We recently made a huge change in our lives – we decided to move our family of five from Melbourne to my home state of Tasmania. A place I had left behind 20 years ago, but where all my family live.
It was a big decision but it felt necessary for the wellbeing of all of us as Melbourne slid into bigger lockdowns and all of our mental health suffered. Plus, there’s nothing like a global pandemic to want and need family support and more open space. We knew we could have a much better life in Hobart and it was a very attractive thought to all of us.
This article was originally published on Dive Into Tasmania here.
Leaving was not easy – Melbourne was our home and where all our friends and my husband’s family live. It’s where my husband’s job was. It was going to be costly. But it felt like the right choice for us.
It also wasn’t easy from a logistical point of view. The border into Tasmania is shut to Victorians and we needed to rent a house from back in Melbourne so we could be considered Tasmanian and apply for entry. Bigger still was the prospect of two weeks hotel quarantine on arrival.
If you had told me when I moved to Melbourne that I would need to apply to apply to go back and enter a two week quarantine, I would have called you crazy, but here we are. And it is a scheme I completely agree with.
However, the thought of two weeks in a hotel room with three kids is a very daunting prospect. Daunting enough that I rung the Tasmanian public health hotline and asked a whole lot of questions before we considered going. I also googled a lot but found a lack of information on what hotel quarantine is actually like.
So, as we sit here in hotel quarantine on day 11, I decided to write this blog post for others who have hotel quarantine in their future, especially if they have families, to know what they can expect. I’ll also update it after we leave to share our experiences of leaving hotel quarantine.
Of course, this is just our experience at one motel in Devonport. A lot probably depends on where you are placed and your experience may certainly differ. But it will at least give you some point of reference,. especially if you have kids, and hopefully help you feel a bit better and less anxious as overall, we have had a very positive experience of hotel quarantine.
I also want to add that this article is not meant to be a complaint of hotel quarantine in anyway. I completely agree with it and I remember rolling my eyes when reading media reports of people complaining about hotel quarantine earlier this year.
Any of the (small) complaints I made below are just to give anyone who is going to go through this too an idea of what exactly to expect.
Arriving In Tasmania
I was definitely nervous when I woke up on the Spirit of Tasmania on July 28 as we came into Devonport wondering what was ahead. The one story I had read about quarantine after the Spirit of Tasmania involved a three hour wait on a bus. However, it was all very efficient and easy.
We left our cabins mask on (they needed to be worn in all public areas on the ship) and went to our car. We kept the masks on until we were in our hotel room in quarantine.
After driving off the ship, there was usual line up for the check for fruit, vegetables and other things that aren’t allowed to come into Tasmania. However, at this checkpoint, they also checked for our G2G pass which was our approval to enter Tasmania.
We were through quickly although we saw people in other cars showing multiple forms of paperwork/ID and seemingly need to talk for longer. I assumed they hadn’t got the G2G pass.
We were then directed a way to drive and parked in a nearby parking lot in lines. There were plenty of police around to tell us what was happening and what would happen next. We basically waited there until everyone coming off the boat was processed.
We then drove in procession to a nearby car park. On arrival, we were shown where to park and told to take everything we wanted to the bus that was parked near the entry. They made it clear we could take as much as we wanted.
We loaded our belongings in the bottom of the bus then boarded keeping socially distanced. After a little while, someone came on and said we were all going to the Gateway Hotel in Devonport.
This is where my stomach dropped.
The thing I was most worried about with hotel quarantine was that we would be separated. As a family of five who travel frequently, I know how hard it is to get connecting hotel rooms and rooms that cater to five. I was nervous this would necessitate two separate rooms.
After this, I was most worried about us being stuck in one small hotel room.
This was the main thing I asked when I rung the hotline before we committed to going and I was assured families wouldn’t be separated and that they do everything they can to get families self contained units with outdoor space.
I had found a list of hotels online of where we could be placed and I knew the Gateway meant that we would not have self contained accommodation and there weren’t rooms for five.
I asked if we would be able to stay together and what would happen and they said it would be sorted at the hotel.
It didn’t take long before our bus and another were on the way to the hotel which was close by.
Checking In For Hotel Quarantine
On arrival, they took two groups of people off the bus at a time to get their bags and go into reception for check in. There was a family of three, otherwise every one was in ones or twos.
They put us in a corner and gave us a document to fill in saying we would take longer to process so we would be last. We were nervous and ready to get settled in.
We then found out the good news – while we had to go to a single hotel room to start with, they were getting us connecting rooms that we would be moved into in a few hours! Score!
I was so relieved and from that point, I’ve been able to stay positive and feeling ok during this experience.
Our temporary room was a triple and small with barely any floor space especially when you added our luggage (which was about the equivalent of a suitcase and small backpack each). I was very glad it was only temporary!
Soon we were taken to our connecting rooms which were much better. One was still small but with more space thanks to only having one bed and the other was bigger with a single bed, king bed and a pull down single bed. Both rooms had desk areas, TVs, two lounge chairs and a coffee table, cupboard with hanging space, tea and coffee making facilities, small fridge, basic cutlery, bowls, glasses, mugs, tea towel, some detergent and bathrooms.
They were basically standard hotel rooms. Very comfortable but not fancy.
Outside the hotel rooms is a chair where basically everything goes that goes in and out of the room. So our food is left there and we put our rubbish back out there.
Twice during our stay (so every 4-5 days) linen was left here for us to change our beds and bags to put our old linen in. Each room had a garbage bag that we could fill with our personal washing to get our washing done once during our stay that we could then leave outside.
Anytime we open the door, we have to have a mask on.
There is free wifi at our hotel but it only works in one room. We used phone data mostly. The TV in the room with wifi could connect to our netflix account and there were Foxtel channels too.
We could open the windows – in fact in one room, we could open it so wide that it seemed somewhat alarming for a situation where you don’t want people to leave especially as we are ground floor. It felt like it would be very easy to leave if you did not take this seriously although I do not know if they had someone watching the outdoor area through cameras.
The up and the down side of being in a hotel instead of self contained accommodation is that all our food was made and delivered to us. It was really fantastic not cooking for two weeks and I loved the sound of knocking on our door meaning our food was sitting outside.
The downside though was that we were on someone else’s timetable for food and that the options weren’t always what we wanted/to our tastes and the serves could be small.
Overall though, I was very happy with the food. Nothing I ate was bad and some meals were very good. You can see the menu pictured for a typical day. There was also a kids’ menu with the usual types of kid dishes.
Breakfast was cereal, milk, fruit and most days, also some type of bakery product with bircher museli once a week.
The only real problem was the serving sizes – breakfast was small compared to what kids normally ate and lunch was generally small. So we could be very hungry in the afternoons. Our meals were mucked up quite a few times too – they would not realise there were five of us in the room and deliver just the adult meals or just the kid ones. Easily fixed though so this was not a big deal.
We ordered some food from Coles Online to help with snacking. Thankfully, we brought some things with us like a chopping board and knife which was very handy.
Lunch and dinner was brought in disposable containers. We used bowls in our room for breakfast and cutlery for all meals and washed this ourselves.
Our hotel had paid room service which we could use to order a very limited range of junk food and a limited range of alcoholic and hot beverages.
We were able to order food from anywhere that would deliver. This was very limited in Devonport though and we could only find McDonalds, KFC, pizza and Indian options. So we only ordered out once.
On that note, you can order anything that you like – I ordered another sim card for internet and some books during our stay. Don’t expect anything to be fast though which really limits your options if you are in Devonport.
We were very happy to find out that there was the opportunity to exercise outside the room, and we ended up being able to do this all but one day of our stay. We hadn’t expected this so it was a huge bonus.
We needed to book it in and this could be hard at the start of our stay as they would book out easily. I found out there were 88 rooms of people quaranting and one area with half hour slots meant that not everyone could have a turn. However, they gave us priority with the kids which I am very thankful for.
After our first week, they added two more outdoor areas and it was much easier for anyone who wanted to go out to do so.
If you are a smoker, you get three times a day to go outside but I don’t think they got the exercise time.
The space isn’t the most exciting area in the world. The main area is pictured here and is six car spots big. The other two they created during our stay were three car spots big.
When going outside, we had to wear masks and gloves although they ended up giving up on our 4 year old wearing gloves – they were all far too big and he couldn’t keep them on.
If there is one thing that contributed most to our time in quarantine being a positive experience, it’s the friendly, helpful attitude of all the people we dealt with during our stay and on arrival.
EVERYBODY from the first person we talked to when we drove off the boat to the people on the other end of the phone when we needed more rubbish bags or a meal was missing, were always kind and accommodating.
It can feel somewhat disconcerting and demonised to need quarantine but those feelings would not hang around for long when people were so nice and treating us like humans that need help rather than a hassle or possible corona carriers.
Which isn’t to say at all that people didn’t take the situation seriously. I didn’t really see anyone during the stay bar the security guards that took us to exercise and the people who tested us for coronavirus. We socially distanced, we wore masks.
But this is exactly why a kind voice on the phone makes all the difference. Or a kind, calming presence when we arrived in Devonport and were anxious. It made everything ok and enabled us all to stay positive and ok.
I also appreciated regular calls from the Government Liason Officer at our hotel. He seemed to really care about our wellbeing and helping us all get through ok. It was very mch appreciated.
If anyone from our experience reads this, a HUGE THANK YOU! You made all the difference.
Right before we left for Tasmania there were calls to bring in mandatory testing for people in hotel quarantine in Tasmania. This was not brought in but the premier said people were being “strongly recommended” to be tested on days 5 and 12 of their quarantine stay.
My only real complaint of our hotel quarantine stay was that did not seem to be the case.
To me, strongly recommended would be more than a mention of it during a call on our second or third day of quarantine telling us to ring them if we wanted to get a test.
On our 11th day, we rung the hotline to organise one and got told that they couldn’t and we should wait until they ring us. I didn’t notice the call and they left a voice message. I rung back and the person organising it was busy so I was told they would ring back. Not long after they did and we booked in.
While this isn’t the biggest deal in the world, I’m sure some people would give up after their first call wasn’t a success and that is a problem as I strongly support mandatory testing of people in quarantine or at least strongly encouraging.
I don’t think I would have even realised that we were meant to have a test and it was recommended on days 5 and 12 had I not watched the press conference where Peter Gutwein said it myself.
While I am 99.999999% sure we didn’t have coronavirus and we had no symptoms during our stay, I’m sure other people have thought this and ended up with a case. After what happened with Victorian hotel quarantine and the huge disaster that has happened because of this, it really disappoints me that there isn’t a system in place to really encourage people to be tested.
If you aren’t going to make it mandatory, maybe at least make people opt out instead of opt in. Or knock on the door with the test. And definitely don’t make people ring multiple times to organise it.
Tasmania is in the great position of having no community cases of coronavirus at the moment. I wish it would work that bit harder to keep it that way. If someone reads this with the power to change the situation, please do.
Checking Out And Leaving Quarantine
Check out was straightforward although I was surprised when we had to catch taxis back to the car park where our car was at our own expense. I had assumed they would bus everyone back.
Because there were so many of us, it was arranged I would go in the first arranged taxi and get the car and get back to pick up the others and our luggage. We needed to be out before the next busload of people arrived from the Spirit so I was out at 6:45am.
In the morning, a security guard knocked on our door when it was time for me to leave and escorted me to reception. I got a piece of paper that said the dates we had been in quarantine. I then hopped in a taxi another family was using and went with them back to the car near the Spirit of Tasmania.
Once in the taxi, I took my mask off and talked to the other mum who seemed even happier than me to be out. It was a very strange feeling to be out of the room, out of a mask in public for first time in weeks and to be talking to someone sitting next to me.
At the car park, someone checked my ID and wrote down the number plate of our car and I was off!
It was really really hard to drive back to the hotel to pick up everyone else. I had this irrational fear that I would be sucked into the hotel, back into quarantine and would never be able to leave.
I would never leave my family like that though so naturally I went back 🙂 It then took 20 minutes for someone to get my family from their room so they could leave too.
We packed up the car and drove off as quick as legally allowed! We may have wound down the windows and screamed “FREEDOM!!!!!!!!” as well 😀
Tips For Hotel Quarantine
Here are some tips for anyone else entering hotel quarantine:
- Don’t be afraid of taking a lot of luggage.
- If there is food or drink you particularly like, take it with you if you can. I am a huge Pepsi Max addict and I found it harder than I should to go two days without it until I could get the Coles delivery!! Someone who arrived when we did had a carton of beer with them. Smart!
- Take some cleaning supplies. I was really happy we took some cloths, detergent, paper towel and spray and wipe. It was very handy. If there is one thing I wish we had taken, it’s a handhield vacuum to clean up after meals.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for anything you need. It didn’t even occur to us to ask if we could use a vacuum until our seventh day and it made our lives so much better!
- We took a chopping board, knife, scissors, bottle opener – all were handy.
- If you want internet, don’t rely on getting some. Take a sim card with a good data plan. Also check the expiry date if you do that! We bought two Telstra sim cards to take with us and discovered once we were in quarantine and tried to use them that they had expired and we couldn’t. Grrrr.
- We took a cord to connect our laptop to the TV which gave us more viewing options. I highly recommend.
- If you have the choice of exercise, book as far ahead as they will let you.
- Take sports shoes. If you get the chance to exercise as well, you don’t want to be like me who only took big boots 😀
- Our youngest struggled a bit as he is only 4 and no doubt can’t grasp exactly what is going on. Otherwise, the kids were fine. They had us and our attention which made it easier than at home when lots of things are competing for our attention.
- It does end! You will get through this and it will be an experience that you won’t forget 🙂
I was so worried about hotel quarantine, but it turned out to be fine. While it wasn’t a holiday or anything I want to do again, it wasn’t terrible and I won’t look back at in horror.
It was not much different to being at our home in Melbourne during lockdown. The space was smaller, but our lives were also simpler and it was nice to have a break from cooking and most cleaning. Plus, I found it much easier to deal with than lockdown in Melbourne because it had a set end date. I knew when it would be over and that we had a whole new life ahead of us.
As long as I compared it to what we had left behind and not what was coming up next, I found it very easy to stay positive. I even found time passed quite quick until the last few days when it seemed to take forever.
But then it was done and we were excited to move forward.
If you are heading into hotel quarantine, I wish you all the best and hope you can focus on the positives as well. Just remember how important it is to the wellbeing of everyone and that it will end.
Sharon is a proud Melbournian mum of 3 who blogs for a living in between parenting and (thanks to coronavirus) homeschooling.