The very secluded and rugged Routeburn track located on the South Island of New Zealand, is one of the most famous and popular boardwalks in the world. Before venturing there, hikers must reserve their entry in order to respect the quotas defined by the government. James Johnston had taken all the necessary steps by the time he stepped onto the track, but by the time he returned the world had changed. The Guardian retraced the course of the young man.
Qhen British hiker James Johnston set off through the New Zealand mountains on March 22, alone some cases of Covid-19 were recorded in the country. The only measure in place in New Zealand then was social distancing. The solo trek therefore seemed to be the right solution to reduce contact as much as possible. Perfectly ready for exercise, James set out on the Routeburn track and off-piste for a 5-day journey. Throughout his journey, James did not cross paths with anyone.
“There are almost always a lot of people there, it's one of the most popular walks in the country. "
James Johnston's unusual trek
According to the adventurer, this trek was "special"… Lots of birds and tough times. Heading back down the valley on the Sugarloaf Trail to the Routeburn parking lot, as he now sought comfort and rest, James was faced with a strange sight. The parking lot, usually full, was empty. His hopes of hitchhiking then flew away in the face of this surprising state of affairs.
“I saw that the place was deserted, not a single car or person anywhere. That's what was weird. The fact that this incredibly popular place was empty at this time of year was a little scary. "
Alone in the world
In 5 days, James has not seen anyone. The network being unavailable in these mountains, he had received no news from his relatives. Alone in the world, the young Briton then set out to walk the 70 kilometers that separate him from Queenstown. After 25 kilometers in a heavy downpour, a curious apparition took shape along the road. A car housing three men dressed in safety gear and wearing face masks, stopped beside him.
“They were surprised to see me, and so am I. […] I asked if they could drive me, and they said, 'Absolutely not, we are not allowed to take anyone in the car.' "
Back to reality
It is only then that James understands that between his departure and his return the country has been completely confined, prohibiting all internal travel. The three civil protection men were responsible for checking that no one had remained in the hinterland. They also finally agreed to take James home.
“I was in shock… Three strangers chatting with you about the end of the world, it was overwhelming. "
James Johnston is in shock
As soon as the network has been available, nearly 200 alert messages from relatives swept over James' mobile phone.
“We started to hit the road. There were no cars except police cars. There was no one anywhere. It was very scary. The whole trip was like Black Mirror. They kept saying, 'Oh, did you hear what happened in China? […] Do you know that all this is spreading? '. "
Covered in mud and sweat, James Johnston eventually took a flight with just 6 other passengers. He is now in confinement with his 4 co-tenants in Wellington.