When the virus first appeared in December 2019 it’s rapid spread around the world was surely not envisioned and then the January 23 quarantine of 11 million people in Wuhan, China rocked us all. How is that possible we asked ourselves???
During that time we were concluding our 3 months in New Zealand and on January 6, 2020 flew to Melbourne, Australia. At that point the virus was becoming more prevalent in the news but we arrived in Australia before any travel advisories or warnings, meaning our health insurance was intact. Commanding the headlines upon our arrival to Melbourne were the catastrophic bush fires burning out of control, naturally this was our concern at that time.
Fast forward to March 11 when the WHO declared the coronavirus, now named COVID-19, a global pandemic. This meant our health insurance would not cover any COVID-19 related illness if we left Australia because we would be deemed entering a country with a known health issue.
Also by this time many countries had closed ranks shutting borders, locking down entire cities, states and in some cases the entire country. The world was in panic mode. Stock markets crashed, people hoarded toiletries and food, unnecessarily I might add. Travel bans shut down global travel and by March 19 countries were telling residents to come home any way they could, in some cases arranging repatriation flights. I don’t think any of us could have imagined the state the world was in by late March 2020, with no end in sight.
We were in Australia and our preference was to stay here if possible. There were a few problems we faced to achieve this. First, our grant to enter Australia was valid until October 2020. Each entry into Australia counts as a separate visa, and each visa is good for 90 days. Knowing all this we had planned a trip to Bali and Singapore before our first 90 days were up, returning to Australia and being granted another 90-day visa. All this would have taken us to July 16 when we had a flight booked leaving Brisbane for Vancouver. All good, or so we thought!
Before our planned flight out of Australia to Bali on March 22, much of the world was in lockdown and if you were able to travel you faced 14 days of quarantine upon arrival wherever you landed. The Australian border was closed to the arrival of non-citizens and non-residents on March 20 meaning if we left, we would not get back in. Our travel plans evaporated and now we were faced with requesting an extension to stay in Australia legally beyond our visa expiration date of April 6. We filed an application with Australian Immigration on March 20 then awaited their response. Surprisingly, under these circumstances, this application cost AUD $385 (USD $225) each!!! Information on how we applied for our visa can be found at the bottom of this earlier post.
When we arrived in Adelaide on March 7, from Tasmania, we settled into the lovely seaside community of Semaphore, originally planning to stay for 14 days. With our Bali/Singapore plans off the table we spent many days cancelling flights and accommodations, also deciding to extend our stay in Semaphore. Every day our plans changed as we went around in circles trying to make the best choice for our health and safety. Finally, a decision was made, we would stay in Semaphore for an additional 3 weeks and see if the crisis settled down during that time. There are not a lot of people in Semaphore, the grocery stores were well stocked and the Adelaide Central Market had an abundance of food so we felt this was an ideal place to wait it out.
BUT, no sooner were these plans made than they too had to be cancelled. Australia imposed travel bans between states, and 14-day quarantine rules, potentially leaving us stranded in Adelaide for up to 6 months or face 2 weeks of quarantine if we moved within Australia. While we do like Adelaide, spending the upcoming winter here was not ideal. Additionally, Adelaide airport does not have the international flight connections that the east coast has when we decide to fly to Canada.
The morning of March 24 we heard on the television about the state border closures, effective as of 4 pm that day for all states except Queensland whose closure was scheduled for midnight March 25…that gave us one day to cancel all our Adelaide bookings and find a flight to Queensland. Just 24 hours earlier we had rented our apartment for 3 weeks and picked up a 5-week car rental ending in Sydney…all to be cancelled. We found three flights to Brisbane with Virgin Australia but one by one, as we tried to book seats, two of them were cancelled. We bought seats on the remaining flight and crossed our fingers it would leave the next morning…it did 👍👍👍
Landing in Brisbane on March 25 we picked up a rental car and drove one hour south, to the town of Southport, spending the night in a hotel searching for a place to stay. We found a nice apartment in the community of Varsity Lakes for 8 nights where we could recover from the sudden departure out of Adelaide and consider what to do next. Our future depended upon additional travel restrictions that may be imposed by the government and our visa application.
By April 3 the Australian state of Queensland had completely shut their borders and airport to all incoming arrivals of non-residents of the state, remaining closed until July 10. At this point travel within the state had not yet been restricted so we left the Gold Coast, moving further north up the coast to the Sunshine Coast. We seemed destined to bounce around here after travel restrictions were imposed, spending time in Noosa Heads then Maroochydore and finally Mooloolaba, searching for the perfect place. At least all these moves kept us busy!! We found a near-perfect place in Mooloolaba and ended up staying for 28 days.
An interesting benefit to the situation we were in was the inability to plan ahead. A friend asked me if I was having trouble not planning months in advance as I used to, given my attention to detail and propensity to plan 😂 In fact, the ability to change our minds and book only a week at a time was refreshing, giving us a sense of freedom we are not used to. Over the past two years of nomadic travel, apartments had to be booked well in advance, if you wanted one of the nice ones in a popular destination, resulting in plans that were rigid and could not be changed on a whim. Sometimes it left us regretting we could not stay longer in a place we liked. We were enjoying this newfound freedom, for now anyway!!
While bouncing around the Sunshine Coast we found out that Air Canada, who our July 16 flight was booked with, will not resume flights from Brisbane to Vancouver until October 😮 Air Canada also informed us that our flight out of Brisbane on July 16 has been changed, now it is leaving out of Sydney on July 16. So we busted our asses getting into Queensland, where our Brisbane flight was leaving from, and now we have to travel to Sydney in the state of New South Wales. Good grief!! New South Wales never did impose quarantine restrictions between states so in hindsight our rush into Queensland was all for naught, other than we enjoyed 7 weeks of warm and sunny beach time 🌞
On April 30 we received the eagerly anticipated news that our visa had been APPROVED!!!!! We have until August 15 to find a suitable flight to Canada, more than enough time, we hoped. On May 12 we flew from Brisbane to Sydney, the airport with our best chance of finding a flight to Canada. The earliest date we could begin researching flights was May 21 when the non-essential travel ban between the USA and Canada was scheduled to be reviewed. Unfortunately, the ban was extended until June 22, and again to July 21 at this writing, meaning that regular flights to Canada would not be resuming any too soon.
Speaking with Air Canada on May 23rd they informed us they had no plans to resume direct flights from Sydney to Canada until September 3rd, well that just left me speechless 😲 Realizing Air Canada was no longer an option for us, we had to buy new airline tickets. Spending hours on the computer, we found our one and only choice…a 28-hour journey flying Sydney to San Francisco; a 7-hour layover; San Francisco to Vancouver; a 4-hour layover; Vancouver to Calgary. This United Airlines flight was the only flight between Australia and North America, so tickets were bought and the countdown to a June 8 departure began. Why June 8? Our thinking was that we would emerge from our 14-day mandatory quarantine in time to enjoy the best part of Calgary’s summer, July and August.
Our feelings were mixed on leaving Australia for Canada. We looked forward to seeing family and friends while enjoying summer in Alberta however we are sad to be leaving Australia. We have enjoyed ourselves more than we imagined, even with all the travel disruptions, and we have felt tremendously safe with the way Australia handled the virus. I think the hardest part for us right now is the big unknown of when we will be able to resume our nomadic ways. Until then, we have hit the pause button and returned to the virtual embrace of our family and friends. We are hopeful that we can safely resume our travels before too long.
Stay safe everyone, wherever you decide to ride this out…