At the stroke of midnight, it seemed more vehicles were headed south out of town than north into Tai Tokerau.
That was until half an hour later when the first holidaymakers, several towing boats, began to trickle through the police and iwi checkpoint on State Highway 1.
At 11.59 pm yesterday, 100 days of hard borders came to an end for Aucklanders encased within the policed boundaries.
But day one of Northland’s two summer checkpoints began.
Many had envisioned a long line of motorists queued on SH1, waiting to pass through the checkpoint near Uretiti, bang on midnight.
However, the road appeared mostly void of traffic except for the usual run of trucks, whose drivers worked throughout the night.
Police predicted the onslaught of motorists would arrive around 5am when workers undertook their daily commute to jobs in the city.
In the hour the Advocate stood roadside next to Tai Tokerau Border Control (TTBC) volunteers and police, less than 30 vehicles passed through.
Those who did were a mixture of locals – some lucky enough to be one of the 2500 people able to get a sticker from police over the weekend – and holidaymakers, whose vehicles were rammed with luggage.
It’s unknown what greeted the region’s second checkpoint on State Highway 12 near Maungatūroto when the border with Auckland lifted.
TTBC co-ordinator Rueben Taipari, flanked at the checkpoint by the group’s founder Hone Harawira, said the traffic volume was “normal” for what he expected “at midnight in the middle of a cyclone”.
Fortunately, the heavy downpours and 40kmp/h gusts of wind subsided in the minutes before police and iwi took their spots on the road.
It made visibility much easier as northbound traffic, clearly not essential, was waved into a 30m long lane on the left-hand shoulder of SH1 marked with cones.
Drivers were guided to a stop by border control volunteers after which police asked whoever was in the vehicle to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test.
During the Advocate’s time at the checkpoint, every motorist complied and no animosity was shown towards the process.
Any essential worker vehicles or locals were directed towards the express lane that was the usual northbound lane.
Only one strange happening occurred when a driver headed north neared the checkpoint then suddenly made an unexpected U-turn on SH1 and headed south again.
Taipari was pleased with the level of respect the motorists displayed towards the checkpoint and those manning them.
“They just want to go about their business and they just want to go through,” he said.
“I used to think that we’d get abused and the aftermath would just be more abuse but they realise what we’re trying to do is to put a process there to make the community safer, they started to really appreciate it.”
The Waipū community had also got behind the checkpoints with local hāpu – Ngāti Wai, Te Parawhau, and Patuharakeke – having arrived earlier on Tuesday afternoon to give border control a “good blessing”, Taipari said.
“We’ve had a lot of encouragement, telling us that we’re doing a good thing for the community. They’ve given us facilities to help us while we man the checkpoints.”
It made Taipari even prouder of their volunteers, who had grown in size as more Northlanders put their hands up to do their bit on the border to keep Covid at bay.
“They don’t get paid to be here and yet 20-months later we’re still doing this, it’s pretty cool.”
Taipari was even more appreciative of the fact all of the TTBC volunteers were “carrying the kōrero” by being fully vaccinated.
He said some had “inspiring” stories behind their decision to get jabbed.
This included a 33-year-old volunteer from Waitangi, who was the first in his family of nine siblings to get vaccinated.
“I got it for my son’s safety and health,” he said.
“The talk of not being able to get into the hospital made me get vaccinated as my baby is only three and was born with chromosomes missing and respiratory illness.”
After he finishes at the checkpoint at 8am on Wednesday morning, he will make the hour and a half journey back to Waitangi before returning in the afternoon.
“It’s just a privilege to come and support these ones [TTBC] and not only support them but do something to support my family and everybody else’s family.”
Dannie Samuels-Thomas (Ngāti Kura) has been a volunteer with TTBC since its inception during the first lockdown back in April 2020.
She felt apprehensive about Tai Tokerau’s current situation and the summer ahead.
“Why is that? Because a lot of people don’t have a choice. Our kids don’t have a choice, our medically exempt don’t have a choice.”
And the reason why these latest Northland checkpoints were established – to protect the region’s vulnerable population while vaccination rates still lagged – seems to be lost, she said.
“…to the point that we’re opening the border to everyone in Auckland but being kept in red while the rest of the country gets to move to orange.”
Samuels-Thomas urged visitors to treat “our home” the same way they would care for their own home.
Fellow volunteer Sharee Tito (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāpuhi) had left her mokopuna with her husband back in Waitangi in order to help at Tuesday’s border.
She’d been a huge part of the organising team behind the checkpoints.
Tito was inspired to sign up with TTBC 22-months-ago because she’d lost whānau in the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic and was really committed to “protecting our vulnerable”.
“We aren’t here to stand to turn anybody around because we understand too, we’ve got family members in Auckland who want to come home,” she said.
“This is us finding a way to get people home and to Northland but in a way that is still safe for our people.”
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