Covid-19 Journal – NZ Edition #2

Beyond the need to stretch my legs, cycling is a nice way to get a peek at the outside world. We’ve been hiding out now for at least five weeks. Two weeks on since I last posted and still we’re getting long days, and weeks with hardly any rain. So it was strange to see it bleak out there. The sky was darker than usual, still light with the morning sun though it was buried behind heavy clouds being nudged around by high winds.

I’ve got a red mountain bike. My preference is to get amongst the trees, the dirt and the serenity of being somewhere the rest of Auckland isn’t. Woodhill is my closest mountain biking track. It’s an hour away. Given the restrictions, I go for the convenience of the roads around my neighbourhood, put slicks on my bike, though I stop short of pulling on lycra. Biking comes with freedom. The threat of COVID contact seems remote as you fly past walkers, runners and snatch yourself a two-meter gap in a heartbeat. You touch nothing but the road with your tyres. It feels good.

Auckland’s a city riddled with hills, volcanoes and so many cars. We’re aggressive drivers here. If there’s a gap, we’re bound to fill it. It’s kind of like bringing the country mentality into the city, slightly dangerous. The lack of cars on the road has been a blessing, the air is cleaner, the roads emptier and it’s just quiet. You get a real appreciation for everything that’s going on around you. Seagulls fly overhead, drift on currents to anywhere they want to go. I’m envious, they must be loving it. I’m a boatie. If you’re lucky enough to get out on the water, Auckland transforms itself. The city looks like Atlantis, it seemingly floats. Snapper is our go-to fish, Kahawai is usually abundant. Both I’d imagine are rebounding right now which is a beautiful thing.

Scientists, ecologists and a host of others must be revelling in the chance to extract findings of what has to be one of the worlds’ largest uncontrolled experiments. We recently downgraded to Alert Level 3 having been in Alert Level 4 for the best part of a month. I read that we’re one of the countries with the most severe restrictions, full border closures, social distancing, family bubbles, no travelling, no retail, next to nothing beyond essential services in Supermarkets and the odd local Dairy (call it a 711). The exact opposite of what Sweden is doing with its herd-immunity approach. Time will tell what approach is best, though the latter seems pretty risky.  Alert Level Three for us has meant we can travel a little further, think regionally, say 40-50km, versus to the supermarket and back. My family and I drove north to the East coast for a cold swim.  Takeaways are back, albeit under -˜click and collect’ provisions. Pictures of crowds hovering around Burger Fuel waiting for orders have set the country on edge.

I’m still preferring the bike. Auckland has been progressive about its cycleways. They’re a pain for a nation of cars, though that’s the point. Public transport has been woeful, it is moving forward, albeit gradually. We have a pink path that was laid down over the top of a disused motorway foundation that takes you right into the city. I fly down these shared pedestrian/cycleways, admittedly close to forty-five km’s, though only when it’s empty. The road out to St Heliers runs around our foreshore. We get a view of the North Shore and the iconic volcano of Rangitoto out in the harbour. The shared path around the coast is an ordinary one, riddled with roots from Pohutakakwa trees, driveways and all other things that make the ride rough. The speed of the bikes and a likely increase in the number of people using them have given pedestrians the footpaths. The shoulder of the road has been closed for parking, cyclists have taken it. Now I glide, crisp, and smooth across the black tarmac.

I fly past Orakei and the park, the restaurant that has changed names more often than I can remember, past Kelly Talton’s and its mobile shark – currently standing still. The wind is well and truly up as I round the point to Kohi, it’s an easy forty-knots with whitecaps. There’s an explosion of colour in the sky. Thirty, maybe forty kite surfers cut their way across the bay in front of St Heliers. Windsurfers carve their own path through it all with blistering pace. Wasn’t the whole stay off the water thing put in place to avoid potential sea rescues? This looks like a feeding frenzy, each sale taking huge bites of the wind around them as they fly through the air. There are day tents, it’s clear these guys know what they’re doing. They must be a club. One of the kite surfers comes flying into shore, pulls hard on his toggles and somehow lands flat on the beach, a perfect drop.

We had two days of -˜Zero new cases’ this week. Those COVID blobs across the map of NZ and the white numbers inside them are shrinking. It’s getting louder on the streets now, I’m getting caught by clouds of diesel as online shopping delivery trucks cough themselves into existence when I ride by. Construction is ramping up and I’m already worried about the return to normal. The economy is being thrust hard and fast at us. The marketing for it is being developed right now. As is the story around the US re-election, just take a look at Trump’s campaign against China. The media seem to be buying into it, governments worldwide are sitting on deficits that are climbing by the day. They want to blame someone.

We’ve been told Alert Level Two might only be a week away. Malls, restaurants, hairdressers and schools will reopen, albeit with strict guidelines. Domestic travel is back. We’re keen to get the economy going. Nature isn’t. Singapore’s learnt the hard way, all eyes are on the second wave of infection. There’s talk of our country’s bubble being extended to Australia. We’d benefit the most given we’re one-fifth the size. Tourism, my beloved mountains, Queenstown will be clinging to that idea. It was slow getting through an airport before, what will it look like now?

I’ve enjoyed the time out, the pause, the breath we’ve taken, though no one can ignore the devastation it has caused. What have we learned that we can each apply to the way forward? Hand on heart, I’m thinking local, of staying local and wanting to support it. Lots of good things have already come out of it, tonnes of creativity and new ideas as well as new approaches to doing things. My latest novel The Security is one of them.