Lessons from the lonely road of essential travel

7:48 pm on 25 August 2021

First person - If there's one New Zealand metropolis demonstrating how alert level 4 is done - let's all take a leaf out of Kaikōura's book.

Kaikoura in lockdown

Kaikōura. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

The South Island has so far swerved any confirmed Delta cases but that coastal north Canterbury township sure looks like it's taking the threat seriously.

The scene this morning was one of tease and temptation.

Sugar-coated peaks, boundless blue skies and fur seals wrinkling their whiskers in the sunlight. Silky smooth seas with eye-wateringly good dive visibility.

Yet not a boat bobbing on the water, nor a wetsuit-clad swimmer on the beach, or a local loitering at Nin's Bin. All empty, apart from a small handful of people in town queuing for a superette. There were masks on their faces and each was diligently maintaining their two-metre spacing.

Vistas aside, the journey along State Highway 1 was quite unfathomable to this hardened Auckland commuter.

Motoring north as an essential worker meant sharing the vast tarseal stretches between Kaikōura and Blenheim with a grand total of … seven trucks, five utes and one whole car.

I'm making the journey home because of a backcountry van trip severed short and work duties I couldn't carry out in my brief bunkerage in Christchurch.

The only company in the passenger seat of my car is a mound of Dettol wipes, gloves, masks and sanitiser, and I'll be making just one overnight stop in an essential worker hotel. The rest is all roadside gas cooker coffees and One Square Meals. Glamorous.

Cheviot in lockdown

Cheviot. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

At the entrance to Blenheim a lonely red traffic light almost derailed my plans. It had been set up between a roadworks sign and a blind corner, unmarked on the Traffic Agency website.

Seconds passed, then minutes. It glowed stubbornly red. It occurred to me that I could be the very first human to encounter that traffic light today. Perhaps it was left out by roadworkers by mistake. More than 20 minutes ticked by before it blinked green, and I fumbled with my gearstick and handbrake in sweet relief.

On board the Kaiarahi Interislander ferry it was so quiet I could hear the soft snores of another passenger across the lounge, and winced at the crackle of my sandwich container.

There were a throng of freight trucks, but I was one of only nine cars.

Picton in lockdown

Picton. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

Staff snapped photos of essential work permits, contactlessly caught tickets using a cardboard Dorito box, and waved passengers to spaced-out seating. No cider-sipping or TV-ad frolicking families on the upper decks today.

There's ugly stories abounding in police press releases of verbal abuse and level 4 rule breakers, but it's clear hundreds are doing the right thing.

And aren't we lucky to have our beautiful countryside patiently waiting on the other side.

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