The gesture by Distinction Hotel staff, while the pair were in managed isolation in Christchurch, was their first celebratory gift, after months spent fighting to be together.
“We’ve been waiting for this for so long and hitting every dead end. Something like this blew us away. Just to be so welcomed was incredible,” says Max Philips.
On March 19 this year, Max, who hails from Florida, was due to move to New Zealand from the USA to be with Kara. The pair met in Rotorua in 2019. It was a case of ‘love at first sight’, and after just a couple of hours spent together, Max and Kara knew they had found ‘the one’ in each other. When Max returned to his home in the USA, the pair spent months counting down to his move to New Zealand.
Then New Zealand shut its borders to international visitors that very day. With Max stuck in the USA, the couple began their virtual love story and huge effort to reunite in person.
“We were in a weird situation. From March, we had no idea when we were going to see each other again,” says Kara.
The pair tried and failed 33 times to secure a partnership visa for Max – despite having 17 letters of support - to allow him into the country.
As they waited for news of a possible border opener or visa, the pair Facetimed every day.
On April Fool’s Day, and while Facetiming, Max asked Kara to walk out into her favourite place – the garden. Little did she know that on the other side of the world, Max had got down on one knee. Through tears and a screen, she said yes. Her engagement ring then took four months to make its way from the US to NZ.
On August 9, an immigration lawyer advised Kara to fly to the USA “to bring her man home”.
“He picked me up, and it was like a first date. Three days later, we were getting married in his parent’s backyard with 120 people watching through Facebook Live.”
Kara’s Dad even gave her away from thousands of miles away and the couple got their American marriage certificate signed virtually, by a court officer in Florida.
Once back in New Zealand, the pair completed their quarantine/honeymoon in Christchurch.
They saved the Moet and strawberries for a ‘date night’, and kept spirits up by doing scavenger hunts in the room.
Kara says the kindness and care they’ve been shown in the managed isolation facility has been phenomenal.
She went into quarantine with the goal to upskill and stay busy, however a chat with ‘Susie the security guard’ on day two, encouraged her to rethink her approach.
“She asked me how often it is that you don’t have to think about work for two weeks. She told me to give myself permission to rest and to surrender to it.”
Feeling incredibly grateful to be among the lucky ones, who have been reunited on NZ soil, they travelled to Rotorua “to make a life together” on October 3.
“We’re just looking forward to being home and doing regular life together and all the mundane things,” says Kara.
Max, having come from the divided US, says he hopes Kiwis don’t forget to continue to stay united.
“NZ is a light to the globe right now. But don’t forget the world is still being ravaged by COVID.”