Saturday, December 4

‘It’s soul-wrenching’: Northland expects to be hit hard as Auckland border remains

Businesses in Te Tai Tokerau are feeling the strain as the Auckland border keeps visitors at bay.

The new police checkpoint in the Brynderwyn Hills heading north from Auckland.

A police checkpoint on the Auckland border.
Photo: RNZ

The news that the city checkpoints will remain throughout Level 2 has been difficult for many Northland tour operators to accept as they will remain isolated for the foreseeable future.

Edgewater Palms Ramada manager Nicki Kempthorne said school holidays, which start tomorrow, had been fully booked, but cancellations had occurred every day.

“It’s devastating … we know we have to move on and it will come back, but these next two weeks were very important to us and our people, the entire industry, it’s devastating.”

The company has had about eight stays in the last six weeks; normally it would be hundreds.

And Kempthorne said the temporary flights arranged by Air New Zealand between Wellington and Whangārei or Kerikeri did not make up for the loss of visitors who would normally travel north.

“Unfortunately, with Auckland closed, no one can get here. And they may have put in flights, but I don’t know anyone in the industry here who is seeing that at all.”

Edgewater Palms Apartments in Paihia is struggling as the Auckland lockdown continues.

Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Percentage

Kempthorne supports a travel corridor to allow cars to pass through the Auckland lockdown for non-essential reasons, but said that while it would help get some people moving, it would not make up for the lack of Auckland residents.

Bad Habits restaurant manager Joey agreed that it would be a good boost for business.

“A travel broker would be the best for those who, on the same level as us, can get through Auckland a little easier and come here and travel a little.

“Summer is coming, the weather is getting nice and it feels good and we definitely need a little more people here,” he said.

Bay Beach Hire operator Nick Tipene said that while there was definitely a drop in customers, the risks with travel were still high.

“If they opened the doors in Auckland and Covid made it here, our seniors will be hit hard and fast and that’s not going to be a good thing.”

He wasn’t convinced that a travel broker was a good fit. “If I had the answers I would not be pushing people in kayaks, I would be down there shoving a pen inside a suit, so I will leave them to those in the know, supposedly.”

Nick Tipene and Ropata Hardieman in Bay Beach.  Tipene looks forward to welcoming visitors to Auckland as soon as possible.

Nick Tipene and Ropata Hardieman in Bay Beach.
Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Percentage

Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said she was listening to more and more people desperate to reconnect with the rest of the country.

“For sectors of our community, the hospitality sector in particular, and people who want to organize events, everyone is really feeling the pressure and this could mean the end of their business.”

Mai said health remains the key priority for the north and that she communicates regularly with the central government on the issue of access.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson indicated today that any travel corridor was unlikely, and the decision to limit movement through Auckland was based on the risk to public health.

“I understand that people in the northern United States are concerned that not everyone can move as quickly and freely as they would like – we have to find a balance here.

For now, temporary flights from Wellington to Kerikeri or Whangārei remain the only way out of Tai Tokerau for tourists, or anyone moving on non-essential travel.

Air New Zealand has said that it will endeavor to maintain direct flights as long as Auckland travel restrictions are maintained.

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