NZ has farewelled an incredibly difficult year. There are challenges ahead, but Kiwis have proven they can rise to them

Bring on 2022. New Zealand is set to swelter in scorching temperatures with the mercury hitting as high as 30C today, as we welcome in the new year.

As the sun rises, the year 2021, one of recent history’s most memorable for many of the wrong reasons, will be cast into its long white cloud shadow.

Although we started last year Covid-free — an anomaly, down the bottom of the world — we ended with acute lockdown fatigue, abandoning an admirably ambitious elimination strategy, and the virus living among us.

Omicron now looms large, though experts give some hope it could be less deadly and more manageable than previous variants.

We cling to that hope. Auckland endured 107 days in lockdown during the Delta outbreak, while other pockets of the nation did their bit to also break the cycle.

Last night, celebrations were muted around the country. Auckland’s normally bustling city centre was quiet as Covid restrictions forced the cancellation of the popular fireworks spectacle off the Sky Tower. Instead a light show from the bridge illuminated up the city.

The sound of fireworks could be heard as people chose to gather with family and friends instead of in the bars and clubs.

The Covid restrictions of 2021 tested the resilience and resolve of all Kiwis, who dug deep to protect themselves and their neighbours.

We have done well. But there is more to do.

Yet, there is little stomach for further suffocating restrictions and widespread working-from-home in 2022.

And it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Amid the fear, anger, anti-vaccination and freedom cries, there were bright spots to keep our spirits up.

Our Covid-19 case numbers, hospitalisations, and deaths pale into insignificance compared with many other countries, including our friends across the Tasman.

Reaching 91.8 per cent double vaccinations — helped by the Herald and NZME’s 90% Project launched in September — was probably our biggest achievement last year. Take a bow, New Zealand.

It means that we’re well-positioned to cope with coronavirusand get back some semblance of normal New Zealand life.

A phased reopening of international borders should begin next month for fully vaccinated travellers, if Omicron allows.

In other impressive achievements last year, the Tokyo Olympics gave New Zealand its greatestmedal haul.

Lisa Carrington became the nation’s most decorated Olympic athlete after winning a remarkable three golds and yesterday became a Dame — as did world-beating Paralympian Sophie Pascoe, who scooped double Tokyo gold.

We defended the America’s Cupand became inaugural world test cricket champions after beating powerhouse India.

The All Blacks, however, suffered a forgettable campaign,and under-fire coach Ian Foster will be desperate to get things back on track in 2022. New Zealanders will hope he does too; it will help life seem a bit more normal. Like the good old times.

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