No one, it would appear, got their five-year plans right in 2015.
I found out the borders were closed when I emerged from walking the Moonlight Track.
The following weekend we were heading to Australia, our first complete family holiday in several years, children and partners coming from all over New Zealand.
We could still go if we wanted to, but no one wanted to spend two weeks in self-isolation on returning, whether it was away from work, school or university.
The holiday was off.
But surely this borders-closed thing couldn’t last and we could try and appeal to our accommodation providers’ better nature and push it out a little?
As for the flights, well, Air NZ would deal with them.
Soon after, workplaces all over the country started shutting down domestic travel.
When that is a key part of what you do, the horizon comes in pretty quickly.
Elsewhere in town, the visitor exodus began, and New Zealanders started coming home from around the world.
I was angry — surely Labour had just lost the election, the economic fallout would be too great to bear.
There had been pandemics before, SARS, H1N1, surely this was just a bad flu and we were seriously over-reacting?
But while we over-react could everyone please wash their hands, stand apart and sign in at businesses?
Within a fortnight we couldn’t leave NZ — even if we were prepared to self-isolate on returning, that would be a ‘no’ from the government.
While I was trying my best to keep calm and carry on (as worker, mother, wife), other people around me moved on to working out what NZ could look like if this virus got out and what it would mean.
While we listened to the Prime Minister and Dr Bloomfield every day, most of us were shielded from the grim realities of planning a pandemic response in NZ.
I worked with people who had to plan where land could be taken for mass public graves and the logistics of moving multiple bodies, establishing ‘‘field hospitals’’ and providing access to protective personal equipment and other critical supplies, as well as protecting
supply chains to ensure we could still eat in the event of mass illness and casualties.
We have 155 intensive care beds in NZ.
I’m glad I wasn’t the person deciding who would be prioritised access.
I don’t want to be alarmist here, but it was truly terrifying and sobering.
We all knew it was coming, as much as we didn’t want it, when on Otago Anniversary Day we were told as a nation we were all going to play an extended game of go home, stay home.
It was Monday, and in the end we had till Wednesday night for the mad scramble to wherever you were going to be for what was, for most, the next 55 days.
I know several people whose lives fell apart during lockdown.
Businesses that could open dealt with physical distancing and sanitation requirements, and in some cases, infections shutting whole operations down.
For all businesses it was a moving feast of what support the government could or would provide, but all non-essential worksites were shut, and domestic and export orders were cancelled, even if you were still operating.
Subsequently, NZ has somewhat come back to life, with headline economic indicators unlike the dire forecasts of 2020.
But for many of our small businesses, they haven’t had the luxury of being able to relocate and start again like they would in response to a natural disaster.
In the beginning there was hope.
We’d get through it, just hang on till the Aussies arrive.
But now reserves are exhausted.
In our communities’ and businesses’ context, it’s not a case of pivoting.
It’s basic maths.
We are built for four to five million commercial bed nights a year.
NZ, thank you, but in a real good year you might get us close to one million.
We know the borders will reopen, we’d just like certainty on how.
We know when the world comes back, we need to be open for business, we’d just like some support to keep and attract talent so we’re ready to deliver.
We know Queenstown is a good bet and people want to invest in new and existing businesses, we’d just like this enabled.
Now is the time for a truly transformative economic recovery plan, developed and delivered in partnership across all sectors of our community and country.
Dear government, help us make this the story of 2021.
Ruth Stokes is Queenstown Chamber of Commerce’s new chief executive