I cried on Monday.
Not that classy kind of crying either, like you see in the movies, where one solitary tear rolls down the cheek in dramatic fashion.
No, siree, Bob.
It was the proper ugly snarfle-type cry, and it caught me by surprise.
As the wheels of a big plane, with a red kangaroo painted on its tail, hit Queenstown Airport’s runway at 2.31pm, for the first time in more than a year I felt like I could breathe.
But, ironically, I couldn’t, ‘cos, you know, snarfle crying comes with a hyperventilation type of weird breathing.
I probably should feel embarrassed.
Because, as I said to our phenomenal photographer, Gregor Richardson, who came
from the Otago Daily Times head office in Dunedin to help (and who also admitted to
having a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye), unless you’ve lived through the past 13
months in Queenstown, you can’t actually appreciate what we’ve had to deal with.
This time last year, we were still in Alert Level 4.
Mountain Scene had just come off the presses for the first time in a month.
We, as a community, still had no idea what was coming at us, how we would hold up, or how long this could go on for.
When you think about what we’ve gone through since then, it’s brain-bending.
While the headlines have been dominated by the negatives for our town, when I really think about the blur that’s been the past year, the things that stand out are the positives.
There are a lot of them.
Covid’s forced us to be brave.
Our business community’s used every ounce of imagination and determination it has to survive, with some pretty epic results — had this pesky pandemic not have hit, those risks, many of which are paying off, may never have been taken.
Many have also learnt some valuable lessons about creating more resilient businesses for the future.
The yarns we’ve had for years about diversifying our economy have ramped up … hopefully they’ll turn into something concrete.
During last year’s lockdown we all got a chance to just stop and be — for most of us, it was
the first time in our adult lives we’ve been able to do that.
I think we’ve all now got a deeper appreciation and sense of ownership of our place, and a
greater desire to protect it as the world, ever so slowly, starts to right itself and people start to come back to see us.
We’ve had some important conversations here about sustainable tourism, what it looks like and how we create it (the vital thing is those conversations turn into action, and not just another talkfest).
We’ve actually started to make some headway with things that were long overdue, like
better mental health support.
Perhaps most of all, though, Covid’s reminded us of the importance of human connection, something we probably all took for granted before Covid.
Because of that, it feels like our community has become stronger and more united.
Remember a year ago when we couldn’t even deliver a hug to someone who wasn’t in our
When we had to sit at least a metre away from anyone?
When there were security guards at the supermarket and you had to learn how to navigate
‘‘click and collect’’ (GAME CHANGER, btw).
When going out for dinner, or a drink, or playing a bit of sport wasn’t even an option?
When all the playgrounds were taped up and you were trying to explain to the tiny humans in your life why they couldn’t play with the neighbours?
Adversity often brings out the very best and the very worst in people.
On Monday as I watched those reunions inside Queenstown Airport — moments I feel so privileged to have witnessed — I thought about how we, as a town, responded.
In so many ways, this thing brought out the best in us.
We’ve battled through every day, hoping tomorrow might bring a bit of relief.
And through it all, we’ve had each others’ backs, and supported people when they needed it the most, the best we could.
Queenstown’s still a long, long way from recovery — and I’m not yet convinced we’re on the same page about what that looks like, or how we’re actually going to get there.
But we’ve made it this far, in no small part because despite how hard it got, we made a choice to stick together.
For more than 13 months I’ve had a little mantra on repeat in my brain: ‘‘We’ll be OK.’’
Monday was the first time I believed it.