Northland enters its second day today as an island fortress with police and iwi checkpoints at the Auckland border and strategic points around the region.
While police described most people as ''very, very compliant'' with Covid travel restrictions, those turned back included motorists heading to a distant surf break, to a fish and chip shop in another town, and to a laundromat in level 4 Auckland. One man planned to drive more than 200km to buy pet food.
Northland police packed up their checkpoints at Brynderwyn, Kaiwaka and Waipū Cove around 6am yesterday, when they were replaced by checkpoints run by Auckland police further south.
The five new checkpoints are in the Mangawhai area on the Auckland-Northland boundary.
Also yesterday, iwi groups - including former MP Hone Harawira's Taitokerau Border Control (TBC) - set up checkpoints in various locations around the region in collaboration with police.
The aim of the checkpoints is to stop non-essential travel around the region and especially from Auckland, which remains in alert level 4 and still has community transmission of Covid-19.
About 400 vehicles had been stopped in either direction at the main police checkpoint on SH1, near the Mangawhai Rd intersection, by 2pm yesterday.
While that seemed a large number, police at the checkpoint said it was much quieter than after previous alert level shifts.
Sergeant Andrew Wong Woo, of Tāmaki Makaurau police, told the Advocate his staff had turned "very few" motorists around.
"Overall people have been very, very compliant. We're pleased with how positive everyone is and how understanding they are with how the checkpoints work."
Those sent back included a motorist who wanted to do laundry 8km south of the Wellsford checkpoint.
The dozen police and Defence Force staff — yesterday it was the Navy's turn — could be heard asking drivers what essential work they did and where they lived.
Wong Woo said police were checking identification and exemption letters allowing motorists to travel.
"If they can't supply that then a very, very thorough check is carried out to get through."
Stock vehicles, large trucks and marked business vehicles such as NZ Post vans were waved through.
Wong Woo praised motorists for being well prepared and having the necessary documents ready. People were taking the situation more seriously this time around, he said.
The other Auckland police checkpoints are on Mangawhai Rd north of Coal Hill Rd; the Mangawhai Rd/Cames Rd intersection; Mangawhai Rd/Ryan Rd; and Black Swamp Rd west of Rako Rd.
Meanwhile, TBC set up iwi-led checkpoints at Kāeo, the south side of Mangamukas, and the Hokianga ferry landing. Ngāti Hine ran its own checkpoint at Waiomio and Ngāti Whatua carried out checks at Te Hana.
TBC communications manager Nyze Manuel, who led the Kāeo checkpoint, said with 660 vehicles heading north from 9am to 1.30pm yesterday, traffic was disappointingly heavy.
Eight vehicles were turned back, with one man saying he was driving from Russell to Ōkaihau via Mangamuka to buy pet food and another intending to go surfing at Taupō Bay.
While the Advocate was there a Kerikeri couple driving to Kāeo for fish and chips were also turned around.
Manuel said they would be back again today and for as long as it took until the message about essential travel got through.
''We're only going to beat this if we stay still,'' she said.
Yesterday the Kāeo checkpoint was staffed by five TBC volunteers from Whangaroa hapū, two of whom had traffic management qualifications, and two police officers.
Manuel said the response from motorists had been ''99 per cent positive''. It helped that the interviews were done by women, who were less likely to get an aggressive response.
''We're also here to uplift our community and make sure they are okay.''
Anyone who was struggling during lockdown was referred to the local rūnanga helpline, 0800 GO KAEO, for social services, housing and mental health support.
The return of iwi-led checkpoints is a turnaround from last week when police stopped TBC setting up on SH1 south of Kawakawa.
At the time Northland was still in level 4 and police said the more contagious Delta variant made it too risky to have volunteers manning checkpoints.
TBC co-ordinator Rueben Taipari was at the SH1/Mangamuka Rd junction yesterday, where he said traffic was light.
Half a dozen TBC volunteers, two police officers and four traffic control contractors were assisting at the Mangamuka checkpoint.
Taipari said the group had a good relationship with Northland police but their checkpoints had been vetoed at a national level until yesterday's drop to level 3.
He claimed police had been forced to backtrack after pressure from iwi , kaumātua and kuia.
TBC was self-sufficient and covered its own costs, though it had good support from roading companies, which had provided equipment such as traffic cones.
Northland's top cop, District Commander Tony Hill, said with Auckland staff now running border checkpoints, Northland officers could focus on community reassurance and making sure any movement around the region was for essential purposes.
Police had been joined by iwi in some of those operations, he said.
''The operations will focus on compliance but also to allow our partners and iwi to see if there is anything people need support with during these challenging times.''
As level 3 began yesterday, for some Northlanders takeaways and coffee were the priorities, with people getting breakfast at fast-food joints across the region.
In Whangārei, Temania Clark-Burmett, 23, was one of the first Northlanders in line to catch her level 3 McDonalds fix at the Bank St restaurant.
Clark-Burmett said because she was up at 6am anyway thanks to her 6-month-old son, she thought she'd hit the queue early to get a spot in line.
Clark-Burmett enjoyed the long-awaited McMuffin after weeks of homemade meals.
Customers were trickling in at Kamo McDonalds. However, most vehicles had a full carload of people grabbing a bite to eat.
Swade Baker, 19, had just wrapped up a night shift in Countdown and was glad to be able to grab a quick breakfast from the fast-food store.
"I was pretty excited," Baker said.
Levi and Hinemoa Carroll were first in line at 9.54am at Whangārei's KFC, keen to satisfy their lockdown craving for some Wicked Wings and chicken drumsticks.
When asked how it felt to be the first people in Whangārei to get KFC in this alert level 3, the pair just laughed.
Levi said the pair learned to get here early from the last alert level 3, when the queue was mammoth.
Meanwhile in Kerikeri, Kaitaia-based T8 traffic control had set up a dedicated lane on the town's main street for the expected queues at the McDonald's drive-through.
Unlike the rush at the start of level 3 last year, however, there was no line of traffic snaking around the carpark and only a few vehicles in the drive-through at 8am.
It was a different story across the road at Barrow Boys Coffee, where a steady stream of regulars were getting their first barista-made flat whites in more than a fortnight.
One of the first in line was school administrator Freda Arama, who was on her way to work at Kerikeri High.
It had been a long time between coffees so she was stoked to return to her pre-work ritual.
''The team here is great, they're really friendly and hospitable and the coffee's great,'' she said.