Backpackers who stayed on World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island amid COVID-19 weigh the cost

June 2nd, 2020 | | backpacker

White sands, crystal blue waters and a small coronavirus-free community of 350 people: The choice facing a group of backpackers on Lord Howe Island has been to stay and wait it out or go home, likely at great personal and financial cost.

The group chose to stay when the island, off the coast of Port Macquarie in New South Wales, shut its doors to tourists, while the majority of working travellers — faced with a lack of employment opportunities in the popular tourist destination — left.

Mauricio Auguin and his partner Paula Nas from Chile, who were due to leave the island at the end of the month, have decided to stay until a repatriation flight home can be organised.

A person rides a bike along an idyllic dirt track next to a beach.
Mr Auguin said that just like if they were on holidays, Lord Howe Island was a beautiful place to stay during the pandemic — especially as its remoteness made it extra safe.(Supplied: Julia Donath)

“We decided to stay here because I think that it’s better to stay with other tourists, just like in a bubble,” Mr Auguin said.

“Our boss provide us housing, so we can stay here for free — working for accommodation.

“Coming back to the mainland before our plane back [home] would be very risky because of the cost — housing and food maybe would be more expensive for us.”

He said the locals have been very accommodating and welcoming, which has also been part of the appeal in staying.

“We are safe here and the people here are really friendly with us,” Mr Auguin said.

“We’re not Australians and they’re doing very nice things with us, and so we’re really grateful for that.”

Ms Nas is nervous about making the flight back to Chile.

“We feel a little bit scared because we need to know more than seven days before the flights go, because we just have one flight per week here in the island,” he said.

‘Mass exodus’

Julia Donath, from California, arrived on the island in February with the plan of doing a four-month-long dive master training internship with a dive company.

An international backpacker holding a surfboard on Lord Howe Island.
Julia Donath from California said she was ‘Pretty happy to be here’.(Supplied: Julia Donath)

Two months into her training the island suddenly shutdown.

“That was insane, we’re so removed from reality out here that it didn’t really sink in until the moment that the island literally closed its borders,” Ms Donath said.

“[It was] a span of what felt less than a week, when all of a sudden island borders closed, businesses closing, season’s over, ‘get everyone off the island and home’.”

Ms Donath had about two days to decide what she was going to do and was originally planning to go home because it was so unpredictable and such a scary time.

“There was a lot of fear around the island and a lot of people were just packing up and leaving,” she said.

“I had friends who packed in a span of 20 minutes and left the island right away — definitely some panic setting in.

“It was the strangest thing. It was like a mass exodus of the island all at once within the span of a week.”

Even though the US Embassy told her to go home, Ms Donath decided to stay.

“I’d like to stay on the island, pretty happy to be here,” she said.

“Not a bad place to be stranded. I definitely am really keen to try and just stay here and stay committed to what I worked for.”

Underwater short of person wearing flippers and snorkels swimming near the ocean floor.
The US Embassy told Julia Donath to return home when she told them about her situation.(Supplied: Julia Donath)

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow

ED: Had I known I would have gone to Lord Howe and stayed too. Lucky people!!