Today I set out to discover the current state of Queenstown. What I discovered is that it is very hard to mentally comprehend the nature of a disaster that doesn’t look physically disastrous. In the Canterbury earthquakes we cycled around the city and oohed and aahed at the liquefaction, the buildings with toilets falling out of the second story, the garage where the roof pancaked onto the floor, and the nearby house with a rock on top of it. In Queenstown there just is…not very much.
To be clear, there is not very much in the way of people. The shop fronts are all there, looking pretty much the same. The mountains and the lake look beautiful. But it feels like Christmas morning and along the main walking mall there are a lot more fallen leaves than human beings.
Naturally the ferry terminal is deserted, with all the ferries parked up, as is the Earnslaw steamer.
This kiwi is unmissable but, in general, I heard a lot less English spoken than I did Indian, Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish. The reports are that 5,000 foreign workers are begging local government for support as they only have temporary work visas, are not eligible for central government support, and have no income and no prospects of income. That’s a lot of people needing assistance in a town of around 10,000 inhabitants.
Llandudno has its town taken over by goats, in Queenstown it is ducks who are in the ascendant. The ducks don’t appear to be bothered by the lack of people feeding them (which is sensible of the ducks because people generally feed them food which gives them very poor nutrition) and are chewing either the grass, or things in the grass, with gay abandon.
A lot of the buildings have signs announcing their status. The speed with which the lockdown took place was evident in ‘Public’, a restaurant, which still has notices from when they were open in Level 2, as well as a notice making it clear that it is not worth breaking in at Level 4. The last notice seems a little confused – they are not likely to be opening up tomorrow.
There is something particularly odd about shop windows with naked mannequins in them. It takes me back to childhood terrors of Dr Who, when the mannequins walked out of the shops and shot people by dropping their hands to reveal a gun. I was OK in Queenstown though as these amputee mannequins won’t be able to move too fast.
There are only two places in Queenstown that have any sign of life – the chemist is one. People have to stop at the door, be questioned regarding their state of health, and be let in if they say they are well.
This is probably the weirdest feeling place in town. You can see a little person hiding behind the doors who is clad in PPE. There were no people being assessed, but a couple of tyvek-suited and visored workers hanging out in the gloom.
Fun was largely visible in its absence.
I can hardly close off without mentioning that today we finally got our announcement. I was semi-correct – we got a delay on moving into Level 3, but only until midnight Monday next week. The pessimist in me can be happily disappointed that there are two less days until we are in Level 3 than I predicted. The optimist in me will forget that Level 3 is going to look rather like Level 4, as far as we are concerned, but will focus on Level 3 being the ‘waiting room’ (as the PM says) for getting into Level 2. The best case scenario is that life might not look like a lockdown by May 11…