We’d always planned to go back to New Zealand for my maternity leave with Malakai. We’d done the same when we had Maximilian - to introduce him to family and friends and have their support in the early months.
But we never expected that it’d be quite so tough to get back this time around.
Once upon a time it was the simple job of arranging baby's passport, booking flights, maybe an airport hotel the night before or airport transfers. Done, ready to go!
But this time......
Nothing. Has. Been. Easy.
Here are the series of challenges we’ve had to navigate to plan our journey back to NZ. Hopefully this post can help any Kiwis in the UK with young families who're also planning their journey home. Otherwise, just some insight into the many parts we've had to align and to what's been keeping us busy on top of everything else.
Challenge 1: Closed NZ Border + International Hubby
Gone are the days of a 5 minute electronic travel application. With NZ’s borders being closed to non-NZ nationals, Stefan, who travels on a German passport, has had to apply for a Critical Purpose Visa (CPV) to be able to enter with us. Although relatively straightforward, it was still a time consuming task as needed to collate and provide detailed proof of our relationship. You also have a window to enter the country which, when you’ve got a baby’s passport to apply for, quarantine and flights to book, can be a bit stressful to ensure you’re going to be travelling within the said window......
Challenge 2: Getting Malakai’s NZ Passport
You need a birth certificate to be able to apply for a passport and you need passport details to be able to book MIQ (hotel quarantine) and flights to enter NZ. Unfortunately there are COVID-related delays with registering births in the UK, and so this delays getting passport applications in. The London NZ Passport office has also closed due to COVID and passports are processed back in NZ with lengthy turn around times..... what’s not advertised on their website, and only offered after enquiring by email, is that ‘urgent’ services are still available in London with a guaranteed return within 10 working days (vs 4 week +). It’s an extra couple of hundred pound, from memory, but felt worth it in our case for the security!
Challenge 3: Booking Managed Isolation & Quarantine (MIQ)
On entering NZ from abroad, you need to complete a 14 day hotel quarantine before being granted access to the 'free world'. You need to ensure that you book a quarantine slot BEFORE you book your flights as (we're now aware) they're blimmin hard to get. It was before Christmas that I registered our family to get a slot, but the MIQ calendar wasn't visible - as to book as you need to input all family members passport details and we were still awaiting Malakais. On speaking to my auntie, who was also planning her return, she mentioned it was already booked up until March. March?! Fully booked three months out?!
The feeling of being unable to get home, to be reunited with loved ones, is truly not a nice one.
Many emails around the houses later, we were able to get the direction to remove Malakai from our booking to be able to successfully secure a slot. Mid-march. Yes! Although at that point it felt like an eternity away, it was a true celebratory moment. Once we received Malakai’s passport we were able to then add him back onto our voucher via a simple email request.
Challenge 4: Booking Flights
Now is not the time to look for the best deal through a third party search engine like Skyscanner. It's back to booking through travel agents, people who, when shite hits the fan e.g. new strains, cancelled flights, banned transit routes etc, are able to rebook you on an alternate route to get you home as planned. There’s a fine chap out in NZ, Tim Malone, who runs House of Travel (Albany). He specialises in getting Kiwis home at the moment and has ‘saved’ many people from being stranded in the country they're currently in. We’re feeling in safe hands to have booked through him.
Challenge 5. Booking PCR COVID Test
When the South African COVID strain appeared late last year, it was introduced that you needed to have a negative COVID test (within 72h of your first flight) to be able to 1) board your flight and 2) to enter NZ. There are a number of options to have the tests done across the UK (Boots, Express Test, your local airport etc) but they vary with regard to cost and processing times, and there've been a few stories of inconclusive results or results returning too late in the piece. So we've gone for what seems to be a very reliable mode - the Test & Rest option at the Sofitel Heathrow. Again, it's not the cheapest but it includes the hotel room for the night before your flight, testing and rapid result processing - which you're guaranteed to have before your flight.
So here we are, self isolating in the Cotswold countryside, doing our best to remain COVID free. All that now remains is to continue to avoid contact with others and cross fingers and toes that all goes to plan from here!!