29 Mar 2020

Coronavirus lockdown leaves Stewart Island even quieter

9:26 am on 29 March 2020

Isolation is not a new phenomenon for residents on Stewart Island/Rakiura.

View of harbour from Stewart Island's Oban.

Stewart Island/Rakiura's township Oban. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

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It is an hour long journey from Bluff, across the often turbulent Foveaux Strait, or a 20 minute flight from Invercargill - both dependent on the weather.

About 85 percent of the island is national park. The warmer months attract thousands of trampers, hunters and visitors to the island, but in winter, visitor numbers tend to dwindle.

Despite that, Stewart Island/Rakiura Community Board member Jon Spraggon said he has never experienced anything like the lockdown for Covid-19.

He works at the ferry terminal that's still offering a limited schedule, and described his trip through the island's town Oban.

"There just wasn't vehicles anywhere, nobody to be seen, areas where normally there'd be cars, there was just nothing so the island has certainly shut down," Spraggon said.

"Normally at this time of the year, our ferry in the morning would take away 70 or 80 people. Today we had five people, one of them was a paramedic that was going off, and the other four had a special letter from the police to travel to their destination. That was it. The ferry is still running just so we can bring the food stuffs and freight mainly to the island. We're running a very, very limited programme.

"We will be well looked after but it's going to be difficult."

As houses were spaced with bush in between, you just don't see anyone, Spraggon said.

Residents now call up the grocer with their orders, which are then dropped off.

Spraggon said the community spirit remained strong.

"They've started up meals on wheels twice a week now again for the elderly, just as a way of helping," he said.

"I think the big thing is with the island being just 400 people, everyone know everyone. We've perhaps got that advantage where people will keep in contact with everyone. That you won't have someone forgotten."

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