13 Sep 2021

Wellington-Kerikeri flight welcomed in north, but drivers also wanted

From Checkpoint, 5:28 pm on 13 September 2021

Tourism operators in Te Tai Tokerau are feeling the strain as holidaymakers remain blocked from driving through Auckland's level 4 lockdown.

A new direct flight between Kerikeri and Wellington is the only way people can access the region for non-essential reasons, and it touched down for the first time today.

Air New Zealand's first direct flight from Wellington to Kerikeri touches down.

Air New Zealand's first direct flight from Wellington to Kerikeri touches down. Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

Among those on board was Wellington man Geoff, who had been waiting for weeks to begin walking the Te Araroa trail.

"My original time was right in the middle of lockdown so that was a bit of a drama, then I had to delay it about two weeks now. But it's just awesome that I can now start doing it."

Air New Zealand introduced the daily flights to run through until September 21 as a way of accessing Northland without transiting through Auckland.

As it stands, any cars or planes travelling through the level 4 lockdown must have proof that they are doing so for essential reasons.

John and Helen Owens were preparing to board the plane as it headed back to Wellington - having been stuck in the Far North looking after a coastal farm.

"It didn't look like the owners were going to get back in time - and it was after the 72 hours - so we've been here for 27 days," John Owens said.

The flights south have been so popular that Air New Zealand has added another six services to run from this Wednesday to next Tuesday.

The north-bound flights have also been selling well and it is those that tourism operators are really hoping might make a difference.

While the new flight route was being welcomed, some tourism operators said a travel corridor through Auckland would make the biggest difference.

Explore Fullers Great Sites general manager Ross Brljevich hoped it could be implemented soon, as the school holidays are fast approaching.

"It's definitely hurting - there's people around the north here that are talking about 'I don't know that I'm going to come out of this' - so the confidence has been shattered but I still want to put it in a positive spin, that we're going to come out of this and we're going to go forward."

He said allowing people from Auckland's southern border to travel through a travel corridor to Northland was vital.

"I would like people from Tauranga, Rotorua, anywhere in the North Island to be able to just drive through and say 'here's my booking for the Bay of Islands, anywhere in Northland',  and bang, they can come through, rather than being turned around."