Essential workers, lifeblood, saviours. Whatever you call them, they're getting stuff to us. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Couriers are the saviours of lockdown

Throughout the changing alert levels, courier drivers have been crisscrossing the nation bringing us both essentials and luxuries. Sam Brooks talked to two of them about what it’s been like.

Everybody loves receiving a package. There’s a thrill to getting the little knock at your door and seeing a courier holding something with your name on it. In times of lockdown and social isolation, these deliveries become less of a thrill, and more of a lifeline. 

Whether it’s an essential item – a grocery delivery, a prescription, a blanket – at level four, or a luxury at level three, these deliveries can be the difference between a terrible day and a bearable one. But who are the people who are waking up, and masking up, every day to make sure that package gets to your door?

(Photo: Getty Images, Design by Tina Tiller).

“Oh here we go again.”

That’s Sherry, a rural courier for NZ Post in the Waikato region who has worked with the company for five years, including through the 2020 level four lockdown. Her reaction to news of the first community case of the delta variant on August 17 was one shared by many of us. For us non-essential folk, it meant battening down the hatches. For Sherry, it meant turning to her husband, also a courier, and preparing to get stuck in. 

A few weeks into the lockdown her situation changed. She wasn’t a courier living and working in level four any more. She was a courier who lived in level four and worked in level two, crossing the regional border between Auckland and Wakato twice a day.

A courier doesn’t keep to regular 9-5 hours, even in non-pandemic times. A normal workday for Sherry begins at 3am before even the first sparrow farts. She leaves her home in Pukekawa, near Auckland’s southern boundary, and by the time she gets to the NZ Post base warehouse in Waikato, it’s 4am. (Now she also has to make a quick stop at the Mercer border with her documentation and Covid test results in hand.)

From there, she sorts out her parcels, has her breakfast, and gets ready for the day. “At the moment, it’s taking up to nearly two hours by the time you scan all your parcels, sort all your mail and load the van up,” she says. Sherry’s on the road before 7am, around when most of us are having their first coffee.

Her runs can take her anywhere between seven to eight hours – particularly in the chatty neighbourhoods. “People want to stop and talk to you,”she says. “So that adds a little bit extra on.” She finishes up between 2 and 3pm, and sometimes the wait at the border to go home can take up to an hour and a half.

She’s used to her workload changing as the alert levels shift. Level four was equivalent to a pretty normal workload for her, due to the fact that she could only deliver essential items. “On my run I have a lot of farmers, so I’m delivering things like drench and farm equipment that they actually need to operate. But for others, and remember this is through the winter, we were delivering things like blankets from The Warehouse.”

The shift into level three, though, increased her workload by 40-50%, she estimates. “With level four only being essential items, people are just happy when things turn up. When we went to level three, all of a sudden they’re allowed to order everything and that’s when they seem to… overbuy” She chalks it up to convenience. “A lot of people have the mindset of ‘Oh why go stand in line for two hours when I can get in online?’.”

In the past, her workload has tapered off in level two, but there’s a difference this time. “I think a lot of people have thought that they better buy their Christmas presents for the kids now!”

Left: Ravinder from Tauranga. Right: Sherry from Pukekawa. (Photos: Supplied)

Slightly further down the country in Tauranga, city courier Ravi is reflecting on when he first heard the news of the latest lockdown. “There was a fear because I’m still working out there, you know. I might contract the virus and take it home to my family,” he says.

Like Sherry, Ravi’s work went into overdrive once the alert levels shift down from level four. “Your numbers just get almost doubled from what your normal volume is. Your deliveries, and your pickups from the businesses, go sky high.”

Ravi was expecting things to return to the normal volume when his region went down to alert level two, but that wasn’t the case at all. “Before Covid, I used to have 250 to 300 deliveries a day. Now I’m having 300 to 400 deliveries on a normal day. It’s the same thing with pick-ups. I was having 200 pick-ups per day, but I can do 600 pick-ups a day easy now.”

Usually couriers get this busy around October and November, when people start buying for Christmas.

Throughout the past week, his numbers have fluctuated between regular numbers to all time highs. “My numbers were going down and I was happy,” he says, “but yesterday I had over 500 pick-ups and around 350 deliveries. So I don’t see it getting quiet anytime soon.

“It looks like Christmas has come early for us.”

As anyone who has delightedly received a lockdown package will know, the work that Ravi and Sherry do is much more than delivering packages. The joy that comes after that little knock at the door – whether it’s an essential food delivery, or an impulsive online purchase – is a reminder that there’s a world beyond our bubble. In a time when those of us in Auckland remain isolated, couriers are more vital than ever. 

“We’re all busy at the moment but it’s good,” says Sherry, “because we know we’re actually doing something really good for the communities that we work for.” Ravi fondly remembers one customer’s words of gratitude that have stayed with him long after lockdown. “I delivered to her three times in three days, and every time, she told me that she appreciated my hard work, and the work we’d done during Covid.

“With some people, when you deliver their parcel, you can just see from their face how happy they are. That makes us happy too. That’s really what the task is: making people happy.”




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