My husband (Will: half-Kiwi/half-American) and I (Olya: Russian) are both filmmakers from Wānaka. Our niche is in adventure travel and over the past 10 years, we have produced films across all seven continents. Early last year, we found ourselves in lockdown on a farm on the border of Eswatini and South Africa, changing our lives forever.
In February 2020, we were filming a rock climbing documentary in northern Ethiopia. I remember having our temperatures checked at the airport upon arrival. It felt odd, especially since we weren’t coming from China. At that point, we had heard of the virus, but it all seemed so far away.
The production ended up being very involved, with dangerous climbing, high-temperatures, kids throwing rocks at us if we didn’t have pens or pencils to share … needless to say, we weren’t exactly glued to the television during this period.
After wrapping on production, we decided to fly to South Africa and surprise Will’s parents who were travelling there. The idea was to spend a week with them exploring Kruger National Park, before eventually heading back to New Zealand.
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* Do-it-yourself safari: South Africa’s Kruger National Park
We spent the next few days travelling as a happy family, seeing the many wild animals of Kruger and living in a tent. Again, with so much going on to occupy our minds, any thoughts of the outside world were lost on us.
Upon leaving the park, we turned on the radio. All the stations were talking about the same things, South Africa was to go into lockdown in two days.
“You will not be allowed to go outside of your building … the military will be patrolling the streets”. We were completely fish out of water. Most places were terrified to have tourists stay with them, as it was the outsiders that had brought this terrible disease to their country.
With more than 1000 glaciers, humpback whales and bears – Alaska is a wild wonderland.
Somehow, we managed to find a small farmstay on the border Eswantini who opened their rooms to us, with an understanding that we would stay at “our side” of the property, well away from them.
We began to explore options of getting out of South Africa. There were no flights back to New Zealand, but there was talk of a potential flight to the States. After three weeks of lockdown, we managed to board a repatriation flight to the US. At least there we had Will’s parent’s house to stay in until we found our feet again.
The film industry is not the easiest of careers when the whole world is collapsing. Of course, we had no jobs, all our contracts were cancelled, and we couldn’t return to NZ since it was on lockdown. I remember looking at my travel bag and thinking: “Okay, this is all I have now for the rest of the year. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and figure out the next steps.” And we did!
Will and I have always dreamed of life on a boat, sail around the world, and film whatever we want. We kept putting it on the backburner because we were always too busy with other things. All of a sudden our calendars were as empty as they had ever been. Why not to do it now?
We searched and searched, and eventually found a small boat in Alaska that fit our budget. We reached out to a number of brands and suddenly had funding for our new project. After a five-day sailing course, we were off on our summer adventure!
What can I say? It was the best idea in our lives! We converted our sailboat into a floating production company – The Adventure Locker. We sailed around Prince William’s Sound, filmed interesting stories and just enjoyed every single day.
Yes, not knowing much about sailing and the ocean was definitely a risk. We had lots of challenges. Once I was lost on the skiff without gas in the middle of the night until Will found and rescue me. Another day we (more like me to be honest) put our sailboat on a sand bar when I tried to escape from a big iceberg. I don’t even want to mention a few big storms we were in, BUT isn’t this what life is all about? New experiences bring lasting memories.
We loved this lifestyle so much that we have decided to continue our journey. Our goal is to sail around the world, capturing the unique and inspiring people, places and stories we encounter along the way.
This story is about Covid, but somehow it is a happy story. The virus pushed us to be bold, to change our lives completely at the drop of a hat. It’s crazy now to think we could have/should have taken this step years ago, when we had initially dreamed of it, but we were never “ready”. It wasn’t the right time, or the right place, or had enough money, there were, and always will be, plenty of excuses.
I write this with the hopes that it encourages readers to dream big (I mean BIG!), and not to be afraid to take the first step.
The first step is always the most difficult, but the second and third come quicker than you might imagine. Happy New Year and stay healthy!
For more on Will and Olya’s adventures, follow them on Instagram or watch their video on Vimeo here.