How to stay sane – 2 weeks Howard Springs Quarantine
Mental resilience is something I talk about a lot in my “face your fears” courses and when working with anxiety clients. I am on Day 8 at Howard Springs quarantine camp, and every single method I know of staying calm, avoiding frustration, living in the now and finding happiness have come in handy so
While being cooped up and not allowed to stretch your legs on a walk, move further than the space of your room and balcony, and watching the police patrol multiple times a day makes sucks and makes you feel like you’re a prisoner in a detention camp, it’s not all bad.
To make your stay at Howard Springs as easy, fun and happy as possible, read on for a summary of my experience so far, and tips and tricks how to make the best of your stay here (and stay sane).
Now, I am obviously writing this from the perspective of solo traveller, and couples and families who are actually allowed human contact and touch have different challenges and solutions for their stay here, so bear that in mind.
Day 0 and Day 1 - An awakening
Welcome… home? This is what you’ll be greeted with by 99% of the employees here on the way to HS from the airport and upon arrival. The blunt disregard that many are still a long way from home, and will only get there after quarantine, filling in more travel declarations and paying for another ridiculously priced onward ticket (despite “discount codes” handed out by Qantas who bring tickets in line with other carriers such as Virgin) is obvious. “Be grateful you’re in the country that managed covid best”, ”you must be glad to be back”, ”yay, you made it” are regularly uttered.
The fact that none of us chose to be here, and many went through absolute nightmares and financial distress to get back “home” via DFAT gets ignored, and we’re on the receiving end of some weird, twisted way of positive psychology.
Once you settle in your cabin, Day 0 passes surprisingly quick. I recommend getting to know your neighbours, and if you aren’t already in a WhatsApp group from your DFAT flight over, get one organised. Random app banter, sharing links, organising dance offs between cabin rows or trivias, game nights, and playing games such as “spot the cop” are just one way to pass time. You’ll thank me later.
Also, here is the food menu. If you know you’ll need items from a supermarket, order them today, so they’ll get delivered to you on Day 1. Earliest delivery is 24 hours after arrival, but you can order anytime. More about orders later in this blog.
What you find in your cabin upon arrival are 3 litres of full cream milk (regardless of what dietary requirements you stipulated in the online survey and many HS emails…), a bunch of chips and other unhealthy snacks, toilet paper, a tiny tub of sunscreen, garbage bags, spare masks, mozzie spray, 2 extra sheets (perfect for sun sails or to wrap in blinding floodlights – see more under the “hack” section of this blog), extra towels, and a few bottles of water. In our case, timed with our after-lunch arrival, we had a delicious lunch salad waiting in the fridge. By the way, once you’re out of these 3 litres of water, tap water it is.
On Day 1, if you’re jetlagged and up early – good for you. The nurses (who are a super friendly bunch, and many have done their own quarantine here or in a hotel in another state) come around for your covid swabs. Double dip down your throat, then shoved up your nostrils and you’re done. Some are super gentle – some not so much. Once they disappear – enjoy Day 1 and your first temperature check at night.
If you happen to be asleep or in the shower or in the middle of an orgasm when the nurses knock – don’t be afraid that they’ll miss you somehow. If you don’t open when they knock, they’ll just use their master key to come in, and entertain your cabin neighbours while at it.
Standard Camp Routine
You’ll notice there is no map in the booklet showing the closest laundry – and you can only read the laundry sign on the doors when the flyscreens are open.
So as to not spoil your one chance to grab a bag of dirty laundry and go for a wander through the camp to hunt for your “closest” laundry, I won’t tell you where they are. Go, explore!
In the back of your welcome booklet is a laundry schedule. However, given that or row has it’s own laundry, we don’t really care and just used it daily as required.
In our single ladies block ( single female travellers get grouped on one side of your zone, couples and families in between and single men at the other end) we quite enjoyed the confused men wandering around trying to find a place to air their dirty laundry… or the recycle bins. I won’t tell you about these, as that’s another perfect excuse to go for a wander… just know that you don’t have to worry about wasting unused products, I suggest collecting them rather than throwing them away.
Temperature Checks and Covid Swabs
Temperature checks happen daily between 7am and 9am when the nurses rock up in your block en masse.
Unless it’s a Covid swab day. On day 1, 7 and 12, you’ll have your “gag and sneeze” test and your temperature is taken at night.
The average normal body temperature is generally accepted as 37°C. Some studies have shown that the “normal” body temperature can have a wide range, from 36.1°C to 37.2° – that’s what you’re aiming for.
If you are a morning sex, exercise or sunbath person, make sure you have your aircon on inside – if you’re too hot to be deemed “covid safe” you may be asked to sit in your aircon and cool down for a few minutes before the temperature check is completed. On the other hand, if you’ve just come out of your freezing room and you’re in the 35°C range, you may have to stay outside a few minutes to get the temperature retaken before the crew moves on to the next section.
They also come in handy when you locked yourself out of your room – they have that master key that will get you access again!
Merry Cops go Round
You’ll see cops or military patrols walk through your block in pairs or quads through your block multiple times a day. They usually do 6 month stints up here, and there are two type of cops here.
Type 1: “ Good Morning Mam, please ensure you wear your ma…. Oh, sorry, didn’t see your coffee there. Enjoy your morning coffee and the sunrise…”
Type 2: “ You there, put your mask on.” “Sure, after I enjoyed my morning coffee”. “Masks need to be worn at all times, pull it up between sips or you’ll be given a warning and fined next time”.
Type 1 is the kind of cop you chat to and learn about their life up here. Type 2 just increases your feeling of helplessness of this ridiculous treatment of vaccinated and multiple times tested negative travellers by the Australian government. Let’s ignore the fact that covid positive people are home quarantining, us “returned stranded Aussies” are still enemy of state #1.
Type 2 is what makes this camp experience more frustrating than necessary – no matter how compliant you are, someone will want to find a reason to fine you and be needlessly rude. Saying “Hi, how’s it going mate?” when they see us, instead of scowling at everyone who is eating, drinking, or smoking (the only 3 reasons not to wear a mask outside) would do much to improve the mental health of many of our fellow “inmates”. If you’re eating too slow or are just starting to take a sip from your water bottle when they come past beware – you may be issued an official warning for non compliance and your cabin number will be noted, which happened to quite a few people this week so far.
Bu don’t daddle on your frustrations with the cops for too long, there is a nice contrast: The nurses and other camp staff. They usually a smile and a greeting for you, and most are genuinely friendly and caring.
Well, let me tell you, food is a very, very objective experience and highly depends on what dietary requirements you are on here.
Now, first of all, you can’t order food from any delivery services such as uber eats. The pizza craving is real 😉 If the food on the menu I posted before isn’t your kind of food, you depend on IGA and Coles.
Before you arrive here, you get asked about your dietary requirements, and from what I’ve seen they’re pretty good at catering to that. For reference, I am on the standard meal plan.
My personal experience has been the following so far. 4.30pm – your food gets delivered. One brown bag contains your dinner and dessert (if you have an evening sun balcony, just keep your dinner out there to stay warm until a more reasonable dinner time) and another brown bag has your breakkie and lunch and sometimes some fruit. Desserts are chosen by random and I seemed to end up with cakes every time, whereas others got rice pudding and other goodies. As the cakes were all super sweet – they unfortunately weren’t for me.
As amazing as the lunches have been as horrible were the breakfasts. Cold scrambled eggs, one day, cold hashbrowns another day and cold chewy mushrooms yet another day – no thanks. Most of my breakkies remained untouched. Having the hashbrowns on the railing in the sun gave them some sort of texture but it wasn’t ideal.
As mentioned before, the lunches were amazing (other than some Ploughman’s plate where I could not make out what type of meat was on there). Fresh salads, poke bowls, rice bowls – some of them could compete with the best cafes at home and most of them were super nutritious and ideal in the hot NT weather.
The dinners have been… ok. Some tasted good, others tasted good but were not nutritious at all. On the standard meal, I barely saw a vegetable – I even had a meal that was fish, white rice and half a broccolini (yes, half!) and the rest of the veggies I had at other dinners were a few green beans and the level of jealousy for the vegetarian meals high. I ended up ordering a bunch of vegetables and dips that can be consumed raw to make up for the lacking nutrients in the camp dinner diet, and have fared well with this.
On day 7 you get a halfway snack pack – again a mix unhealthy chips, Doritos, popcorn and bars. Half the people here loved it, half hated it.
This, for me, is the biggest trade off to city hotel quarantine, where you can choose to get food delivered that suits your dietary requirements. However, being able to eat your meal in fresh air most definitely makes up for it.
All the hacks and tips and tricks to survive HSQ
There are few things that will help you keep sane, entertained and happy here. Of course all within what’s allowed, and can either be brought onto your flight, ordered via click and collect here, or manufactured out of the stuff in your cabin or organised online. Remember, you cannot receive any mail here at HS, so the quarantine suitcase you packed in foresight for an original Sydney arrival is useless.
What to bring or organise prior to arrival
These are the things I recommend you bring with you on your DFAT flight:
- Proper cutlery. You’re not able to order metal cutlery via click and collect once here, and the waste of using wooden forks and spoons as well as the non ability of wooden knives to cut makes me wish I had brought a set – too late now
- A lightweight hammock. You can string up a hammock via the railing and/or cyclone proof table on your balcony, watching the sunrise and/or sunset while swinging in the wind makes for a relaxed few hours
- A coffee maker. If you aren’t a fan of instant coffee, bring a small plunger or an aeropress (try the fellow filter add on to make real espressos)
- A TRX band. Make sure you get the version that can be fixated over your door
- Cigarettes and Lighters. If you’re a smoker, either use these two weeks to give up (get in touch with me if you need support), or bring ciggies from overseas. Australia is expensive. And don’t forget a lighter, the shops here were sold out
- Toys. To keep these endorphins up, especially if you’re a solo traveller, bring your favourite sex toy(s). Just remember, don’t get carried away at the times the nurses come around. If you’re curious – yes, you can watch Pornhub etc. via the camp wifi. It may not be the quickest and most reliable internet, but it isn’t censored. Some info why orgasms are so good for us and a fun quarantine read here
What can easily be ordered once you get here...
You can order food from IGA (minimum order $20 or Coles minimum order $50) as well as get click & collect from Kmart Coolalinga and BigW Palmerston. Neither have a minimum order or admin fee – so if you need a quick chocolate or a water pistol for some intercabin wars – go wild. Detailed instructions on how to order are in your welcome booklet
- Coat Hangers. While some people suggest bringing or getting these, unless you brought your fav suit or wedding dress, I personally wouldn’t worry. You’ll only be in a bikini, active wear, and a hoodie some nights. Everything dries within minutes in the heat, so just leave your suitcase packed and have summer clothes ready.
- Yoga Mat. BigW has a $3 yoga mat. Perfect to tan on, workout on, or use it over the railing as a screen
- Paul’s – The Territory’s own Iced Coffee. Go on. Order it. The double shot version. You won’t regret it.
- Water pistols. Ours arrived on Day 6, and we had a blast. I just don’t recommending aiming them at cops. Big No-No.
- Citronella coils. – Oe pack will be enough for 2 weeks and make sunset and sunrise a lot more pleasant.
- A mug and a plate. Coffee is much more enjoyable out of a mug and creates less waste than all those paper coffee cups
Hacks using camp supplies or your digital devices
Now this is my favourite section – get creative! Have a paper bag drawing competition, and let your inner child out. A few more handy tips below:
- Sunsails. A spare sheet and the wooden forks is all you need. (3 ideally, and you can substitute for spoons on the first two days till you have enough). Photo in the “hacks” gallery”
- Block floodlights. A spare sheet wraps perfectly around those few bright white floodlights. I had one point right into my window and the blinds didn’t keep out that bright light at night – so after two nights of barely any sleep I asked the girl across to wrap it up – and a lot of others in our block followed suit. It made stargazing and watching the ISS way easier
- Watching the ISS. I saw it a couple of times while here, and loved getting up early in the morning to do so – and then enjoy a cuppa watching the sunrise before the camp woke up. Not sure if there will be more opportunities this year, but here is a link to check it out
- Charging your laptop outside can be a challenge that’s easily overcome with the TV remote or one of the many mueslibars from your welcome pack. Open your window, slightly slide the flyscreen up and out and squash the bar in. Tadaaa enough space for the charging cable to fit through
- Keys. Tie your keycard to the door – on the outside. It’s easier to lock yourself out than you think (the wind slams the doors here often). I left mine outside 24/7 for 2 weeks with no issues
- Personal Development. Set yourself some goals while you’re here – whether that’s a new language, your tax return, applying for jobs, getting fitter, getting a tan or reading a book – now is the time to do it. If that’s your plan, but you’d like some structure hit me up – I’ll happily share some templates with you for free as a fellow quarantine
- Internet. Is available. Just be patient. Very patient. Once you hooked up to it, it will take a long while to connect. Don’t worry. It will eventually. Otherwise just hotspot.
- WhatsApp Group. Use your whats app group to organise gaming nights, language exchange sessions, and use the participants expertise to learn something new. We’re a diverse group of people here! Pilates, Zumba, Crypto, Spanish classes – you name it.
- Water. Tap water is drinkable – just leave it in the sun or fridge to get rid of the taste and you’ll be fine.
- Re-supplies. If you run out of masks or toilet paper – call reception (number is on the back of your door) and you’ll get more. Just don’t bank on them bringing it quickly, so order before you run out.
- Allied health support. I came here needing physio as I am recovering from a broken hand and wrist and noted that in the intake form. The occupational therapist showed up the next day and has been here most days since. She is fantastic! Unfortunately for other ailments you have to call telehealth or a GP in town/ bring your own psychologist
Feel free to add any hacks and tips that you have in the comments – I m sure there are plenty more!
A typical day for me
I usually wake up around 5.30pm every day. After a quick check on my “advent calendar” – a great initiative by friends, I can uncover a photo and message every day while here,times a quick ab workout – I am out to watch the sunrise (unless the ISS is coming past, then I am up earlier).
After enjoying the morning serenity, it’s time for sun and coffee while waiting for the nurses to come take my temperature and chat shit with the girls around me.
Depending on the breakkie of the day, I may have something to eat. More often than not I just stick to coffee. I then get my laptop out for some work, before a quick morning sun tanning session and enjoying lunch.
After lunch, I usually read for a bit or chat with the girls again before heading inside for my workout and another shower before heading out to enjoy the afternoon sun and our 4.30 pm dinner delivery. After dinner we usually all watch the sunset, hang out and chat some more, read books, and I get to chill in my hammock until late, before another shower and off to bed.
At any day and any time the occupational therapist may drop by to work on my wrist (double gloved of course) and works wonders. She’s probably the only capable person here in camp who gets shit down effectively and efficiently.
Some days telehealth calls (e.g. if you have a broken chair and poke a screw through your butt to tell you they can’t replace your broken chair unless you don’t mind a plastic one – yeah right, as if that would stay on the veranda with the constant wind here), to ask you 3 ties whether you need a tetanus injection, or to check in on you and give you wrong information about your travel to NSW (FYI, NSW does NOT require a negative covid test on day 17 after hotel quarantine, regardless of what they tell you here).
Laundry visits and walks to the bin are always a welcome distraction, and so are shopping deliveries.
For me personally, the biggest challenge here is not falling into poor posture. Constant laying down or sitting in uncomfortable, unergonomic chairs make it super important to work out, keeping my stamina up and stretch. Reading this study about the increased risk of type two diabetes and heart disease after 2 weeks of sedentary behaviour convinced me even more that I needed to stay fit while here.
Best side effect – the workouts release endorphins and keep my happiness up. All the girls in my block are equally motivated to work out, so we usually disappear in to the aircon at some point in the day to our individual workouts. The girls in the block behind do “after dinner veranda group workouts” – but we all stay as fit as we can and throw in a few laundry and bin sprints.
Now remember – while all of us here agree that hotel quarantine in this day and age (especially for those of us returning to NSW where community transmission is everywhere despite lockdowns and covid positive cases get to stay at home while we’re detained) is just plain ridiculous – this is an attitude that won’t get you far. It helps to have the occasional laugh about this absurdity with your fellow inmates briefly (or everytime after you see the scowling cops), but the rest of your experience here is determined by what you make of it. None of us want to be here or chose to be here – but we can make the best of our time here by focusing on the positives.
My personal highlights
- The girls around me – they honestly make the stay here a million times better
- The heat – while others struggle on 39 degree days, I absolutely love it. I’ve been known to swap to a jumper when it goes just below 30 and it reminds me of being up here as a backpacker 16 years ago…
- Fresh air. Unlike city hotels, you have fresh air. I am literally only inside to sleep and purely because that way I don’t have to wear a mask when sleeping – otherwise I’d stay outside all day
- The sunrises – true Golden Hour up here and I am usually the first one up, watching the camp wake up
- The wildlife – have fun watching it, and don’t be scared. No baddies here
- The fact that I am over halftime here! Bring on the last few days, so I can go home and cuddle my dog whom I haven’t seen in months.