Ah 2020. The year that was supposed to be the start of the new decade, a time to look forward and imagine and plan what the coming years of the ’20s would be like. This time last year we were staying at a balsamic vinegar farm in Northern Italy, enjoying an incredible home-cooked meal by an old nonna at the local trattoria, then watching fireworks at midnight eagerly anticipating what the year would bring.
Instead – a global pandemic, complete chaos around the world, hundreds of thousands dead and millions infected with a new virus AND the end of travel as we know it for the time being. Wow.
Like everyone else we never would have dreamed in a million years that this is what 2020 would deliver. For us 2020 was supposed to be a year of consolidation – returning to New Zealand after 13 months of travel so the kids could return to school, and for us to figure out what life looked like going forward over the next few years.
The reality was we got a month of fantastic travel in before returning home to 6 weeks of relative normality before the world turned upside down, the New Zealand border slammed shut to all but returning citizens (and still remains that way), we went into the world’s strictest lockdown in March – able to leave the house only for exercise and to visit the grocery store or pharmacy, and like most people the roller coaster ride of worry of catching the virus, and the economic ups and downs were ever-present.
But despite it all, there were still many highlights and good times, so here’s a round-up of the good and not-so-good parts of 2020.
- 1 International Travel in January
- 2 Return to New Zealand
- 3 Lockdown number 1
- 4 Rotorua
- 5 Campervanning at Tekapo and Lake Pukaki
- 6 Lockdown number 2
- 7 A trip to hospital – twice, and a broken hand
- 8 Queenstown
- 9 Hawkes Bay
- 10 Moving house
- 11 Sad times for the Our Overseas Adventures website
- 12 Summing up 2020
- 13 Plans for 2021
International Travel in January
January 2020 was the last month of our family gap year, so we crammed in a lot to try and see and do as much as we could before returning to New Zealand (little did we know it would be our last international travel for some time!)
Our week in Northern Italy was mostly food-themed, and we just loved exploring the quaint towns of the region and eating our way through some of the best food we’ve ever tasted.
The city of Bologna was just stunning, and we’d love to return one day and spend more time exploring.
The local food market was such a highlight for us, we spent a lot of time drooling over the amazing produce, cool deli-style shops with amazing salami and mortadella available by the slice and endless incredible homemade pasta.
A highlight of our stay was joining an Italian family for the day in their home and learning how to make some of the traditional dishes of the region.
We learned to make authentic ragu, delicious tortellini and mouth-watering tiramisu. We’ve created these dishes many time since at home and it’s high on our favourite foodie experience of all-time list.
Another great experience was visiting FICO Eataly World in Bologna which is basically a giant theme park for foodies. It was like a Food Expo on steroids, full of producers of the region showcasing their products and showing how they’re made. We learned lots about parmesan cheese, mortadella, gelato, hand-made pasta and balsamic vinegar.
We also got to get up and personal with another great product of the region – Ferarri. The excellent Ferarri museum in Modena is super cool and even if you’re not a car fan it’s really interesting to learn about the brand, what goes into building the cars and the passion behind it.
From Northern Italy we hightailed it down to Provence in France for a couple of days, re-visiting some of our favourite places.
Highlights were the beautiful city of Avignon with the Pope’s Palace.
We loved wandering around the town of Arles with it’s incredible ampitheatre dating back to Roman times.
We also visited a very quiet St-Remy-des-Provence which was quite different to when we’ve been before in the height of summer.
Costa Brava, Spain
From Provence we crossed the border into Spain and spent a lovely few days with stunning weather beside the sea in the Costa Brava region of Catalonia in Spain.
We stayed at a gorgeous hotel, which would be way out of our budget during the summer months, but was very reasonable in mid-January. We enjoyed time visiting some of the local beaches and seaside towns.
Tamariu was our favourite, and we spent a memorable day enjoying a paella lunch right beside the ocean and watching some of the locals catching fish.
From Spain it was time to turn north again and we took a small detour to drive through the tiny country of Andorra on our way back into France.
After one last play in the snow we headed back to our beloved Issigeac to spend a few days back at Domaine de Pemontier before driving up to Paris and our flight out to the USA.
We got to see Issigeac still decked out in Christmas decorations, and pay one last visit to some of our favourite towns and villages.
New York, USA
New York was everything the kids had imagined – and we even got snow in Times Square! Mike and I had been twice before, but it was brilliant to take the kids and experience it in the depths of winter.
We spent a whirlwind few days exploring the Natural History Museum, Central Park, Times Square, Bryant Park, doing a sail past on the free Statten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, visiting the 9/11 memorial, and doing a spot of shopping at the Hershey Store, Forever 21, Target, GAP and LOFT.
We ate some great food – playing the tourist at Bubba Gump in Times Square, enjoying delicious deli breakfasts at a diner round the corner from our hotel, chowing down on New York cheesecake and eating some authentic Jewish food at the fabulous Russ and Daughters Cafe.
From New York we flew to Los Angeles for a brief overnight stay before heading down to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico for some rest and recreation before heading home. We were lucky enough to stay in a friend’s incredible condo that had stunning views out over the Pacific Ocean.
We loved wandering around the marina area of Cabo, enjoying the wonderful Mexican food and spending time at the beach.
Going out on Roger’s Boat was an absolute highlight, where we got to explore the Arch – a stunning rock formation at the entrance to the harbour.
We then headed to the open ocean and were incredibly lucky to see whales breaching and diving. It was one of the top highlights of our year away.
From Cabo we rented a car and headed up the coast to Todos Santos, a gorgeous cute town which is what everyone said Cabo was like before it got developed and commercialised.
We loved the cute shops full of handcrafts and traditional ceramics, the lovely restaurants and cafes in the town and the wild beaches on the coast.
Santa bought the kids Disneyland tickets and it was the perfect way to end our travels. Little did we know at the time that we would be some of the last people to visit before it had to close.
Return to New Zealand
We arrived back to New Zealand at the end of January and the next day began moving into our rental house as our house was still tenanted. We remember sitting at Honolulu airport and watching the news reports on the increasing escalation of coronavirus in Wuhan China, and the early spread into Europe and the USA.
A few days before we arrived back in New Zealand our school sent out an email requesting that any student who had been travelling in Asia over the summer break to please isolate at home for 2 weeks. Given all the travel we had done in the previous month, we offered to quarantine at home, but of course in those early days China was the concern rather than Europe and the US!
The kids went back to school a couple of days later and were very excited to see all their friends and teachers again. We were again amazed at how well they settled back in. It reaffirmed our decision to finish our travels and return home.
Mike started his new contract back at his previous employer before we left for our travels in 2019 and I continued to do freelance writing and marketing work.
Meanwhile, NZ got its first Covid case, then the numbers steadily began climbing. It became clear that the small number of intensive care beds in the country that our health service just wouldn’t cope with large numbers of Covid patients needing care.
Lockdown number 1
As things escalated rapidly and much agonising we decided to keep the kids at home from school and began self-isolating apart from Mike going to work. However shortly afterwards our PM announced the country was going into lockdown – meaning only essential services could operate – basically supermarkets, healthcare and supply chains. At the time it was the strictest lockdown in the world.
We began homeschooling (again!) and the kids were pretty miffed that we’d come all the way back to NZ so they could return to school, only to be having Mum and Dad as teacher! The good thing was that because we were relatively experienced with homeschool, we knew not to sweat the small stuff and do what we could to get by while both holding down jobs and continuing on with those.
We were permitted to exercise close to home which was a godsend. Most days we would walk around our neighbourhood, up the volcanic cone nearby and to the golf course across the road who kindly opened up to the public. Mike went a step further and ran 500km around our local streets during the lockdown!
Eventually restaurants and cafes were able to open up to offer takeout (including coffee – how our nation went without coffee for 5 weeks I will never know!) and goods could be delivered to homes so we could stock back up on craft supplies and get a new laptop to replace our one that died.
Gradually life returned back to “normal” and finally we were able to move around the country again. We hot footed it down to Rotorua, one of our favourite parts of New Zealaned for a well-needed break.
Tourism in NZ was devastated overnight with the closure of borders, so we were keen to do what we could to help and booked a long weekend at our favourite hotel the Holiday Inn.
We’d heard great things about the Redwoods Treewalk, so we bought a ticket for the day and night time walk.
The day provided beautiful views of the forest and ferns below, while at night a series of lights and wooden David Truebridge lanterns lit up the forest. It was really special experiencing it both ways.
The rest of the time we visited some of our favourite spots – Lake Tikitapu and Tarawera, the boiling mud and steam at Kurau Park, and enjoyed eating at some of the great restaurants in town – our faves the Pig and Whistle and the Fat Dog Cafe.
Campervanning at Tekapo and Lake Pukaki
In July we took advantage of a brilliant deal that Maui campervans were offering, and flew to Christchurch in the South Island. We picked up our brilliant campervan and drove to the gorgeous town of Tekapo, one of our favourite places in New Zealand.
We stayed in the camping ground for a couple of nights, which is conveniently located next to the lake and the Hot Springs – a complex full of relaxing hot pools, ice-skating and toboggoning. It’s so much fun and a definite must-do if you’re visiting McKenzie country.
We also visited the obligatory Church of the Good Shepherd, a cute stone building located beside the lake and one of New Zealand’s iconic tourist photo spots.
After Tekapo we took the camper over to Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. We had planned on camping the night there and doing the wonderful Hooker Valley track, but unfortunately torrential rain stopped us. We ended up cooking a pasta lunch in the back of the camper at the DOC carpark and didn’t see a thing! The drive out there is stunning though so it was still worth it.
We spent the night ‘freedom camping’ beside Lake Pukaki, and it was a highlight of the trip.
Freedom camping means parking up wherever you want (provided you have a self-contained vehicle), and we found the most incredible spot right next to the lake. It was magical watching the sunset and we were very toasty and warm inside our campervan.
Lockdown number 2
In August, another breakout of Covid-19 in our home city Auckland saw us plunge into another Level 3 lockdown. Our Prime Minister and Head of Public Health appeared in a press conference at 9.30pm at night announcing that we would be going into lockdown at 12pm the next day!
So for 3 weeks it was back to working from home, online shopping and grocery delivery, not mixing with anyone outside our household and homeschooling again. Luckily this time we were better armed with arts, crafts and baking equipment! Mentally it was quite tough as the rest of the country were still out living life normally while we were confined to our homes once again.
A trip to hospital – twice, and a broken hand
There’s a certain irony that we’ve travelled to so many countries and never had more than a cut or graze, but when we return to New Zealand some minor health issues raise their head and it’s off to hospital (for Kylie). I was pretty much out of action from September to November recovering from a couple of surgeries, but glad that I was at home during this time to deal with it.
Mike also managed to fracture a couple of knuckles in his hand playing football, so that has been a few months of physio and recovery to get things right again.
Thankfully the kids are doing great!
October saw the kids jump on a plane down to Queenstown to stay with their cousins during some of the school holidays. They had a fun time learning to ski at the Remarkables, while Mum and Dad stayed in Auckland and worked!
November saw us celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. Originally we were planning on going to Bali to soak up some sun and satay, but 2020 put paid to that! Instead we headed to the eastern part of the North Island and to Hawkes Bay for a long weekend. We had a lovely time visiting some of the many vineyards of the area, the wonderful Farmers Market, climbing up Te Mata Peak (the highest mountain in the area) and taking a walk along the beach at Ocean Beach.
We also ate some delicious food at the excellent restaurants in the area.
Because 2020 hadn’t thrown enough at us, we decided that it was time to move house again right before Christmas!
We had been living in a rental property since we had arrived back at the start of the year that was fine, but it was quite far from where the kids go to school and the commute was getting to be a bit overwhelming. Our own home is still tenanted out, but we’ve found a place that is literally behind the kid’s scho0l, where they don’t have to cross any roads to get to school and can walk or scooter independently.
It also means we’re cutting out a whopping 10 hours a week of travel time in the car and can now walk many places we need to be – great for the environment and a big tick towards our personal goals to do more individually to mitigate climate change.
It’s also closer to the city and at the end of our street is a great selection of cafes, bars and restaurants, along with lovely walks up Auckland’s highest mountain – so far we’re very happy!
Sad times for the Our Overseas Adventures website
Like everything in the tourism industry, this website also suffered badly thanks to the pandemic. What started as a hobby and a diary to document our travels to our family and friends had turned into a fledgeling little business.
2019 was our best year ever, and along with bringing us in some income from advertising, affiliate commissions and the e-book on family gap year travel we launched last year, gave us opportunities to work with some awesome brands and receive discounted or free stays and experiences in return for our honest review of their product or accommodation.
Nearly 200,000 people visited this website in 2019, and we were super excited about the plans we had to expand and ramp it up in 2020.
Instead, traffic to the website fell off a cliff from mid-February onwards, and it’s only just beginning to recover now. Because of the uncertainty of 2020 I spent most of my time doing freelance marketing and communications to bring in the cash, and haven’t spent much time on the website at all sadly. But hopefully, 2021 will give me the opportunity to get back into it and bring it back to life 🙂
Summing up 2020
I don’t think we’ve still fully comprehended the ride that 2020 was, like most people around the world. I think we’ll look back on this period of our lives as being the most anxious, greatest upheaval and unsettled time we’ve ever personally had until this point (and this coming from people who have happily lived nomadically around the world for months at a time!)
While we’re incredibly grateful to be here, safe and living relatively normal lives compared to millions around the world, we’ve struggled a bit mentally with the border being closed and travel completely off the cards for us. This is the longest we’ve been in New Zealand without travelling overseas for many years. Without having an end date in sight at this point, we’re really missing the fun of planning and anticipation of where to go next, and all the unique cultures, experiences and food our planet has to offer.
In saying that, there have been lots of silver linings and I think it has been good for us to be more grounded and slow down a bit, instead of constantly planning the next trip. The kids are very settled back in school and loving it, along with being with their friends and activities again. We are back at work and amazingly appreciating and enjoying some of the more routine aspects of life. It’s nice to have our ‘stuff’ with us again like cherished travel momentoes, favourite recipe books and cookware, sporting equipment and toys.
The past year has definitely been all about learning to smell the roses a bit more and appreciate what our beautiful backyard has to offer.
We’re very much glass half full people, and the advent of a Covid vaccine gives us hope that international travel might be on the cards again later this year or in 2022. There’s much anticipation of a quarantine-free “travel bubble” between NZ and Australia and the Cook Islands. We’ll see what happens but it would be great to think we could take some short trips over there at some point.
However the world has without a doubt changed in the past year, and it could potentially be a long time before we can return to some of the more off-the-beaten-track destinations as we’ve done in the past. We have no idea what flights will even be available out of New Zealand once the dust settles, and what the cost will potentially be. It’s hard to know whether things will go backwards 20 years and it will be expensive to fly anywhere from our home at the bottom of the world, or if the aviation industry will see it as an opportunity and there will be more choice of destinations than ever. Who knows, maybe everyone will want to come to New Zealand and there will be flights available to all corners of the globe?!
In the meantime, there’s always more of New Zealand to explore.
Plans for 2021
We have a couple of school holiday trips planned so far. In a couple of weeks time we are heading to the Northland region of NZ, to spend some time on the gorgeous beaches, take some walks to explore the native bush and we hope to do a boat trip out to a marine reserve to do some snorkelling and kayaking.
At Easter, we are flying to the top of the South Island to visit the Abel Tasman National Park, one of our favourite parts of the country. We spent time here during our honeymoon 20 years ago and are looking forward to taking the kids there. If the weather is ok, we are wanting to walk some of the Queen Charlotte track, one of New Zealand’s ‘great walks’.
Other than that we plan on continuing to stay local and see more of our backyard. There are parts of our own city that we’ve yet to properly explore even though we’ve lived here for most of our lives, and that’s a good thing 🙂