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Kids in lockdown

Five years after first apearing in Wilderness, how are these kids - and young adults - dealing with lockdown?
Jo Stilwell finds out how the kids are coping with lockdown

Back in January 2015, I surveyed my children and those of my friends about their attitudes to tramping. I wanted to learn about their experiences, what they liked and what they didn’t and hopefully pass on advice to parents about how we might do things differently to help our kids better enjoy the outdoors.

Recently, I wondered how they were all coping with the nationwide lockdown, so I got back in touch: what are they doing now? Are they missing the outdoors? How are their days being spent?

Mackenzie attends dance class via Zoom.

Mackenzie Norton, 20

Finding Mackenzie was easy – she’s my daughter and still lives at home so is in my bubble. I only had to venture down the hallway to her bedroom where she retreats into her own personal bubble for space and time away from her parents.

Five years ago, Mackenzie’s biggest worry was not getting enough variety in the crackers we took tramping. Today she’s a little more discerning and worries about her chosen career path.

“I’m in my third year of a Bachelor of Performing Arts degree, majoring in musical theatre. Our whole industry is geared around social gatherings and performing to groups of people. And all my friends who had performance contracts in different theatres or shows, are now unemployed.”

She’s been having dance lessons via Zoom, and yes, it actually works really well.

“It’s different, but it’s as close as we can be to dancing together at these times. And there’s something comforting in seeing everyone’s faces.”

Currently Ara (where she studies) is on term break, but when they resume her hours of daily Zoom dance classes will ramp up.

“I’m grateful I have a lounge room to dance in. I realise how much I took the studios for granted – having a space to dance is so important.”

Mackenzie is missing the space of the Christchurch Port Hills. To keep her exercise local she has traded running on the Port Hills for pounding the pavements of Avonhead. “It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. We have parks close by and getting outside is so important for good mental health.”

Matai Brabyn spent a month in Fiordland with his dad just before lockdown.

Matai Brabyn, 12

Matai, now 12 years old, had a month adventuring with his father Mark in Fiordland before the lockdown started. He feels super lucky to have had the chance to skip school (with the blessing of his teachers) and spend this time with his dad. Leaving Christchurch on February 11, they kayaked, mountain biked and tramped, living out of their campervan between adventures.

“We were really lucky with the timing,” says Mark, who describes the time together with Matai as “one of his best trips ever”.

Matai did do some school work while they were away. He kept a daily diary, worked through a maths book, and he did a big research project on weka and another on celery pine. They kayaked on Lake Manapouri and Mavora Lakes, did a couple of five day tramps, a few day trips and spent lots of time mountain biking. Matai’s favourite place was the top of Mt Titiroa. “The granite landscape is really interesting and looks like a moonscape”.

They had only been home a week before schools were closed and the country went into lockdown. As a year eight student and currently on holiday he doesn’t have any school work to do so is filling his time with other things. Living on a large section at  Lyttelton, he and his dad built a mountain bike track around the edge of the property complete with jumps and even some technical sections. They’ve also set up their own frisbee golf course.

Theo McIntosh was working as a camp counsellor when he rushed back to NZ for the lockdown.

Theo McIntosh, 18

2020 was shaping up to be a great year for Theo, now 19 years old. Having finished high school last year, he was excited about his first real year of adulthood, independence and adventure.

On February 20 he left New Zealand for a small town east of Calgary, in the Rocky Mountains in Canada. He had a visa for one year to work as a counsellor in a YMCA camp, which provided outdoor school camps for kids aged 10-12. With a team of 16 counsellors, including Kiwis, Canadians, Germans and Brits, Theo took kids hiking, supervised low-rope activities, and ran different team building games and initiatives.

That all changed on March 15 when they were informed the camp would close. On March 20, Theo arrived back in Christchurch, was handed a mask by his father at the airport, told to sit in the back seat of the car, driven to the family home and was promptly sent to his room for two weeks!

“There was just me, my bedroom and a bathroom. My meals were delivered to the door. I was allowed out for daily walks, but I wasn’t allowed in other parts of the house. I got pretty bad cabin fever, although mum and dad did let me do some manual labour outside.”

He emerged from his own isolation and into his family’s bubble a week ago. While it’s been nice to spend time with his family, he misses Canada.

“It sucked to be split up from our team. We lived together, worked together, ate together. We were really close and we had so much fun.”

Theo enjoyed hiking in Canada. “It was so different to New Zealand. And I liked the challenge of getting the kids to enjoy it.” He drew on his own childhood experiences to make it more enjoyable for them. “Definitely my tramping experiences as a child helped at camp. I had sixteen kids to look after on a hike and I had to teach the curriculum along the way. I tried to do what dad did for us, and make it interesting. And mum was always so good at looking after us so I’d check if the kids were warm, or had enough to drink and eat.”

Five years ago when I spoke to Theo about tramping, food was especially important to him. The food at camp was typical camp food like burgers and pasta. “But the chefs were great and the breakfasts they cooked when there were no kids at camp were so good.” At home, he is the chef and shares the cooking of the evening family meal with his sister Eliza.

And what of the future when his chef skills are no longer required by his family?

“I really miss camp. I’m looking for a job but my whole focus is geared toward going back to camp as soon as I can.”

Eliza McIntosh had a knee operation just before lockdown and is recuperating at home.

Eliza McIntosh, 16

If the world needed to be in lockdown, the timing couldn’t have been better for Eliza.

In mid-February, she had knee surgery – an ACL reconstruction – after sustaining an injury in October 2019.

Eliza has been a keen cricket player for years and plays for both her club and for the Canterbury Women Under 19’s team. Already unable to do her regular activities, “I don’t feel like I’m missing out on too much currently”, she says. “I had already planned on nine months of rehab before I could play cricket again.”

As a year 12 student, she is looking forward to the school term starting up again. “Lots of young people are saying it’s very hard to motivate. You know there are things you can do but it’s hard to motivate to purposefully do them.”

She thinks it will be easier once the holidays are finished. “There will be more structure, and I’ll try to stick to my school timetable.”

She doesn’t believe it will be too hard to do her school work online as her school regularly used online learning anyway.

Her school choir is practicing on Zoom and she appreciates the connection that enables. “I’m also having physio once a week via Zoom. We go through the exercises together, and the physiotherapist shows me how to do them correctly.”

Rata Brabyn is able to climb Christchurch’s Port Hills from their home.

Rata Brabyn, 16

Also in year 12, Rata is on holiday so school work isn’t too pressing at the moment. Her days are spent keeping in contact with her friends via social media and phone calls. A keen tramper, Rata goes walking most afternoons with her mum, Margaret. Living in Lyttelton, they can walk up the hill behind their house to the top of the Port Hills.

“I like the freedom of it. After being cooped up inside all morning, I get to the top of the mountains and look down on Christchurch. Coronavirus and all the problems seem a long way away.”

Evenings are spent with family watching TV and movies and playing board games like Speed Scrabble and Pictionary. “The days go ridiculously fast, but it seems like we’ve been in lockdown forever.”

Rata’s most recent tramp was in February when she climbed Mt Bealey, in Arthur’s Pass. These school holidays feel very different. “I cannot remember a school holiday where my family and I didn’t go off on some tramping trip to some corner of the country, so staying at home this Easter is a first.”

She is looking forward to going tramping again after the lockdown is over, but what that actually means she doesn’t know.

“I can deal with it at the moment because it just feels like a long lazy weekend, over and over and over. I think it will be more painful when we come out of level 4, but there will still be restrictions – we don’t know what that’s going to be like.”

Fergus is a butcher’s apprentice at New World and has been working throughout the lockdown.

Fergus McIntosh, 20

Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Fergus is currently seven months through a three year butchery apprenticeship with New World. As an essential worker keeping the meat eaters amongst us fed, he’s risking his own health by going to work every day while many of us can remain in the safety of our own homes. He does, however, feel safe at work.

“We have masks and gloves available, and the company is very good at looking after us and doing what they can to help.”

In general, Fergus says most customers are well behaved. “Some people get snappy when you remind them about social distancing, but mostly people are amazing and understanding”.

Fergus is grateful to have his job. His flatmates were university students who abandoned him and went home for the lockdown, so he is currently living on his own. Going to work everyday is his only contact with real people. “There’s a nice camaraderie at work and good teamwork. We’re all going through this together and there is a bit more bonding I think.”

Working full time means Fergus doesn’t need to try and fill his days with other activities. He’s missing watching sport though. And he’s thankful for a two night tramp he did with his father in January in the Lewis Pass area. He’s looking forward to reconnecting with friends again after the lockdown.

One benefit of this period is he believes some people are being shown more respect.

“I think some jobs, like supermarket jobs, have always been looked down on in the past, but now people realise that we are keeping the country going. The country needs us and other essential workers at the moment.”

Alice Norton is in San Francisco helping businesses through the lockdown.

Alice Norton, 22

Like her sister Mackenzie, Alice works in an industry heavily impacted by the global spread of Covid-19. She is currently in San Francisco, working for a marketing and public relations company for businesses in the restaurant, hospitality and food industry. She has chosen to remain in the United States.

“As everything with the coronavirus escalated, I slowly saw all the Kiwis I know abroad go home, one by one, and I wondered if I should be doing the same,:” she says. “However, I was working in a severely damaged industry and I was lucky enough to keep my job, and I felt huge gratitude, and somewhat indebted to stay here and to be part of the recovery. Drawing on what I had learnt from the Christchurch earthquakes, and knowing how important resilience is to a community, I felt like I had some skills and experience that could be useful.”

The San Francisco Bay Area recommended a ‘stay at home’ policy earlier than New Zealand (although conditions are not as strict) so Alice has been living with her uncles and working from home now for 24 days.

Her work consists of helping her clients manage crisis communication and plan a way forward in these challenging times.

Five years ago, as a 17 year old, Alice said of tramping: “The best thing is no phones, no technology and no wi-fi – you can switch off from the world.” This is equally important for her today.

“Because of my job and the importance of being up to date with media, a daily walk where I can listen to music or have a conversation with a friend about non-Coronavirus things is vital.”

And is she missing the New Zealand mountains?

“I’m totally craving them! It’s hard to be away from home at the moment. At times of fear and uncertainty we want to return to the things that give us comfort and to things that provide a sense of normalcy. The mountains provide that for me.”

Alice will need to return to New Zealand in July when her visa runs out and already has a few ideas of what she plans to do.

“When I come home the first thing I want to do is go to New World with Mackenzie and buy ice cream. Then I want to go to Arthur’s Pass and do a classic day trip – probably the Avalanche-Bealey traverse. I want to sit on the top of a mountain, eat egg sandwiches and listen to the kea.”

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