On August 17th 2021, we were in a motel in Hokitika. We’d spent the day driving from Fox River, stopping at waterfalls and admiring the West Coast landscape. We planned to spend one night in Hokitika before making our way down the coast to stay at the Rainforest Retreat. My husband was taking a nap, and I was editing photos and scrolling through Instagram.
I started to see posts of COVID cases in Auckland and increasing concern that a lockdown was emittent. So I tuned into the government press conference. Just like that, the whole country was heading into a level 4 lockdown at midnight. I quickly entered panic mode. Were we going to be able to get home? Where were we going to stay (having only booked a night at the motel)? If we stayed at the motel, would we even be allowed to use the shared facilities? And how would we reunite with our dog who was staying with my parent in Christchurch?
I had a look at flights. There was no way we were getting home that night or the next day. So we decided to call the place we were due to stay in Franz Josef, to see if we could come a day earlier. It was only an hour away, so we would be able to make it before the lockdown took effect.
Thankfully they had space for us. The staff member also offered us the option to upgrade to a room with a kitchen to cook our own food. So with the booking confirmed, we jumped in the car and headed off to our home for the next few days.
Arriving at the Rainforest Retreat
We arrived in Franz Josef and could see the mountains peak out of the night sky. Even with the cloak of darkness, I knew we had arrived somewhere beautiful. We were staying at the Rainforest Retreat. They had left our key in an envelope outside reception with a map to our room.
We drove through the tree-lined gravel roads until we made it to treehouse number 12. This is where we would be spending the next few days while we figured out our plan. Then, finally, the stress started to fade, and we were able to take a moment to appreciate where we were. The room was gorgeous, and I felt fortunate that we could hold up in such a great spot.
We made pizza, drank some wine and went to bed, ready to see what tomorrow would bring.
Figuring out the next steps
When the sun rose, it revealed the mountains in the distance, my suspicious from the previous night that we were staying somewhere beautiful were confirmed. So, with masks on, we decided to go for our government approved walk daily walk and just soak in the area’s beauty.
Once we returned, I checked in on the news. It was looking increasingly likely that the three-day lockdown would be extended, and we would have to do whatever we could to make it home before the 48-hour government travel window closed. I had a look at flights and was able to book for the following day from Hokitika to Wellington via Christchurch.
The next step was to call the airline. Our dog Meko was staying in Christchurch with our parents, and we were hoping that we would be able to get him during our transfer at the Christchurch airport. After an hour and a half on hold, the airline told me that pets could not travel at level four, and we would have to make alternative arrangements. I knew he was safe with my parents, so I decided to park that issue until we were back in Wellington.
The next step was calling the car rental company to see if we could drop the car off in Hokitika instead of Queenstown, where we were initially supposed to be finishing our journey. Thankfully the switch was all good. The final thing on my to-do list was cancelling the other booking was had made. I contacted Glacier heli-hike and Cross Hill Domes. Both places were excellent to deal with, offering us the option to re-book for another time, get a credit or refund.
Rainforest Retreat Relaxation
Once everything was sorted, there was nothing left to do but chill out, relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. My emotions were mixed. I felt lucky we were somewhere so wonderful, grateful we had a plan to get home, sad about having to cut our trip short and guilty for feeling sad when there were much more significant issues going on in the world. In the end, I had to reconcile that feeling guilt was going to change anything. All feeling bad would do was put me in a negative headspace.
We decided just to embrace where we were and enjoy ourselves. Upgrading our room to have a kitchen also meant that we had access to our own private balcony hot tub. We spent the day relaxing in the warm water, a glass of wine in hand, admiring the beautiful mountains and stunning rainforest around us. The circumstances that led us to this point weren’t ideal, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that we had a pretty great time.
The Journey Home
On our final morning, we enjoyed our coffee in the hot tub, took one last shot walk, said goodbye to the most beautiful lockdown location we could have asked for, and then started the drive to Hokitika.
We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. I don’t imagine that the Hokitika airport is the busiest airport under normal circumstances, but it was an absolute ghost town today. So we waited patiently for our flight to board, and then we were off to Christchurch.
The flight was taking place at sunset, so we could fly over the Southern Alps while the sky turned the most beautiful shades of purple and pink. Unfortunately, the calm of the sunset flight was soon replaced by the busyness of the Christchurch airport. It wasn’t too chaotic; it just felt like a typical airport experience with a few more security guards and everyone wearing masks.
The flight was calm, and uneventfully, thankfully, we had parked our car at the airport, so we didn’t have to deal with the logistics of finding a ride and were able to head straight home. Finally, we arrived and settled in, ready to see what the next few days would bring.
Our experience in Franz Josef was nothing like we’d planned; we managed to make the best out of the situation. I can’t wait to go back and stay at the Rainforest Retreat again one day and experience the area properly.