Lockdown in Broad Bay

Lockdown in Broad Bay

As a UK visitor new to the South Island, I had been eagerly looking forward to visiting the Portobello area.   It sounded exotic. We had initially planned a two-night stay at the delightful-sounding Fantail Cottage owned by Tessa and Vic Mills.  We innocently arrived in New Zealand on 1st March 2020, completely unaware that Covid 19 was hot on our heels and convinced it was not serious. So when the government decreed a lockdown, wherever we happened to be staying, we were completely shocked.

However, we came to realise how this situation was to our great advantage; we just fell in love with Broad Bay.

Fantail Cottage was well situated in a garden, where the most delicious pears just fell from the trees, and I quickly became a ‘dab hand’ at cooking them in red wine.  It was a pleasure to share them – at a distance – with our generous hosts. We soon adapted to our new situation and were in no hurry to leave, even though our children were advising us to return home ASAP.  

My first impression of Broad Bay was the stunning beauty of the place and for me, a city girl, to live so close to the sea, with a beach, jetty and colourful birds was such a pleasure.  I loved rising early to watch the pink dawn over Port Chalmers and sometimes catch the sunset from a bench in the Cemetery.  Portobello Road was very quiet as the coaches full of cruise tourists were no longer running, contributing to the tranquillity of Broad Bay. I quickly developed a daily routine, along with other residents, of walking to the Portobello shop; what a delight to observe the changing tides and bird life.   Another favourite walk was up Camp Road to Larnach Castle.  I was delighted to learn recently that this was the route taken by the builders of the castle to transport their building materials.  However, it was so disappointing to press my nose against the heavily locked gates at the entrance.  Luckily the weather during April was kind and knowing I only had a limited time to enjoy the stunning scenery made it more poignant.

Spending Easter in the South Island was a strange time. I walked to the door of the Catholic Church feeling a little homesick and sad that it was closed, and that I was unable to celebrate Easter as usual.

By the end of April, we had arranged flights back to Manchester, though it was a tedious four-day journey, and so our five-week idyll finally ended.  Our parting comments to Tessa and Vic were that we would return – and we certainly did!

Exactly three years later, we were back to a warm, welcoming dinner at Fantail Lodge.  It was our first opportunity to be with Tessa and Vic in their own home, which had seemed so brilliantly white and distant at the other end of the garden.

Inevitably the nine-day stay whizzed by, but we made sure we ticked off all the places that had been tantalizingly closed to us in 2020, especially Larnach Castle.  Our previous experience was of a deserted, grey city seen on our once-weekly trip to Countdown. Now all the delights of Dunedin were open.  We loved the museums and station. It was fun to join in the everyday life of a vibrant town that had returned to normal.

Our last visit was joyful on several levels. We were able to thank the many kind people we encountered in the South Island in 2020, hug old friends and finally enjoy the experiences we had missed first time round.

Broad Bay, the place and residents, will always be special for us.  We may return … those pears won’t cook themselves!

By Karen McNulty

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