Rarotonga health workers at the airport in the PPE (Personal protective equipment) gears. 21100827
The first group of Cook Islands people, residents and workers caught in New Zealand as a result of the latest Covid outbreak, arrived back on a repatriation flight in the early hours of Thursday. One of those onboard was Tupapa resident Derek Fox who shares story of his journey to Rarotonga and his early days of Managed Isolation and Quarantine at the Edgewater Resort and Spa.
wasn’t hard to spot the passengers intending to travel on Flight NZ1980. Many
or maybe most were known to each other. If not by name, by appearance. Which
shouldn’t be a surprise because afterall we were either Cook Islanders or
people who live or work there.
gathered in Christchurch, not normally a jumping off point for the Cook Islands;
but today – Thursday 7 October – we’re here waiting to go on a repatriation
flight chartered by the Cook Islands government to bring us home. We’re leaving
from Christchurch because either by luck or intent we happened to be outside of
Auckland when New Zealand went in to ‘lockdown,’ after an outbreak of the highly
transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19 in Auckland.
been outside of Auckland where the outbreak has been at its worst, when we get
back to Rarotonga we’ll be required to go into Managed Isolation and Quarantine
(MIQ) for a week; the group of people stranded in Auckland scheduled to fly back
a week after us, will have to do two weeks quarantine.
groups have been required to take and pass a Covid test within three days of
travel. We’re required to be at the airport three hours before the flight, but most
of us are there well before then.
We sit in
family or little groups. There’s a fairly large boisterous group with some
familiar faces in it. Well-known Cook Islands identities like Captain Moko,
a.k.a. Steven Kavana and his wife Jilly. They came to New Zealand on separate missions
and got caught when the border closed because of the lockdown. He to have a hip
replacement – so golfers beware – and she to settle her elderly parents into a
young mother with two young girls who haven’t been home for three months, missing
a whole term of school.
senior member of the staff of the New Zealand High Commission who was caught
here, but who was lucky in that his family is with him, and he simply continued
working in the office in Wellington.
other individuals sitting round, including a cohort of youngish men. One I
recognise as a former barman from one of the island’s best-known watering
holes, and another whose family I know very well.
is one that multiplied many times over, represents a tragedy for the Cook
Kevin Wichman, his wife Josie Rattle and their three sons; Te Ina, Koteka and Baby Kevin – Kevin Jr. SUPPLIED/21100825
Kevin Wichman as a hardworking honest young father and family man, the sort of
citizen every country needs plenty of.
he and wife Josie had a little business down at the Muri night market, selling
Kev’s roasts; many of you will know it. With the arrival of Covid and the
collapse of the tourist trade, the business was left high and dry.
other work in a small roadside food outlet. But that too closed.
Kev and Josie
have two young boys, but with work all but dried up and another baby on the
way, he took the plunge and joined a group of men who left to take up seasonal
work in a meat works in Bluff; at the southern tip of New Zealand’s South
Island – almost the end of the earth, more than 4000-kilometres from home.
Work in a
meat works is not the most pleasant job on earth, but it can put food on the
table for your family and a roof over their heads. But working in Bluff with
the family in Rarotonga is pretty tough.
Kev told me how much he missed his family, he needn’t have, I had already seen
it in his eyes. While we were talking, I doubt he was actually taking in the
scene in front of him, rather his mind’s eye was probably in Rarotonga with
Josie the boys and their new baby boy. Already I knew that his mother and
father-in-law – Niki and Colin Rattle – couldn’t wait to see their family
reunion was a victim of Covid-19 too. Kevin’s season at the meat works had come
to an end for the year, and he had booked a flight back home. But the night
before he was due to leave, the border closed and he was stranded without work
for two months, until Flight NZ1980 came along. So, while the boisterous crew
were celebrating their return home in their way, Kev was sitting quietly waiting
for the doors to International to open, for the plane to board, and to get out
of here. As many others were, myself included.
they did and we did.
was relatively uneventful. Yes, there was a very ‘choppy’ bit as we flew parallel
to the East Coast of New Zealand for half an hour or more, but then it was
smooth for the rest of the way. The flight was a charter and the aircraft much
larger than we really needed. The crew were jovial and helpful. We didn’t leave
till after 9pm and were served dinner about an hour and a half later.
Derek Fox arriving at the Rarotonga International Airport. SUPPLIED/21100826
sleep as we roared on into the night. I kept wanting to get here, I hadn’t seen
my wife Jaewynn and our son Tinirau for three months, and like Kev I was
missing my family. I passed the time by watching a favourite movie and when
that was over, we were almost here.
previous repatriation flights had been met with much fanfare, but I doubted the
late hour and the very stringent anti-Covid provisions would allow that in future.
greet us was a very smooth and what seemed to be well organised army of border
and health workers; all in PPE (Personal protective equipment). Our small
number made for fairly quick processing, our bags were sanitised before entering
the terminal, and so were we. It was strange not seeing a crowd of people
greeting their loved ones as we filed out onto waiting buses and taken to the
was a smooth operation. Remember this is now about 4am. We were shown to our
rooms. It was nice being offered something to eat when we arrived, but I for
one wasn’t up to it.
we have been swabbed once again and all been found Covid-free and two days in
we’re starting to settle into a routine.
home went pretty smoothly. In a way it was a trial run for the much bigger
operation with the next cohort of returnees, more than three times our number,
and coming from the area where Covid has been loose in the community. Their
journey home has been more precarious. I wish them and us good luck.
I have a nice room with a view of the sea. Just like my home at Mahia in New
Zealand I fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the ocean, in both cases the
same ocean. I’m still hanging out to see my family, but I can’t help thinking
about Kevin and his family.
earlier that his story was a tragedy for the Cook Islands, and it is. You see
Kevin and Josie have decided they need to go where the work is. And that’s
4000-kilometres away, just short of the end of the earth. That’s probably a
good choice for their little family; but I can’t help thinking it’s a sad one
for the country.