25 Aug 2020

Northland towns quiet as Auckland lockdown extended

From Checkpoint, 5:26 pm on 25 August 2020

Northland's towns and tourist spots will remain quiet until Sunday night due to the government's extension of Covid-19 alert level 3 restrictions in Auckland.

Businesses in the region say the last two weeks have been a grind without Auckland visitors spending.

As essential workers, Checkpoint's Nick Truebridge and Nick Monro were allowed through the State Highway 1 roadblock to speak to Northlanders about how they're faring.

Along the holiday highway there were no signs of campers, caravans or packed cars. 

Waipu Museum Trust board chair Heather Jacobson said: "We were closed during level 4 and then level 3 last time and we had really good domestic tourism, and a lot of people supporting us through the last few weeks, but we have noticed a big drop off with the latest lockdown".

Waipū, with a permanent population just under 3000, is popular with Aucklanders and other New Zealanders travelling north.

Simpson said it was those visitors, along with internationals, who helped keep the museum afloat.

"We have been able to be open, it's just that people not only can't come from Auckland but they can't come from further afield because Auckland's a big stop. 

"So Northland's effectively cut off from the rest of the country, as well as the outside world."

Ten minutes up the road, Tania Kaiki is hard at work at Bream Bay Butchery in Ruakaka.

The roads into these small Northland towns remain heavily policed by officers, army personnel and iwi volunteers.

But before these roadblocks were in place, and in the hours before Auckland re-entered lockdown on 12 August, Kaiki said it was bumper-to-bumper.

"It was like absolute chaos out there. The traffic out there was crazy, people were coming up with their jetskis, their boats. I don't think they understood the impact of what was actually happening. To them it was a big holiday."

But now the dust has settled. Northland is cut off, and Kaiki said the region was feeling the pinch.

"It does definitely have an impact on our shop, on the people that come through. It's a lot quieter at the moment, but we'll see what happens as things go, in the future. Hope things will get better."

Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said Northland had become its own island and the isolation was hurting her district.

"When Auckland went to level 3 the change in volumes of vehicles coming up north was dramatic, the tap just turned off. So all of those people who come up, even for business, they're still providing stimulus to our economy. So that was a dramatic impact."

Mai said the best outcome for the district was the same as it is the rest of the country - to eliminate Covid-19 from New Zealand's shores.

But what if the worst-case scenario occurred, and Auckland was locked down again in the future?

"Heaven forbid we go back to having that difference of levels between regions. I think we need to look more at how we can ensure people and goods and services can move through," she said.

Mangawhai is another spot usually popular with Aucklanders.

It is at the Auckland-Northland boundary, meaning some in the community are living under level 3 lockdown restrictions, while others enjoy the relative freedoms of level 2.

Bennetts' Chocolates general manager Emily Bennett said the town's beaches and businesses were noticeably quieter because of lockdown restrictions in place just kilometres south.

"We're kind of hanging on for it to be free-flowing between Northland and Auckland definitely. The Auckland market coming to Mangawhai is huge."

The government eased travel through Auckland over the weekend, allowing people travelling north for work to pass through, so long as they do not stop.

But for Northland businesses, it's the precious dollars from Auckland day trippers they're waiting to be let through.