Lockdown in Queenstown

March 28, 2020
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WELL it’s the first couple of days of New Zealand’s extreme four-week lockdown so far and I haven’t gone crazy yet, but time will tell!

I’m stuck in Auckland at the moment, at the other end of the country. The effects on New Zealand’s big cities have been in the media, with pictures of deserted motorways and so on.

But my editor, Chris Harris, has taken some weekday photos of what’s like in Queenstown, the smaller, touristy lake town where I’m also based.

Queenstown from Bob’s Peak. Photo by Lawrence Murray from Perth, Australia, CC 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Queenstown’s not so big. But normally it’s just as busy as Auckland, for it’s been an epic tourist trap since Victorian times.

From a display in Queenstown’s Village Green

Right now nobody in New Zealand’s allowed to go anywhere other than to the supermarket or to a doctor or pharmacy, or to get some fresh air and exercise. So there aren’t many cars on the street and the place looks pretty deserted.

The road to Glenorchy, at Sunshine Bay. No action on the building site either!

Camp Street
The lakeshore embankment, near the tied-up steamer TSS Earnslaw

The Village Green, a park where people normally come to sit and eat lunch

Already, after just two days, there are signs of reversion to nature. After the great Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, there was a great population explosion of pigeons, among other things. Shattered office buildings turned into gigantic dovecotes. It was the weirdest thing, like something out of the TV series Life After People.

Well, things aren’t that far gone in Queenstown yet, but already there are signs of animals emboldened. Here’s a little shag at the embankment, a type of cormorant which is normally fairly wild.

The seagulls seem to have have mostly left town already. Obviously scrounging off our leftovers was an important part of their diet. The ducks are still here. But they’ve mostly decamped from the Village Green to the lakeshore, where there’s more in the way of natural sources of food.

And here’s an adorable sparrow warming itself on an uplight in the middle of a path at the Village Greeen. I guess it doesn’t need to worry about getting stepped on anymore! My editor says that he’s never seen anything like this.

There are quite a few people out and about, walking and biking. New Zealanders are now forbidden to congregate on the beach but my editor did see one soul sitting on a bench on the Queenstown foreshore, and a woman taking a little kid for a walk there too.

Spotted! A beachgoer sitting on a park bench.

Three seagulls hoping for the return of better days, beside Queenstown’s main lakeshore beach

The beach ban is to suppress crowds that would spread the coronavirus, like the American Spring Break students who were still partying on, dude as recently as the nineteenth of March. So, the odd stroller on the sands won’t be stopped by the cops. That was made clear just this Friday.

One of the most iconic places in Queenstown is Fergburger, which supposedly serves the best hamburgers in the word (though to judge from the prices, you get what you pay for). Whether it’s the best or not, it’s probably the busiest single hamburger joint anywhere. There is just about always a huge queue blocking the footpath (i.e., sidewalk), indeed to the point that the footpath there has been specially widened with a passing lane! The red chimneys perpetually emit a great plume of blue smoke, obviously exempted from air pollution regulations, if there are any in Queenstown, on the grounds that it’s wholesome hamburger-grill smoke.

Well, not at the moment! Chris couldn’t resist some once in a lifetime shots of a now-shuttered Fergburger.

Fergburger. Note the passing lane with steel fences on the outside of the footpath proper, which has wooden seats on a rock base facing the shops. And the red chimneys, currently emitting no smoke.

Getting a top of the line burger at Fergburger is pretty much at the top of the list of things to be done at the end of our month’s shut-down, which is really a sort of Ramadan, in which we renounce worldly pleasures and stay home for a month contemplating mortality instead!

No more of this for the duration . . .

And no haircuts either — now that does sound like penance for our sins!

Nor trips up the Queenstown Gondola to the Skyline Restaurant, which you can also see in that photo.

Nor ferries!

Certainly not much scope for pub crawls right now, ‘classy’ or otherwise.

There are some consolations. You can still get beer and wine at NZ supermarkets. And the government’s also been quite generous, handing out $7,000 or so to any gig worker who can show they’ve been left high and dry. The wait’s only two days or so and the hard-up get the benefit of the doubt, a reversal of the usual stingy approach of the welfare agencies.

Hiking on the mountain trails overlooking the town also seems to have become a bit more popular as a pastime, now that there isn’t so much else to do.

Later on that night, a friend of mine went to the supermarket and shot a dashboard video while driving through town. The town would normally be pumping on a Friday night. But it was really quiet.

Though, later on that night, there was a concert in my suburb. People could watch and listen to while standing on their balconies and cheering. This was something the Council put on: an idea copied from the Italians and the Spanish no doubt. Hats off to the Council!

What else can I say? Oh yes, I had trouble renting out a downstairs unit amid the general tourism downturn and then suddenly found myself putting up some foreigners who were stuck in New Zealand! That’s ironic, isn’t it?

If you liked the post above, check out my new book about the South Island! It's available for purchase from this website.


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