As most people know by now, New Zealand has managed to stay COVID-free since the pandemic started. They do this by only letting citizens and residents into the country, and requiring them all to quarantine (MIQ) for 14 days in a government-managed facility. It's incredibly hard to secure a spot, since they are limited. Getting one, as we did, is a miracle. Despite being so happy we got a spot in MIQ, I was pretty nervous about what it would be like with a 13-month-old and an incredibly energetic 2-year-old. I scoured the internet for bits of information, only to gather that the hotels are all quite different and you don't know what you'll get until you find out what hotel you're assigned when you land in Auckland. Right off the bat, the agents helping us through the airport and onto the buses were super-friendly in the way Kiwis usually are. We were guided off the back of the aircraft into buses, and then had to walk 20 minutes through empty airport hallways to health and customs screening check-points. Agents took our temperatures and put our toddler at ease by pretending to take his stuffed panda's temp too. And twice people offered to have us cut in the customs line when our kids started crying. I was glad we'd brought snacks and water for the kiddos.
We couldn't get our bags (or our stroller, which we had gate-checked) until we got to the hotel. They ushered us to a charter bus with two dozen other people and we were told we were going to the Sudima Auckland Airport hotel, just a five minute drive away. Phew! A long bus ride would have tipped us all over the edge.
After waiting an hour in the bus we shuffled inside the hotel group by group and were given our rooms – thankfully we had been able to book two rooms. The rooms were tiny but adjoined via a door, and we got to work rearranging the furniture right away. I rotated the beds length-wise along the walls to make more play space in both rooms, and pulled armchairs and a desk together for a makeshift dining table. We ordered room service and then all passed out for a nap.
If prison were a five-star hotel with amazing staff and delicious food, that would be quarantine. Everything is heavily guarded and there are a lot of rules. Isaac and I joked that you could never get away with something like this in the States – you'd have protesters outside the facility and belligerent people inside. But here, everyone is very compliant and the guards and staff are incredibly helpful and kind. They pick up our garbage every night, and call to offer us clean sheets and towels every third day.
(Above: Jumping on the beds to burn off energy. The bathroom works to dry laundry in, and for the kids to play "coffee shop" with water. We put 14 balloons on the wall, and each day we take one down to pop or play with as our countdown. Our dining area, kitchenette, and Ari in the high chair we had my sister-in-law drop off.)
It could actually be quite enjoyable...without kids. I had packed a whole duffel bag of toys and books and we set some of them up to make a play space for the kids. My plan was to reveal new toys each day to keep things interesting. Jumping on the beds immediately became a favorite pastime that isn't allowed at home. And one of our rooms has a handicapped shower (I was so happy we got a tub in the other one!!), so we have made it a water play area where our toddler has set up a "coffee shop" to serve us make-believe tea and coffee. Despite delicious food (like wedges and pork ribs, risotto with seared chicken, and eggs on toast), we never know when our meals will be delivered. We wait during a two-hour window three times a day for a knock at the door. Staff knock and then leave. We are instructed to wash our hands, put on a mask, and then open the door to collect what's outside. We are all starving by the time breakfast arrives, and have turned lunch leftovers into dinner a few times for the kids. We don't have a microwave, so we eat any hot food first and store the cold or pantry items from our meals for later. A few times we have answered the door thinking it's food only to find it's our daily health check. One of the (incredibly friendly and loving) nurses comes by each day to take our temps and ask a few questions. We had a COVID test on arrival and both the kids did great, thanks to the staff being so patient! They even let us go outside for five minutes to watch the rain after we were done. And once we got negative results, we were all issued wrist bands that allow us to take advantage of the outside space if we book it in advance.
They've fenced off the parking lot and made a walkway for people to do laps around it. The kids usually want to dig in the plants at the edges of the lot or splash in the puddles, which is fine so long as we stay away from others. Twice a day there are 50-minute "family" slots where they issue each family a large square of space to play in, which is much more our style. We play tag, play with trucks, or dig in the mulch along the edge of the pavement.
We're slowly figuring out how to survive, though we're only on day 3. Isaac and I started alternating who looks after the kids while the other person gets a little break, and it has kept us sane. And having two rooms is a lifesaver since the kids don't nap at the same times. I'm sure we'll figure out more little tricks to make life interesting. Eleven days to go and counting...