British couple locked down in Northland campground return to exact site two years later

Nick and Lorna Cutts have two years later returned to the exact campsite they were locked down on in 2020. Photo / Michael Cunningham

A British couple has returned to the Northland campsite they were stranded in during the country’s first lockdown.

Nick and Lorna Cutts waved goodbye to their Leicester home in 2020 to explore New Zealand by campervan on the “trip of a lifetime”.

However, after the news of Covid broke and the pandemic unfurled the couple found themselves holed up in the Mangawhai Heads Holiday Park.

But now they are back – at the exact same site – to reignite their longed-for adventure in Aotearoa.

Nick’s work with the New Zealand Herald meant he had previously experienced a taste of what New Zealand had to offer.

“But I wanted my wife to see your wonderful country,” he said.

The plan was to spend a month traversing the South Island followed by the same time in the north.

“There was talk of lockdowns and let’s prepare as there might be some regulations coming into effect.”

Then, on March 23, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country would enter its first lockdown 48 hours later.

“Like everyone, we panicked,” Nick said.

The couple made a beeline for Picton, where the ferries were ushering people on to the North Island.

“All the ferries were full. It wasn’t a very nice experience, people weren’t very welcoming when we had to bunker down at a nearby campsite and wait for the next available ferry.

“It was clear people didn’t want us there,” Nick said. “I mean, it’s all history now but at the time.”

The experience was a stark contrast to the hospitality they found at the Mangawhai campsite after successfully booking a ferry crossing thanks to “checking every hour”.

The Cutts figured they needed to be within “striking distance” of Auckland so when flight options home opened up they could pounce.

“We were ringing all the campsites but most of them had gone then one put us in touch with Mangawhai.”

The couple were the last to arrive on site in the final moments before the campground closed its gates to endure the lockdown.

“We drove from Wellington all in one shot but the sun was shining when we got here which made the experience better,” Nick said.

After pulling up the handbrake at their campsite Lorna felt the stress leave her body.

On either side were tourists from Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Canada and another couple from England – all stuck together in the campsite for three weeks.

The group became fast friends alongside holiday park owners and operators Noela and Richard Gunson. The campground formed a big bubble with mini-bubbles inside.

Mangawhai Heads Holiday Park owners and operators Noela and Richard Gunson in front of a gift from grateful Swiss couple locked down in campsite in 2020. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Mangawhai Heads Holiday Park owners and operators Noela and Richard Gunson in front of a gift from grateful Swiss couple locked down in campsite in 2020. Photo / Michael Cunningham

“It was a wonderful time,” Nick said. “It was just paradise here.”

They made the most of the outdoors, enjoying walks on the property and the water’s edge.

Once a week the Gunsons would round up the campers’ shopping lists and make the trip to the supermarket on their behalf.

Birthdays didn’t go uncelebrated as the Gunsons made a cake for one father and the group gathered around as close as social distancing would allow to mark the occasion.

“When the High Commission came out with a message saying we could go back to Britain we didn’t want to go,” Lorna said.

So they came back, just over two years later.

“Northland has always been on the bucket list,” Nick said. “We decided to start back here where our last trip finished because it just brings back great memories and it’s a beautiful part of the world.”

The Gunsons said they just did the best they could to help the travellers.

“Covid was such an unknown and everyone was really scared,” Noela said.

They had what came to be known as “league of nations dinners” in a bid to keep everyone’s spirits up as the tourists remained separated from their homes.

“It was awesome just to talk about their cultures and learn more about them,” Noela said.

The Gunsons were delighted to be reunited with the Cutts, who is among the first wave of tourists returning to Northland amid a restriction-free summer.

“The bookings are moving along. The last two weeks have been really good for us,” Noela said.

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