The father of a family that managed to get back into New Zealand on December 12 last year has fronted to the Herald - and explained how a spontaneous decision by his children during a stopover, and a split between MIQ and Customs staff at the airport, played key roles in the incident.
Davey Goode, the Auckland-based founder and chief executive of Tillered - a startup that offers technology for speeding an internet connection - travelled to Dubai last year with his family as part of his effort to establish his new business. His wife and two children - both under 10 - travelled with him as he shuttled between the city-state and various countries in Europe to set up the international side of his new business.
As the scramble for MIQ places tightened with Delta, the entrepreneur asked the MBIE-run Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) service if he and his family could isolate at home - his strongly preferred option in any case due to a family member's mental health issues.
There were initially promising discussions, but MIQ would not allow home isolation. Goode engaged a lawyer but was unable to overturn the agency's verdict.
After Australia reopened its borders in November, Goode and his family travelled to Sydney as a stepping-stone to returning home. They had tickets to fly on to Auckland on January 17 - the date, at that point, when NZ border restrictions were set to lift for transtasman travellers.
But he soon ran into a cost-of-living problem. Unable to rent a home on Australia's east coast (where landlords wanted to lock the family into a 12- or 18-month lease in a tight market), the only option was expensive Airbnb properties.
Goode discovered equivalent accommodation was only a third the price in Fiji, and booked his family on a December 12 Air New Zealand flight to Nadi, stopping over in Auckland.
The entrepreneur says there was never any intention to stay in Auckland. "We had return flights to Sydney booked. We were going to Fiji because it was cheaper.
But as the flight started its descent into Auckland, the family's mood changed.
"The plane few in from the west, then turned around and you could see the whole city. It felt like, 'This is our home'," Goode says.
"My daughter said she wanted to go home and see her dog, and her nana, and she started crying. My son started crying, So I talked to my wife and I said 'You know what? F**k it, let's just walk through."
So after landing, instead of going to the transit lounge, the family just followed other passengers towards Customs. Goode says that part of the family's unplanned escapade turned out to be remarkably easy. "At no point were we asked if we had MIQ vouchers," he says.
Yet there was a logistical problem in that their baggage was still on the plane bound for Fiji. Goode volunteered this to a Customs officer, who called his manager.
Goode explained the situation to the senior Customs officer. "Our kids want to stay, we're New Zealand citizens and we're here," he said. Although his family had lost its fight for MIQ vouchers - required by the MBIE-run MIQ for re-entry into NZ - he and his wife were fully vaccinated (their children were too young for the jab) and they had met the requirement for a negative PCR test before boarding their flight.
Goode - who made an audio recording of events on his phone - says an MIQ rep stationed at the airport then entered the fray. The MIQ rep said she wanted the family sent to the transit lounge. But the senior Customs officer refused, Goode says (an immigration law expert says Customs was in the right).
Two police officers were standing nearby observing the clash, but did not speak or move to interfere in any way, Goode says.
The standoff ended with Goode and his family getting their luggage, and agreeing to be put on an MIQ bus for what turned out to be a 100m ride to the Auckland Airport Novotel, where the family was booked in by an Army officer and subsequently did seven days in isolation.
He says that ironically, "We were overseas for three months. The closest we got to Covid was at the Novotel, because someone on the floor above or below us got Covid and they locked that floor down for an extra three hours."
It added to his frustration that the facility "was only half full" - although at least that offered the comfort that he and his family was not taking anyone's place.
He says those who are double-jabbed and have passed a PCR test should be able to isolate at home.
After completing their quarantine, the family headed for their Auckland home. Goode says he has not heard from MBIE, MIQ or any other agency since.
A spokesperson for Customs confirmed that a family of four had refused to board a connecting flight to Nadi on December 12,
"Customs does not have any further comment on this matter as we are not the agency responsible for placing travellers in MIQ. That decision was made by MIQ and Health. Any further details on the steps taken afterwards would need to be referred to Health and MIQ."
A spokesman from the Ministry of Health said, "I have talked to several teams at Health who have confirmed that we weren't involved and your query is best answered by MBIE."
Joint head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Chris Bunny said in a statement to the Herald, "It is a legal requirement to have a valid MIQ voucher to enter New Zealand. If someone arrives in the country without a valid MIQ voucher, then their case may be referred to NZ Police for enforcement action.
"We would be extremely disappointed by anyone who purposefully ignores the process, especially when there are thousands of New Zealanders, often in difficult circumstances, who want to come home and who follow the rules."
So was the voucher-less Goode and his family referred to the police? Can it confirm it let the family in without MIQ vouchers?
An MIQ spokesman said on Tuesday, through a statement issued through parent agency MBIE: "We do not yet fully understand the facts of this situation so are not in a position to advise what further action is appropriate at this stage."
There has so far been no further comment from the agency.
A member of the police comms unit was loath to put any resource into attempting to confirm police action, given MIQ officials were not clear on whether the matter had been referred to law enforcement. Goode says he has not heard anything from the police.
Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has been asked for comment, and MIQ has been offered another opportunity to respond.