Every October when the weather turns cold, Carol Clapp leaves her family farm in Epping, N.H., and travels halfway around the world to spend the next six months in New Zealand.
So when COVID-19 exploded globally last March, the long-distance snowbird became stranded in a paradise of sorts.
“I’ve had quite a year here,” said Clapp, 73, over a Zoom call from the porch of her house in the small town of Riverton, as the birds in the eucalyptus trees chirped.
She’s been taking art classes, gardening, and every now and then heading to the race track. She says hardly anyone wears masks. And she has a new boyfriend, Al, whom she met one evening at a bar in the nearby city of Invercargill.
“I got a boyfriend out of the lockdown!” she says. “Al is my new man, and he just takes really good care of me.”
Clapp, 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, Clapp continued making the 30-hour trip each year, leaving Epping in October, and getting a return ticket each April.
But when the virus hit, the island nation closed its borders and mostly stamped out COVID-19 within a few months.
“They take the virus very seriously here,” Clapp said.
New Zealand let stranded tourists extend their visas, so Clapp got a six-month extension, and then another extension. It allowed her to ride out the pandemic in a country where she says people are “well behaved” and followed strict public health guidelines.
To date the country of 5 million people has only had 26 deaths.
Still, the pandemic is a frequent topic of conversation amongst Clapp and her New Zealand friends. Specifically, they ask her: what’s gone so wrong in the U.S.?
“They were very concerned, and generally grateful to be here and very concerned that the United States had such a weak response to the COVID situation that got so out of control, and that the country is so divided,” said Clapp about her local friends. “They just hope the United States gets through this.”
With New Zealand now finally ending its visa extensions, Clapp is preparing to return to New Hampshire. She’s already scheduled for a vaccination in April in the Granite State.
And this fall, if everything goes according to plan, she’ll head back to New Zealand to see Al.