"Freedom" is what drew hundreds of Sovereign Hikoī of Truth protesters from Northland to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – with some even risking their jobs by doing so.
But Tai Tokerau iwi has reprimanded the movement for ploughing ahead during the annual He Whakaputanga commemorations, and at such a "dangerous" time for the region.
Te Rūnanga-ā-iwi ō Ngāpuhi chair Wane Wharerau said in a statement that the Rūnanga stood with everyone who opposed the hīkoi.
"We have not fought this virus for 20 months and tolerated the harsh restrictions around tangihanga, gather at the marae and visit whanāu to abandon this plan now.
"It is disappointing that organisers are using He Whakaputanga, or the Declaration of Independence, as a means of bringing attention to their cause...this hīkoi diverts attention from a genuine commemoration of a covenant in the history of Ngāpuhi."
Te Tii Marae – whose leaders had indicated that protesters were not welcome at this time - was the final gathering point of the Sovereign Hīkoi of Truth (SHOT) movement that started in Rotorua and the Waikato on Tuesday night.
The hīkoi was supposed to travel through Auckland's alert level 3 before arriving at Te Tii Marae yesterday.
However, it became a disjointed affair when police foiled protesters' plans to cross Auckland's alert level boundaries.
Around 12 people were barred from entering Northland at the Te Hana checkpoint on State Highway 1 yesterday morning.
They were set to join more than 50 protesters waiting on the northern side of the same checkpoint but police, iwi liaison officers and Ngāti Whātua intervened to disperse the majority of the group.
The Advocate understands that a small number of protesters remained in Te Hana on the Auckland side of the border.
Further south, a convoy of 50 vehicles and about 100 people from Rotorua gathered at the Mercer checkpoint in Auckland at 11.45pm on Tuesday night.
Police directed the group to a gravel area on Orams Rd to prevent them from disrupting traffic trying to pass through the busy border checkpoint.
A police spokesman said most people complied, except for the drivers of two protest vehicles – including a bus – who parked on SH1 and refused to move.
Overnight traffic was diverted around the vehicles and police were currently engaging with the owners in a bid to have them moved off the road.
At 2.30am, some protesters surged forward on foot from Orams Rd – blocking the southern lane of SH1.
They refused to co-operate with any requests from the authorities to clear the road and a police line was needed to move them off the highway.
While those protesters stayed put, more than 250 vehicles started their journey from Kensington Park in Whangārei at 9.30am and arrived at Waitangi at noon yesterday.
It was unclear who from the crowd of more than 1,000 people present at Te Tii Marae was a SHOT participant as the He Whakaputanga commemorations were in full swing in the campground next to the marae.
He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni (Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand) was signed in Waitangi on October 28, 1835, by 34 northern chiefs.
Northland police deployed extra staff to the area to ensure alert level restrictions were adhered to and to monitor the situation for any issues that may have arisen.
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While a participant in the Northland leg of the hīkoi said it wasn't about the vaccination divide – it was about Manaakitanga, extending love and support to others – it seemed many people had turned out to reject Government mandates linked to the Covid vaccine.
Towai Tavern owner Charlie Grayson took part in the hīkoi to stand against policies, he said, which took people's freedom of choice away.
He said people were being forced into vaccinations despite being "scared" and unsure about them.
"Many of my staff members are unvaccinated and might not wish to be vaccinated. Do I fire them all? Who will look after the business? Will the Government support me then?"
A North Haven Hospice employee said she could lose her job for joining the hīkoi and standing up for her principles.
"There is no freedom of choice for the people any more. People are still scared, even though they are fully vaccinated.
"...I want to ask if you have taken your two jabs, why are people worried if the rest of us take it or not? You believe you are safe, let us believe it too."
Northland iwi had pleaded for hīkoi participants to stay at home as the region grappled with community cases of Covid.
Wane said the anti-vaccination event was "particularly dangerous for whānau" in Tai Tokerau, who faced a growing threat likened to the 1918 Spanish Flu which caused a widespread loss in Northland.
"Now, little more than 100 years after that pandemic, Te Tai Tokerau is at the point of a similar threat but this time we have a vaccine at our disposal.
"...when this threat has passed, Ngāpuhi will happily welcome you and your whānau north again," he said.
In a statement on Tuesday, Dame Rangimārie Naida Glavish - a politician and Ngāti Whātua community leader – said the hīkoi added "unnecessary pressure on a region struggling to get targeted vaccination levels among Māori".
"Any hikoi in this lockdown puts in jeopardy the mahi Ngāti Whātua is currently undertaking. Have your hoo-ha when this is done and dusted - right now the hoo-ha is hōhā."