Monday, 30 March 2020

Cruising into a Crisis; Part 2


Continuing on from Part 1 

We left Marfells Beach on Friday morning, March 20th, headed for the NZMCA Old Beach Road Park in Kaikoura. Once again there was a steady stream of RVs heading north on State Highway One, we would have passed at least another 130-150 vans over the 100km trip. This time they were in large groups having been caught up at the many stop/go road works along the coast road.

Marfells Beach, Marlborough
We reached Kaikoura early afternoon and while there were a few vans parked up it didn't seem overly busy. We found a good spot between a tape fence and a pile of dirt to 'self-isolate', a new term that had been working its way into the vocabulary over the previous few days. It was nothing so dramatic though, we actually needed to run our generator and this is the area to park for those with gennies.

Things had changed by early evening though, RVs of all shapes and sizes had been piling into the park through the afternoon, the gloomy day seemed to match the general atmosphere around camp too. 

Over the previous few days NZMCA members had received several emails from the President, Bruce Stanger, advising us of the rapidly changing situation regarding Coronavirus. The NZMCA Parks would stay open for now but there was to be no social gatherings in the buildings and any rallies were to be cancelled. Several POPs & CAPs had advised that they were closing and many of the manned DOC camps had been closed without warning.

It was Friday evening and there were few people to be seen, and those that were out walking were keeping to themselves. The odd person was talking rather loudly to their neighbour while keeping the required two metre social-distancing space between themselves (another new term).

The next afternoon, Saturday 21st, the Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern, had an urgent message for all New Zealanders. 'Stay calm & stay at home' she said. Over 70 year olds (a large proportion of NZMCA membership) and those with compromised immune systems should stay at home as much as possible and everyone should limit their travel within the country. 

The Government also introduced an alert system; we were currently at Alert Level 2 which meant that the risk of community transmission was growing.

With so many parks & freedom camping sites closing around the country, many full-timers started to worry about where they could go. Another email from head office informed members that NZMCA Parks couldn't be used to self-isolate and the length of stay conditions would not be extended under any circumstances (I sensed that this was the precursor to the parks being closed outright).

We decided we'd stay until Monday morning and then head towards Twizel, 460km away, giving Christchurch a miss this time but stopping for a night somewhere along the way to break up the journey. We had already arranged to stay at the Ohau C Camp at Lake Benmore until we took over our property in mid-April. Lake Benmore was where we'd stayed for seven weeks over December & January, it's one of our 'happy places'.  David could get the boat out & go fishing & I could photograph the autumn colours. We had it sorted. Or did we?

We did a few errands Sunday afternoon, topping up with diesel, gas and buying a few groceries. And while we'd heard of the panic buying going on at supermarkets it wasn't because of this that I shopped, it was my last chance to buy at a larger supermarket, there are only two smaller 4Square Stores in Twizel. Sunday evening we decided we'd head all the way through to Lake Benmore in the morning, we'd hunker down there away from the masses for the duration of whatever was to come.

We set off mid-morning Monday and it became apparent before we'd even left town that the steady stream of RVs we'd seen on previous days had now become a tidal wave; campervans, caravans, motorhomes, buses, house trucks, fifth-wheelers and rental motorhomes of all sizes & shapes; hundreds and hundreds of them, all making their way north. Some lines of traffic had over two dozen RVs in them with just one lonely car or truck. My waving arm got very tired and we once again passed friends & acquaintances driving in the opposite direction.

Angry storm clouds hid the Southern Alps as we exited Burkes Pass
We stopped at a rest area in Oxford (which will now live on in infamy) for a late lunch and that was where we were when the Prime Minister dropped a bombshell. The country had moved to Alert Level 3, effective immediately (2pm) and within 48 hours the alert would move to Level 4. This would mean the closure of all non essential businesses and the restriction of movement for everyone except for essential workers for the next four weeks. 

To say it was a shock is an under-statement, it's been the only time during all this upheaval that I had a moment of despair and a few tears. It was more to do with the sadness that I felt for fellow New Zealanders and the worry about how some of them were going to survive this turmoil. Personally though, we felt it was the only option available if the country was to get on top of this hideous virus. Although at that moment we were oblivious to how far reaching the ramifications were going to be. 

Lake Pukaki with Aoraki/Mt Cook hidden beneath the storm clouds
We headed off again, now a little shell-shocked and starting to worry about our own plans. I kept refreshing my email and within an hour or so there was another email from NZMCA informing us that all parks would be closed within 48 hours (5pm Wednesday, March 25th). Knowing how many RVs we'd passed on our journey south, I knew there was no way on earth that they'd all be able to get across Cook Strait by lockdown at midnight Wednesday. 

So many people would be stuck in the wrong island, how were they going to go into lockdown, where were they going to stay. Thankfully the Government extended the Cook Strait crossings for another 48 hours, through until Friday night and the NZMCA allowed members in transit to stay at Plimmerton & Kaikoura on their way home.

This allowed many more members to get home although there are still plenty that have chosen to stay behind or in fact didn't manage to get a booking. Offers came in from far & wide from many generous people offering  places to stay; spare paddocks, front sections, driveways and motor camps.

It wasn't long before I realised that there would be no mid-April settlement on the property now, how could there be? With lockdown, the vendor couldn't shift out and we couldn't shift in, we'd have to defer settlement.  And within 24 hours our lawyer had been in touch to confirm that this was the case. We were now in limbo for the next 4 weeks or for however long this will last.

Our last camp site under the tree on the right didn't look quite the same
Lake Benmore didn't look quite so inviting by the time we arrived just on dark, it was very cold and the wind was blowing hard. David backed the 5th-wheeler in beside the lake, unhitched and we quickly set up. We'd sort the finer details out in the morning, we were both tired and a little emotional after the day's events. 

Within 5 minutes of setting up and with the heater now warming us up inside, a massive squall came ripping around the point, straight across the lake and hit us square on the rear. We rocked & rolled for a few minutes as it got stronger, we looked at each other and quickly made the decision to re-hitch and shift into the willows to shelter behind the unoccupied caravans.

Early the next morning (Tuesday) we made the decision to move to a commercial campground for lockdown. Originally Ohau C Camp was going to be closing after Easter, which suited us fine as we were taking over the property not long afterwards. But with the new government directive, the family who own the camp had to close it within the next couple of days. 

It only took me a moment to decide where we'd go, I sent off a message and our 'knight-in-shining-armour' responded within minutes. 'Come on over, she said, we have room for you'. Relieved to have a solution and a base, we once again pulled out of camp and headed off to the highway. Our new backyard, Lake Ruataniwha & the Ohau Range, will have to wait for our return. 

We headed south on SH8 towards Omarama. This time the traffic was mostly rental campervans and independent travellers in their small sleeper vans, about 50 in the space of 30kms. It was like they'd only just got the message that the country was closing down in 36 hours and they were making a mad dash to God knows where. I felt very sad for them all.

We turned off at Omarama and headed down a deserted Waitaki Valley following the lakes and river all the way to the coast, 140km away. A smattering of snow on the surrounding hills warned us that winter was on it's way.

It was a great sense of relief for both of us when we finally arrived at Glenavy's Waitaki River Holiday Park and were met by our lovely hosts Anne & Joe. 

November 2019
It felt like we were coming home, it was even better when Anne gave us our old site to park on. We stayed here last November when we toured Riverstone Castle, which is just down the road. Who knew we'd be back so soon.

We're sharing the camp space with approximately two dozen other motorhomers, we're in our own 'bubbles' and there are protocols in place for using the laundry, with toilets & showers out-of-bounds to most of us. And just like other neighbourhoods we practice 'social distancing' when we meet each other in the grounds.

Anne & Joe check in with us daily and we had daily newsletters for the first few days as things fell into place. And even though we are usually self-sufficient, it's such a relief to know that we have power, fresh water, a dump station and access to a laundry during our lockdown.

We even have some 'We're not scared' Teddy Bears waiting to be spotted.

Just out the gate is State Highway One; left & right (how's that for a deserted main highway) and just a few hundred metres away in 'my own backyard' is the mighty Waitaki River and the very long (and narrow) road bridge and equally long rail bridge. We have a fuel station and a dairy just up the road; nice and close for the essentials. The supermarket is 25km away in either direction; Waimate to the north & Oamaru to the south.

I checked the bridge out early looking for a good position to capture the sunsets but so far the clouds haven't played ball.

We've taken to walking the 2km loop track that leaves from the rest area beside the bridge, it passes through a pine plantation...

...alongside a lovely clear stream and exits at the back of the village, with just a short walk along the road back to camp. I think we may get bored with it quite quickly though so I'll have to mix it up with walking a few of the village roads. Although there aren't many of those either. 

I know how you feel mate. 

I found a tiny pedestrian refuse platform hanging off the bridge about a third of the way along, it will make the perfect spot to catch the sunrise in the other direction. One day. I guess I'll have plenty of those.

One bonus of living on the road is that we always have a regular supply of disposable gloves and hand sanitiser for dump station duties so there was no need for us to rush off and purchase any before lockdown.  And other than milk, bread, fresh fruit & veges we are pretty well set up for the duration; I have long life milk but its one of my pet hates (I LOVE fresh cold milk) and it will only be used in an emergency. I guess that emergency might arrive sometime soon.

There was no need to panic buy groceries in the Evans household. I've always been known for having an extra full pantry long before we hit the road, and much to David's consternation sometimes, (extra weight to carry), nothing changed afterwards. The photo, bottom left, is just one storage area, there are several others in the van including a stash of treats which I was surprised to find, I'd hidden them so well. Now that the rainy day has arrived it's time to make a large dent in my 'will use them one day' supply.

And regarding panic buying, each time the PM and other officials asked us to please stop panic buying, I wanted to shout at the TV or radio. 'They're not panic buying because they might miss out' I'd say, 'they're buying because they don't want to leave the house after lockdown!'

I've always been a 'cup-half-full' type of person and just a couple of days into lockdown I thought to myself, other than the cliche or serious stuff, what have I got to be thankful for during this trying time. So here's my list;

I'm thankful...
that's it's not the height of summer with 35c+ heat
that I live in a RV with a slide-out
that I went au naturel over Christmas and don't need a hairdresser
that I had a haircut just before I left Napier
that I can stay in my PJs all day
that no one will knock on my door while I'm in my PJs
that I can wear the same clothes 3 days running & nobody will know
that I can catch up on my blogs and photos
that I'm a hoarder of supplies including toiletries
for our diesel heaters
for two folders full of recipes that were sorted for 'van living' and that I've never had the time to try out
for the bathroom scales to keep me in check, just in case I eat too much

(I'm not thankful that I'll miss the autumn colours though)

Stay safe & well my friends. And stay home. We've got this.


  1. Stange times for us all Shellie. Will try and catch up as soon as we can head south again. Murray and Joc.

    1. Hi guys, it surely has been a strange time. So pleased you managed to get your appointment before all this happened. Hopefully you're doing ok, a bit of blessing in disguise because you would have been chomping at the bit to get out fishing instead of resting up Murray! Take care xx

  2. Stay safe. We were in the middle of the Lewis Pass when the crossings closed. Headed for Blenheim and with the extension were able to get a crossing with a fleet of motor homes

    1. Pleased you managed to get out and then over the Strait after lockdown. I feel for all those that didn't make it.

  3. “The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft tae gley” Robert Burns.
    Glad you both are safe.....we got this....Hmmm I hope so! Take care Shellie and David.
    Creativity, being kind, and connections are all blossoming from 2m or more!
    Kia Kaha

    1. Hi Jimu, hope you two bubble buddies are all good and well too. Positive thoughts Jimu, positive thoughts! :)

  4. What a great read ... and a happy ending. Great to see you are Ok.

    1. Thanks Muzzar, much appreciated, pleased you enjoyed the blog. Stay safe.

  5. Glad you made it to your lock down location safely. Our planned trip over will be "slightly delayed" now. lol... We were so close to travelling too (tomorrow 3rd April was our flight) Boooo! :) All ok though and keeping well so far...Stay safe folks.

    1. OMG, you scraped through there by the skin of your teeth. You would not have wanted to be caught over here in lockdown, it's not been pretty for the many tourists that were. Then there's be all the extra expense and stress. Your time will come again, one day. But I'm sure it will be a totally different world then. Take care.


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