National | Lockdown

'Being 'disgusting' to others... I’m enjoying every second of it'


I’ve come back to Ruatoki from Auckland for the summer break much to the disgust of some, and I’m enjoying every second of it - both being back here – and being ‘disgusting’ to others. Here’s why...

When you work in a newsroom, the information pouring in from your networks around the country means you are perhaps privy to more opinions and info than most in a day. The backlash towards Aucklanders who were planning to leave the city once the traffic light system kicked in was intense in the newsroom. We heard the unedited, uncensored versions from the random passer-by on the street, to the high profile Māori leaders.

After watching the anti-government and anti-vaccination protests during lockdown, many of which happened in Auckland, I could empathise with their distaste towards Aucklanders. The covid cases in the community then were high, and covid-modlers were predicting the numbers to rise to approximately 6000 Māori cases in total by Christmas.

I, however, am not one of those who knowingly broke the lockdown rules, or refused vaccination, or risked going places or visiting people outside my bubble. The way I see it I’m one of the lowest risks around. Working from home wasn’t an option for me as the Te Ao Mārama news presenter, therefore I had to consider the safety of both my workmates in the office, and family at home. I went over and above all safety precautions.

On December 15, Auckland borders were lifted, I finished my last few days of work, and started preparing for my summer break. Fully-vaccinated and passing another negative covid test, I drive down to Ruatoki two days before Christmas proudly wearing my ‘I’m from Auckland’ t-shirt with my 1-man waka on the roof, and picked up my teenager from Rotorua on the way. She’d spent term 4 in Hicks Bay (near Te Araroa) on the East Coast with my whānau after a miserable term 3 stuck at home in Auckland doing her schooling while I was at work 5 days a week for 10 hours a day. The 2021 lockdown was not a pleasant experience for her at all. Thankfully I have the luxury of whānau outside of Auckland who were glad to have her, help her through schooling and give her a sense of normality again.

Roughly 600 people live here in Ruatoki. There are no shops (not even a dairy or garage), no high-rise buildings, no traffic, and only a single road coming into the valley. I can walk outside and hear the birds tweeting, dogs barking, and every now and then a plane in the distance, and that’s about it. The wifi is temperamental but Netflix is possible, with some buffering. Hot showers are replaced with a dip in my awa, and home-made food is the only option around here unless I want to drive 25 minutes north to Whakatāne. Here, in Ruatoki, I can live my ideal hermit life.

The rest of my family came from Rotorua and Hicks Bay for Christmas, all fully-vaccinated, and all in good health. My 82-year-old father is pottering around the place like he’s still 30 while I sit with my laptop working from the couch. I’ve been here 5 days and still haven’t the energy to visit the wider family or my friends as I recover from months of lockdown duties.

My health, both physical and mental deteriorated during lockdown and I had no idea of how bad until my holiday began. I was in need of downtime in a place where I can shut-off, and that meant leaving Auckland. It’s a moment of rejuvenation for me, albeit for a couple of weeks, and there’s no substitute to your hau kāinga. None.

Simple things like swimming in my awa, and looking outside to my own maunga which today is shrouded in Hinepūkohurangi’s mist instead of looking at an over-crowded Auckland suburb, playing music to drown out the traffic, the noise. Only driving 40 minutes every now and then instead of an hour and half every day takes away a lot of the daily stress of my world in Auckland.

It’s not a nice thing to say that I enjoy being disgusting to others, but it’s also not nice to be bundled into a group of ‘at-risk’ people merely because I live in the same city. I hate being sick, but I’d hate it even more if I was responsible for others getting sick. Despite all my efforts, I ended up being sick, not from covid, but from stress of the lockdown and there will be thousands of other Aucklanders in the same shoes as me.

Some Aucklanders didn’t want to face the criticism and stayed at their homes in Auckland even though they’d rather be with their family like I was, and I feel for them. I will keep on wearing my ‘I’m from Auckland’ t-shirt proudly over the summer both for me, and for them. While some were ignorantly putting themselves and others at risk during lockdown, some of us were working really hard to keep the rest of the country safe, and we are patting ourselves on the back for it.

As of December 28 there are less than 20 new community cases. Mihi mai rā.

Peata Melbourne is the Presenter of Te Ao Mārama on Māori Television.