Race against lockdown: a tale of escape and close calls in Australia

·4-min read
Anna Cullins
Anna Cullins

It reads like the blurb of a far-fetched sci-fi movie. As the delta variant swept across Australia, one Kiwi traveller travelled from place to place to avoid getting caught up in the state lockdowns.

Anna Cullins escaped them by the skin of her teeth, joining a fleet of “grey nomads and hippy travellers” who fled the southern states in camper vans that have since packed out caravan parks across northern Australia.

An educational facilitator, Cullins has worked with health and education initiatives in Africa and South Asia. Before the delta variant arrived in Australia, she planned to find teaching work in a remote indigenous community in the far north of Australia, but interstate border closures complicated that ambition.

In the meantime, the prospect of the Trans-Tasman travel bubble bursting loomed – New Zealand was inching towards a shutdown of quarantine-free flights to and from Australia, which became a reality on July 23. This came as Australia recorded 208 new cases on July 28 – the highest figure since August 2020.

“It dawned on me that I was going to be trapped in Oz for an uncertain amount of time. In fact my father barely scraped it back after a sudden announcement of the border’s closure,” Cullins told The Telegraph.

But the last six weeks have been intense. She said Australia was “lucky with the pandemic until it lost control with the delta variant.”

Cullins, who has been selling gemstones and jewellery on behalf of a friend’s company, and who had her own import business prior to the pandemic, added: “When you’re on the run from Covid in a place like Australia, you soon realise you have to move fast and stay lucky.

mission beach - Getty
mission beach - Getty

“It makes me think of the fatalistic line from Thelma and Louise: ‘Brains will only get you so far and good luck always runs out.’ But that’s only because I’m getting increasingly boxed into a tight corner, and eventually, there will be nowhere to run.”

She said that, despite finding a safe haven in the Torres Strait Islands with her father for his birthday, a lot can change in 24 hours as cases emerged in her Darwin bolthole.

“This meant another change of plans, so I randomly found myself in Townsville, where I didn’t really know anyone as most of my friends are locked down in Sydney.”

Cullins hoped to reach Magnetic Island to “hang out with koalas and trek in the rainforest,” but the place, which is a laid-back enclave where Julian Assange grew up, became a new Covid-19 hotspot too.

“So I grabbed my stuff and jumped on a bus to flee up north to Mission Beach, just outside the Covid zone.

“I made it smoothly to a backpacker hostel after hitching a lift with an old hippie who said she wouldn’t be surprised if Mission locked down too.”

Cullins said the coastal town was teeming with dreadlocked Spanish, French and South American travellers: “There was a groovy vibe amongst the alternative community, but it was too rainy so I moved north to the primordial Daintree Rainforest where I once worked in an ecolodge 14 year ago.”

While the drier climes were appealing, it meant passing Cairns, where she could risk getting stuck if it went into lockdown too.

“All this running around exotic utopias to escape a dodgy virus feels like something from a sci-fi film. It reminds me of friends who were trapped by Covid at the Tribal Gathering Festival in Panama last year.”

In Palm Cove, a ritzy Cairns beach enclave, Covid cases had not picked up like they had in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Darwin.

daintree rainforest - Getty
daintree rainforest - Getty

Later on, Cullins made a beeline for Port Douglas – a tropical town opening out into the Great Barrier Reef – where she stayed with her dive instructor friend, Karina.

“We went snorkelling and took a helicopter ride from the pontoon. I forgot about the pandemic as I watched the reef shimmering like a blue opal from the air, though I still couldn’t help but think of friends locked down in wintery Sydney.”

Cullins said the volatile nature of the virus made travelling highly unpredictable. “You can see how some states are faster to respond than others; Queensland locked down upon hearing of a delta case the same afternoon. It compares to Sydney where the virus spread unhindered for weeks before the state premiere finally agreed to lockdown.”

She added: “It probably sounds ridiculous to shut down whole cities over one case, but this overabundance of caution combined with less dense populations has kept NZ, Queensland, NT and WA relatively free of the delta variant thus far.”

But there is more on the horizon for Cullins to factor right now. A family friend in New Zealand does not have long left to live. And with orders to block the travel corridor with Australia for at least eight weeks, Kiwis are being urged to “come home now.”

She said: “He’s getting weaker by the day. I would like to see him once more in this life, on this planet.”

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