a new country. Our time in the hotel was the perfect time to figure out some of these things: subsidized healthcare, supplemental health insurance, travel insurance, car insurance, contents insurance, banks, third party money transfer companies, mobile phone plans, just to name a few!
Since our plan was to buy a campervan to live in after we got out of the hotel, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to find one before we were to be released from quarantine. We spent a lot of time van searching, budgeting, and then more van searching. Any spare time (or when we didn’t feel like doing other more important research), we would spend hours looking at all the vans available to buy.
The more time we spent looking, we quickly realized it was a blessing that we were placed on the South Island in Christchurch. There seemed to be better, more custom (non mass “produced”) built out vans on the South Island rather than in and around Auckland. Plus, our plan was to start adventuring on the South Island before winter sets in. However, by choosing not to be flown back to Auckland after our MIQ stay, it did mean that we weren’t going to be able to see the America’s Cup Sailing Races in person. This was offset by the fact that we could start adventuring right away!
Speaking of adventuring, we had lots to plan on that, too! Hut passes, NZMCA, booking track huts, looking at where we might want to start adventuring and where we might go from there. Decide which great walk tracks we wanted to do (all of them), and which ones we could actually get into. We booked the Kepler Track for March and The Routeburn Track for April. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get into the Milford track at that time.
We looked into backcountry huts: did you know there are over 900 public huts throughout NZ?! There is an annual backcountry hut pass you can get which means you pay an upfront flat rate, then you have access to use any of the backcountry huts (with some exceptions) for no additional cost. Each hut has a nightly per person rate of $5-$15 or more, so if you stay at 8 of the $15 ones you’d get your moneys worth for having this pass. We plan to go to as many huts as we can, way more than 8!
Before we moved, we had built a body weight workout routine that we could do with little equipment in our one-bedroom apartment or the basement of our parents’ houses. This worked perfectly for our hotel room workout too! We would do about a 1.5 hour workout every other day (we had to keep off the delicious food they were feeding us)!
As we mentioned above we would walk or jog almost every chance we got to go outside. I think we averaged 2-4 hours and 5 miles per day. The days we did our body weight workouts, we would walk both outdoor sessions. On the other days, we would run the morning session and walk the afternoon/evening session. We recorded all of our runs and walks on Strava mostly out of curiosity to see how much we were actually walking each time and how many laps we did. The Strava recorded map looks funny with our two oval shaped laps (as seen above)! when you’re just going in circles, it can get monotonous, but it was surprising how quickly the outdoor time passed and how much we actually walked. Having the wall art to admire, read, or add to sure helped!
During one of the outdoor sessions, we got talking to another young couple (staying our required 2 meters away from each other while walking), and she mentioned that there was a Strava workout group where you could compete with other MIQ joggers across the country. That was a fun way to keep ourselves motivated, to attempt to keep up with the other cities! However, we were not able to keep up with her!
I tried to take advantage of having a nice big bathtub available to soak every other day. I would also treat myself to a charcoal mask and some Lily’s chocolate! It was a lovely way to spend the evening and one of the ways we found that we could create some separation and have our own space in the hotel room.
Throughout our stay, we took a few timelapses of the sunsets. One of our last nights in the hotel was such a beautiful and colorful sunset! What a wonderful way to wrap up the 2 week stint. Knowing that we would be taking so many photos going forward, we tried to get ourselves better organized while had the space and time. We were looking to create a good system to make sure all camera batteries were charged and all cards were imported and formatted, ready for adventure.
They had an option to set your laundry out, but so many of our performance workout/hiking wear is usually line dried and we didn’t want it sent through an industrial dryer. However, we did still send out things like jeans, socks, t shirts, etc. The rest we put in the bathtub and washed them ourselves. We found strawberry scented dish soap in the room, and decided to use that. It was a fun way to get our clothes washed!
On February 27th and 28th we celebrated Cameron’s birthday here and back home, just to cover all the bases. The birthday morning started with our outdoor session where we went for a run. Every circle we usually walked hand in hand or jogged with each other, but this time, as a little birthday gift, I told him to go on and run at his own pace instead of my slower speed. In the afternoon outdoor session we grabbed some markers and I drew Cameron a cupcake with a candle in it and wrote happy 28th birthday.
Later on I had surprised Cameron with a video call which had his friends on to wish him a happy birthday! One of the birthday nights, we watched an anime movie (Howl’s Moving Castle). My parents had sent the birthday balloon to our room at the beginning of the week, so that was fun to have floating about.
It’s hard to believe that one year prior we were celebrating our marriage with our family and friends! Fast forward 1 year, we got to celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary in the MIQ hotel! It was a lovely day: we slept in, played some video games, worked a bunch of those word games and puzzles, went for a walk and added more drawings to the wall art. I drew Meeker, Longs Peak and the twin peaks outline from our Save the dates/Invitations! Our new Strava friends offered to take a picture of us with their phone and emailed it to us, so grateful they thought of that!
Mom and dad had sent us a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine at the start of our stay so we could enjoy the flowers as long as possible! After dinner and dessert, we opened the bottle of wine, said a toast and cheers to one heck of a first year!
With consistent internet readily available, we took advantage and had several family video calls. We even had virtual game nights with friends and family back home and played 7 Wonders online, Dominion online, and played Quixx dice game over a video call since we each had our own set.
Believe it or not we didn’t even play Animal Crossing. However, we did play Stardew Valley almost every night.
On day 14, at 4 am we had our final temperature check! An hour later they picked up our suitcases. By 7 am we were masked up and escorted down the stairs, past the actual front desk in the main lobby and out the front door! The sunrise was beautiful! A pre-arranged van met us there and took us to the airport where we would rent a car and head straight for Queenstown to buy and pick up our van and new home!
When we got to the Christchurch Airport we could take our masks off in public for the first time since March 2020, a year earlier! What a weird feeling!
Stay tuned for our next post: The Van. Thanks for reading!