20 Sep 2021

Covid-19: Business struggling at Auckland's northern border as city stops southern travellers

From Checkpoint, 5:47 pm on 20 September 2021

Some businesses on Tāmaki Makaurau's northern border say things are so quiet they fear they may go extinct, and desperately want a travel corridor to keep them moving.

Travel through to Northland is still highly restricted. Anyone driving through Auckland must provide proof their trip is for an essential reason.

Northland, Auckland border

Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

It is putting massive strain on border towns where some shops are desperately hoping some visitors will be able to return for the school holidays.

At Eutopia Cafe in Kaiwaka, locals are keeping things ticking along. But chef and barrister Kailee Katu said the lockdown had certainly changed business.

She said many of their customers would usually be travellers on a trip north or south.

"We open at about 8:30 in the morning and get a rush from there right through until about 3pm - at the moment we're getting one or two locals coming in but we're not getting many people coming in after that.... you can notice the difference."

She was hopeful a boost in vaccination uptake would make a big change going forward.

"We do have one or two people come in complaining about vaccinations, but people will have their offside and people will have their upside.

"We're just trying to convince everyone to be vaccinated to make life a bit more enjoyable and a bit more easy for us beautiful Kiwis," she said.

Beth Stone and her partner own a holiday park near Kaiwaka which said was 'quiet to the point of extinction'.

"We would normally have bookings to be full for the school holidays coming up and we haven't got one single booking."

But Stone does have some hope that a travel corridor for anyone visiting from south of Auckland for 'non-essential' travel could be a much needed boost.

"That would be really helpful because a lot of our guests are beyond Auckland - I mean we've had cancellations from people in the South Island."

Mangawhai is also on the edge of the Northland-Auckland divide. Gareth Wilson owns the cafe Brewed As Collective there and agreed a travel corridor was needed.

"We are a holiday town and although the local population is growing, when Auckland's in lockdown we get cut off from the rest of New Zealand, so that makes it really hard.

"It kind of feels like we're in level 3 or maybe 4 just because we rely heavily on that weekend trade.

"Especially with things like school holidays coming up, people want to come to the winterless north and if it's cut off by Auckland it makes it very hard for them to do that."

Thorough border checks will remain in place while Tāmaki Makaurau is in Level 3 for at least another two weeks.

Grace Le Gros is working at the checkpoint on behalf of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua. She said their main aim is always to keep Covid-19 out of Tai Tokerau, and Auckland's drop in alert levels would not change much.

"Probably just up the ante a little bit, to be a bit more diligent about who's coming from the south into the north... that would give me, and the iwi, peace of mind that we've done our very best to keep our people in the north safe."