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

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

A police checkpoint at the Auckland border.
Photo: RNZ

News that the city’s checkpoints will remain throughout level 2 has been tough to take for many Northland tourism operators as they remain cut off for the foreseeable future.

Edgewater Palms Ramada manager Nicki Kempthorne said the school holidays, which begin tomorrow, had been fully booked but cancellations had been trickling through every day.

“It’s soul-destroying … we know that we just have to go with it and it will come back but these next two weeks were hugely important to us and our staff, the whole industry – it’s devastating.”

The business has had about eight stays in the past six weeks – ordinarily, that would be hundreds.

And Kempthorne said temporary flights put on by Air New Zealand between Wellington and Whangārei or Kerikeri were not making up for the loss in visitors who would usually drive north.

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

Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

Kempthorne is supportive of a travel corridor to allow cars to travel through Auckland’s lockdown for non-essential reasons, but she said while it would help get a few people moving, it wouldn’t make up for the lack of Aucklanders.

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

“A travel corridor would be the best thing for the ones that in the same level as us, that can get through Auckland a bit easier and come up here and do a bit of travelling around.

“It’s coming into summertime, weather’s getting nice and feeling good and we definitely need a few more people here,” he said.

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

“If they opened up the gates in Auckland and Covid made it up here, our elders are going to get hit hard and fast and that’s not going to be good at all.”

He wasn’t convinced a travel corridor was a good option. “If I had the answers I wouldn’t be pushing people out in kayaks, I’d be down there pushing a pen in a suit – so that I’ll leave to the ones in the know, supposedly.”

Nick Tipene and Ropata Hardieman at Bay Beach.
Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said she was hearing from more and more people desperate to be reconnected to the rest of the country.

“For the sectors of our community – the hospitality sector in particular, and people who want to run events – they’re all really feeling the pinch and this could mean the end of their businesses.”

Mai said health remained the key priority for the North and she was regularly checking in with central government on the issue of access.

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

“I do understand for people in northland their concerns about the fact that not everybody can move as quickly and as freely as they would like – we have to strike a balance here.

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

Air New Zealand has said it would endeavour to keep the direct flights going for as long as Auckland’s travel restrictions remained.

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