Domestic visitors to Northland have been praised for their "fantastic support" of the region during a financially challenging year.
Despite the loss of international visitors due to Covid-19 border closures, recent visitor guest night and spending figures suggest the domestic market held up well during the peak season months of December, January and February.
The data, from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, shows visitor guest nights in Northland for December 2020 and January and February 2021 totalled 759,800.
This is compared with 825,878 visitor stays during December 2018, and January and February 2019.
Tourism electronic card transactions in Northland totalled $584m in January this year, up 2 per cent on the previous two years.
Northland totalled $575 million in December 2020, up 1.2 per cent on the previous two years.
Northland Inc destination general manager Tania Burt welcomed the news.
"The Northland region has seen fantastic support from the domestic market since June 2020 and the visitor and spend data speaks to this."
Burt said Northland's proximity to Auckland has been a major factor in our favour.
But it is also a challenge because every Auckland lockdown effectively cut the region off from its national visitor supply, she said.
"While Northland has benefitted from domestic leisure visits, it is not without its challenges, with travel concentrated through weekends, long weekends and school holidays, leading to the drop off in visitor numbers after Waitangi weekend in February."
The data was presented to the Whangārei District Council's strategy, planning and development committee meeting on April 15.
A breakdown of the districts showed Kaipara came out on top for visitor guest stays last summer.
Whangārei was down 30 per cent for visitor stays this February compared with the same month in 2018 and 2019 and the Far North was down 34 per cent.
Kaipara had 10 per cent more guest night stays in February compared with the same month in the previous two years.
Kaipara was also up in January, with a whopping 66 per cent more visitor stays compared with the same month in 2018 and 2019, and 28 per cent more visitors in December.
Kaipara Mayor Jason Smith said Kaipara has been "discovered in record numbers".
"New Zealanders wanted to get to places they haven't been before, and Kaipara is the closest part of Northland to Auckland and yet most people don't know it.
"Kai Iwi lakes was solidly booked from well before Christmas through February.
"People from Auckland particularly, are going 'this place is only two hours away and we've never been there'.
"Mangawhai is an hour and a half and you've got amazing beaches, markets, a pristine harbour, vineyards and a chocolate factory."
However, last summer wasn't great for everyone.
Kiwi North director of operations Allie Fry said there has been a sharp drop in visitors at the educational facility.
Over summer their market is usually made up of 60 per cent international visitors, mostly Europeans, she said.
"Summer hasn't been very good for us at all. January is usually our peak month, and it wasn't just visitor numbers and admissions it's the retail side of things too.
"The domestic market has been there but it hasn't made up what we've been missing by a long shot."
Fry said Kiwis are more relaxed while on holiday.
"New Zealanders are happy staying in their motor homes or baches, they don't feel the need to go looking for things to do, they're not going around experiencing things.
"They prefer to just sit and relax."
Tourism business diversifies
When the owners of Russell - Orongo Bay Holiday Park spotted an opportunity to diversify their tourism business they grabbed it with both hands.
Tori Burns was at a tourism and careers expo in Auckland and was talking to teachers who said they couldn't afford to take their students on domestic trips.
Burns offered to make up budget itineraries, working with Northland businesses to come up with low-cost places to visit while staying at her budget accommodation.
"We're getting a few retired people travelling in campers and people coming on weekends. Other than that, we just don't see anyone apart from public holidays.
"The schools have been a major blessing. It's enabled us to survive while the borders remain closed."
Since last June she's hosted more than 20 low-decile schools, creating itineraries that include trips to Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Russell Museum, Pompallier Mission and the Kerikeri Mission Station.
Kiwi North is another educational stop on the way through Whangārei.
Not only are students provided fun experiences outside of the classroom, the visits also work into the school curriculum, particularly social sciences, history and geography.
Burns said she is passionate about what Northland has to offer young New Zealanders.
She and her husband James are also now offering six-week, nature-based school holiday programmes for local children.
"To provide this opportunity to the kids is just fantastic."