Every October, when the weather gets colder, Carol Clap leaves her family farm in Epping, New York, and travels halfway around the world to spend the next six months in New Zealand.
So when COVID-19 exploded worldwide last March, the long-distance snowbird got stuck in some kind of paradise.
“I’ve had a lot of years here,” said Clap, 73, during a call from the porch of her house in the small town of Riverton as the birds in the eucalyptus trees chirped.
He takes art, gardening lessons and from time to time goes to the track. She says hardly anyone wears masks. And she has a new boyfriend, Al, whom she met one night at a bar in the nearby town of Invercargill.
“I got a boyfriend out of the lock!” She says. “Al is my new man and he just takes really good care of me.”
Klap, a widow, first visited New Zealand with her late husband David in 1978. When their son later decided to go to college there, they bought a home.
After David’s death, Clap continues to make the 30-hour journey each year, leaving Epping in October and receiving a return ticket every April.
But when the virus struck, the island nation closed its borders
and mostly printed COVID-19 within a few months.
“They take the virus very seriously here,” Clap said.
New Zealand allowed sedentary tourists to extend their visas, so Clapp received a six-month extension and then another extension. This allowed it to emerge from the pandemic in a country where people are “well-mannered” and follow strict public health guidelines.
To date, the country of 5 million people has had only 26 deaths.
Still, the pandemic is a common topic of conversation between Clap and her New Zealand friends. In particular, they ask her: what went so wrong in the United States?
“They were very concerned and generally grateful to be here and very concerned that the United States has received such a poor response to the situation with COVID that it is out of control and that the country is so divided,” Klap told local friends. “They’re just hoping the United States can handle that.”
After New Zealand finally stopped extending its visas, Clapp is preparing to return to New Hampshire. She is already scheduled for vaccination in April in the granite state.
And this fall, if all goes according to plan, she will return to New Zealand to see Al.