Our first restaurant meal in 8 weeks!

Last night my lovely wife Claudia and I went for dinner at our favourite local restaurant – the Engine Room. It was our first meal in a restaurant in 8 weeks!!! New Zealand dropped down to Alert Level 2 yesterday. Our 4 level alert system was introduced at the end of March. We spent just over 4 weeks in the highest alert level (4), and then dropped down to Level 3 for 2 weeks, and now into Level 2. That means that we can now go to restaurants (with one metre spacing between tables), we can hug our friends again (a few hugs are already scheduled for this weekend), we can go to libraries, museums, gyms, cinemas, theatres, we can travel within New Zealand, children are returning to schools, and we can get haircuts(!). Social gatherings are restricted to maximum 10 people, 50 for funerals, and all these places will still have social distancing and hygiene measures in place.

About to enter the restaurant. Hungry eyes.

The Engine Room was actually where we were supposed to go for our wedding anniversary dinner on 24th March, but on 23rd March it was announced that New Zealand was moving to Alert Level 3, and then in 48 hours to Level 4. With restaurants closed at Level 3 and Level 4 that meant our anniversary dinner was moved to the popular venue of “Casa de la Oor Hoose” (that’s “House of Our House” in Spanish and Scots…) and spaghetti bolognese a la Colin. Picture the spaghetti scene from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp….

Prior to last night we had actually only eaten at the Engine Room once – on my birthday last year. I thought it was just Claudia and I going for dinner but when we got to the restaurant some good friends were already sat at the table hiding behind menus. It was a very special and fun birthday dinner. Due to the fact we were supposed to be going there for our anniversary and then we couldn’t, I suppose it created more of an emotional connection and during lockdown I enjoyed reading the heartfelt newsletters from the owners about how their family life had changed and sharing their hopes and fears for their business. Like many other restaurants in New Zealand and around the world they adapted to offer take away meals once this was permitted at Level 3.

In Level 2 (the current situation) restaurants and cafes have to provide a single server for the whole time you are in the restaurant in an attempt to reduce person to person contact. This means that they have to have more waiting staff on than would normally be required. We could see that the staff were busy and working hard last night. By chance we were attended to by the same waitress who had served us at my birthday meal (Claudia is great with faces and recognized it was her). The service was excellent.

Cheers my dears!

This might be sounding like a sponsored ad for the Engine Room but it’s really not! We just genuinely had a nice meal and we are also so grateful to be able to do that again. Another special occasion!

As for the covid situation and it’s containment in New Zealand – at time of writing (Friday, 15th May 2020) we have just under 1,500 total cases of infection and a total of 21 deaths. Level 2 means that the disease is contained but there is still a risk of community transmission.

At Level 2 entering New Zealand as a visitor / holidaymaker is still pretty much impossible. If and when we go to Level 1 we will have “border entry measures”. What exactly that will mean by the time we reach Level 1 is still not entirely clear. It could range from simply a temperature check, perhaps a test, or very likely to be a period of quarantine. As regards our 14 day New Zealand tour scheduled for October 2020, which I’m running in collaboration with my tour guide friend Sarah, it’s clear that a 14 day quarantine period upon arrival, followed by a 14 day tour would not be practical for most people. It’s still 5 months away and 5 months is a long time in this pandemic. Just think where things were 5 months ago at the start of January – relatively normal!

Over this lockdown period I have also been working on plans for a short tour in Australia which will dovetail with two New Zealand tours in February and March 2021. It is a great feeling to have that launched! As for what the travel situation will be by Feb/March and  whether or not the tour will reach minimum numbers and be able to run…. The universe will decide! We have the advantage of being a small and nimble company so we can make quick changes if needs be. I am grateful that we have been focussed on small group tours since the start. I think small groups will become the favoured way to go for people looking for group tour experiences. The idea of what is meant by a “small group” varies greatly as I found out last week on a webinar with some US-based travel agents and tour guides when they talked about 30 people being a small group! Our tours are usually limited to 24 people, but I’d like to work towards making that even smaller. Watch this space!

– Colin

If you want to see the timeline (so far) of New Zealand’s response to COVID-19 here it is: https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2020/04/coronavirus-timeline-of-new-zealand-s-response-to-covid-19.html

Australia in 6 Days tour: www.mondumo.com/australia-in-6-days

New Zealand in 14 Days tour: www.mondumo.com/tours

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