Fluctuating Covid-19 lockdowns, including Auckland's ongoing restrictions, are taking a toll on frayed Northland businesses, with one Kerikeri cafe chucking in the towel, and another resident saying it's cut her business "off at the knees".
With strict travel restrictions in place and no decision by the Government on a promised transport corridor through Auckland, Northlanders are feeling cut-off and isolated from the rest of the country.
The Rainbow Falls Tea House in Kerikeri is the latest Covid-19 business casualty, closing the doors to the villa where homemade cakes, scones and tea were enjoyed in a traditional English garden setting last week.
Owners Fay and John Cooper said on social media "we will be moving on to our next adventure" over the next few weeks.
The couple said they appreciated their customers' support.
"Over the past few weeks we have been giving the Tea House and our role in hospitality some serious consideration.
"With several factors influencing our decision, including the difficulties posed by Covid and possible long-term implications, we have decided to close the Tea House."
Bay of Islands businesswoman Vanessa Owen, who owns Driftwood Seaside Escapes and The Merchants in Kerikeri, said last summer New Zealanders embraced domestic tourism.
But "the second time around it's completely different", she said.
Owen has seen an almost 100 per cent drop in business since the nationwide lockdown started on August 17.
Northland dropped to level 2 on September 6 but was put into a snap 10-day lockdown after two Covid-positive women falsified documents to travel from Auckland to several locations in the North including Whangārei, Kamo, Onerahi, Paihia and Kawakawa.
Today the region drops again to level 2.
Owen said businesses were struggling without Aucklanders and other New Zealanders who can't travel through the city to get here.
"It's cut my business off at the knees," Owen said.
"I realised being isolated from the rest of the world wasn't a big deal, but being isolated from the rest of New Zealand is a massive deal.
"You can't get here. I really embrace domestic tourism but you can't embrace Northland tourism because there's not enough of us exploring our own backyard.
"Everyone is feeling it to varying degrees – the buoyancy doesn't seem to be there in our community at the moment."
Owen said she has been giving free accommodation to "anyone who needs a break" in Northland, particularly people experiencing hard times.
There are "scared tourism operators and empty rooms" throughout the region, she said.
"I'm managing to fill my luxury accommodation with giving people a break but paying visitors?
"I've had a few from Kerikeri who want a night out to get some oysters and get a feed, but that's it.
"Every single booking I get starts with 'what' s your cancellation policy?'.
"That's all people care about. It used to be 'how close are you to the beach?'"
With Auckland still at level 3 and the Government indicating Auckland's borders would remain closed even at level 2, Northland has been "cut off" from the rest of the country, Whangārei-based list MP Dr Shane Reti said.
A safe passage through Auckland was promised by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern a month ago, National's deputy leader said.
The Northland Mayoral Forum has also been pushing for a safe travel corridor through Auckland, including for non-work-related purposes, for a year.
Even when Northland is at level 2, residents can only travel into, out of or through Auckland if their travel is permitted.
Permitted travel includes accessing a health service with an appointment, collecting someone from MIQ, going to an airport to leave New Zealand, maintaining a shared childcare arrangement and providing care to someone in a critical or terminal condition.
Business or work travel across alert level boundaries is strictly limited.
Reti said a travel corridor was "really important for businesses and for people to connect with family members".
"We've had 18 months from the last major outbreak to figure out when Northland is in lockdown how we safely move people through Auckland.
"Instead, the Government has squandered their time, they're more interested in being distracted by cycle-lane bridges and restructuring the health system than figuring out a plan for Covid and a plan for Northland."
A spokesperson for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said as Auckland remains in level 3 as part of the Government's three-step plan, "the boundary with Northland remains in place".
The boundary provides protection for Northlanders from the serious health risks that the virus presents while ensuring people who need to travel for permitted and exceptional reasons can do so, she said.
"The most important thing each and every person can do is get vaccinated, and encourage their friends and whānau to get vaccinated as well.
"This has never been more urgent.
"High vaccination rates will protect our communities and allow everyone to experience fewer restrictions and more freedoms."
Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Steve Smith said Northland businesses are under more strain now than last year.
The biggest challenge is "forward access to capital which has been eroded", he said.
"Aside from the fiscal strain, the emotional strain for people is significant.
"It's like scar tissue on your body, it's part of the healing process but it takes something out of you.
"People are at their limit ... It doesn't take much to tip them over the edge."
Smith said the Government needs to set "an end date" for people to get vaccinated and then open up the borders.
"If you're not vaccinated by then, you've made your decision," he said.
"We don't want society to grind to a halt. We've got to get on with it."
Infometrics principal economist and director Brad Olsen said there were "certainly worries about business closures though we haven't seen widespread issues yet".
"We are still seeing a bounce-back in the economy but a number of sectors are not seeing that bounce-back themselves and resilience is continuing to be worn down among a number of operators.
"There will certainly be some casualties, but it's important to highlight the general sentiment that businesses seem to be as optimistic as can be expected given the ongoing restrictions."