Campervans which can't be rented out to tourists while borders remain closed are instead being put to use as emergency accommodation for Northland families.
More than 40 families, mostly in the rural Far North, are spending winter in vehicles that in normal times would be trundling around the countryside with overseas visitors at the wheel.
The campervans are only a temporary measure but they're a step up from the barns, tents and leaky caravans some Northlanders had been forced to call home when the Covid-19 crisis hit.
They include Davan Heihei who lost his job as a steel fitter. Without a job he couldn't afford to rent in Whangārei so he moved back to Te Tii, in the northern Bay of Islands, to a tent on his father's lawn.
He was grateful to his father but living in a tent in winter was ''horrible''.
''It was freezing, it was wet, dogs kept getting in there and the fleas were the biggest I've seen in my life. I couldn't sleep.''
Then an uncle put him onto Kaeo-based iwi organisation Te Rūnanga o Whaingaroa and within a week he had moved into a campervan.
Having a warm, dry place to live meant he could be rejoined by his partner, 9-year-old daughter and 5-week old son.
''I felt so lucky, I couldn't believe it. It's heaven compared to a tent.''
Space is tight inside the camper but you won't hear Heihei complain about that.
What does concern him, however, is what will happen when the iwi's contract to use the campervans runs out.
''Where to from here? That's what I'm worried about.''
Heihei said his partner was on a Housing New Zealand waiting list and he had been trying real estate agents and searching the internet for rentals without success.
''The housing situation is ridiculous. It's really hard,'' Heihei said.
The campervan accommodation was an initiative of Te Kahu o Taonui, a collective of 11 Northland iwi formed early in the Covid-19 crisis to make sure families and the elderly were getting food and hygiene items.
As the pandemic wore on it became clear that housing was an even more urgent problem.
Te Rūnanga o Whaingaroa chief executive Toa Faneva said whānau were slipping back to Northland during the lockdown, often to family land in isolated areas.
''We knew that was going to put pressure on housing needs in Northland coming into winter. We had existing families who were already vulnerable, living in overcrowded and unsafe housing.''
Te Kahu o Taonui heard the Government had requisitioned a large number of campervans for people needing to isolate after returning from overseas.
The collective also heard that most people were being put up in hotels instead, so they put a proposal to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development to use the campervans as emergency accommodation.
''We said, 'We've got families with housing needs. We're coming into winter, and now it's even more acute because of Covid','' Faneva said.
"They agreed straight away, which was amazing. I thought we'd have to go through a whole lot of palaver."
A total of 64 families in dire need of accommodation were identified.
Some of those were already living in overcrowded conditions and on waiting lists for homes.
Others had moved from the cities onto bare blocks of family land, where they were pitching tents or living in barns, and a few had tested positive for Covid-19 so couldn't stay with their whānau.
Faneva said many families had returned from Australia after suddenly finding themselves out of work with no government support.
''We had a housing crisis as it was, which was even more acute with these additional families. Some came with just what was on their backs.''
Each iwi was given an allocation of campervans, which were driven north in convoys of 10 at a time and parked up at holiday camps until they could be assigned.
The initiative targeted isolated rural areas such as Wainui and Waimahana because townsfolk could be put up in motels instead.
The iwi put protocols around the vans — ''we didn't want to see them tiki touring around and turning up in Queenstown'' — and had accommodated about 40 families, nine of which were in the Kaeo area.
Some of the 64 families originally identified had found accommodation themselves, Faneva said.
''It's not a permanent solution but the reality is that it's better than how the families were living. With winter coming and kids with respiratory illnesses, we thought, 'Let's get them into mobile homes for now'.''
Initially the iwi had the use of the vans to the end of June but they are hoping to extend that to October, Faneva said. The families have been allowed to stay put in the meantime.
Even with the extension that gave only a short window to find permanent homes.
The rūnanga was working with the families to build resilience and ensure they didn't become dependent. Many of those returning from the cities had good skills so Faneva was hopeful they would find work in the post-Covid infrastructure spend-up pledged by the Government.
Across Northland iwi have 900 families on their books looking for a place to live.