Parents, Richard and Sharon Spackman with children Sharon and Sienna at the Punanga Nui market - 21091049
A young New Zealand family’s plans for a worldwide trip is grounded before taking off due to Covid-19 lockdowns, bringing them to Rarotonga where they’re enjoying much comfort and stability.
The Spackmans were in Sydney in mid-March last year when
they got the urgent call from their travel agent saying they needed to fly back
to New Zealand right away.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had announced
borders were closing and two weeks of self-quarantine would be the consequence
for all that didn’t make the cut-off.
For the Spackmans, the news came at the infancy of a
year-long worldwide trip that had been in the works since 2017.
The holiday referred to fondly by Richard and Sharon
Spackman’s two children as “Our Big Trip” planned to take the family on an epic
adventure through Europe and South-East Asia.
Harry (7) and Sienna (11) helped plan it; one of the places
on the itinerary was Siena in Italy, chosen by Sienna for her name.
The Covid-19 warning bells began to ring in early 2020
threatening the trip to start with Italy but Richard and Sharon thought
initially they would still be able to make it work.
"We naively thought we will still just go ahead we will
just avoid wherever Covid is, we will just go to the other countries, we will
go through Eastern Europe, there's none there," Richard says.
The family lived in Timaru for the past eight years, a small
town on the East Coast of the South Island with a population under 30,000.
Richard ran a business there and says he planned the trip with Sharon so they
could spend more time with the children.
"When you’re running a business it's hard to juggle
that home life balance; your staff need you, your business needs you, your
customers need you, and your kids need you,” Richard says.
“We thought the best thing to do was work hard and then plan
to have a year out that we could spend solely with the children and not
Richard says the plan was to also leave Timaru and consider
during the trip where they would live when they returned to New Zealand.
“We wouldn't go back to Timaru,” Richard says, “business was
the reason we went there and we would find out where home was after that."
A couple of weeks after the family returned from Australia,
New Zealand entered a full lockdown and the hope of going overseas faded.
“We thought at this point, what do we do? Do we just cancel
everything?” Richard says.
After a bit of time grieving the family changed plans and
set its sights on a domestic holiday, “Our Big Trip” turned into “Our Little
Big Trip”. Instead of visiting Siena in Italy the family visited Harihari (for
Harry’s name) in the South Island’s West Coast and busy European cities were
traded for empty, tourist-free New Zealand beaches.
Richard says: "We would go to Waitangi, and there was
no one there, like absolutely no one. You're sitting on the Waitangi lawn and
it was just four of us just having morning tea, experiences that you will never
The Spackmans travelled from Cape Reinga to Stewart Island,
visiting some of New Zealand’s less known spots like spending a month on a farm
in Tiniroto on the North Island’s East Coast.
Richard and harry in New Zealand’s South Island. 21091047
Richard says for the children’s stability they tried to
spend around a month in each location they went to.
Sharon, who has a background in teaching and Richard both
homeschooled Harry and Sienna, taking turns with each child.
“Our main concern was keeping them on their (school) level
and we had no way of measuring that because it's just up to you and them going
back to school was going to be the nerve-racking moment,” Sharon says.
Richard agreed: “You worry they’re not keeping up with the
maths, the reading, the spelling and stuff, but then travelling around they’re
spending 99 per cent of the time with us looking at the world and asking
questions around how does that work, why is this like this?”
As for Sienna, she says the homeschooling experience was
“good, apart from the teachers!”.
When the Cook Islands’ borders opened in May this year, the
couple decided to take their trip to Rarotonga. Richard says the move gave the
family an opportunity to experience a different culture.
Sienna and Harry are now going to Apii Te Uki Ou, and did
not fall behind academically. Sharon
also teaches there on a six-months contract. The family is part of the Muri
Sailing Club, they volunteer walking dogs at the SPCA, and Richard helps at the
Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce.
A month ago on the family’s “Our Little Big Trip” Facebook
Page, a place where they provide trip updates, the family said life was
beginning to feel normal.
The post said: “When we were traveling NZ we were moving
every 2-4 weeks and it was full of newness. We loved the excitement that came
with the constant change but it does take a toll, particularly on Sienna and
“Having a permanent base (dare we call it home) gives us all
so much comfort and stability. The kids are settled without being bored and us
adults are finding ways to get involved and contribute to the community.”
Richard says he loved feeling like he was contributing to a
community again living in Rarotonga.
“Travelling, you're so nuclear focused on the family and
being here we feel like you can help.
“You feel like you’re actually making a difference, which is
Among enjoying the normal day to day life in Rarotonga the
family says the best day they had on their entire trip which included New
Zealand, was a day on the vaka cruise in Aitutaki.
The Spackmans are leaving Rarotonga in mid-December and
despite originally thinking they had left Timaru for good in early 2020, they
are set to return.
Sienna walking Rarotonga’s SPCA dogs. 21091050
“We didn't think that was going to be the case but what
we've realised travelling around is that there are these amazing places
everywhere and I guess what makes it is the people, and we made a lot of
connections in Timaru in our eight years,” Richard says.
“We’ve seen some amazing places that we love, definitely
three or four where I would happily live, but to start again and make those connections
is it that much better than where we were?
“So we’re going to head there (Timaru), Sharon will have no
problem finding work, I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do but we’ll figure
that out when I head back.”
Sharon says: “I think it comes down to home and wherever we
are that is home, where the four of us are, it doesn’t really matter where we
Sienna says she always knew the family was going to return
to Timaru when they left. As for Harry, his Lego is there, so he needed to go
back for that anyway.