Yesterday morning, Northland awoke from seven weeks of hibernation after the country went from alert level 3 to level 2, lifting many restrictions that had kept Kiwis bound to their homes.

Towns across the region were buzzing again as Northlanders carefully smelled the fresh air of freedom, and finally got a haircut.

But shopping errands and much-needed grooming aside, the first day back in level 2 brought some long-awaited family reunions.

Gill Tubbs of Kerikeri last saw her daughter, son-in-law and two young grandchildren just before the lockdown started.

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At midnight the young dairy-farming family piled into their car in Te Awamutu and headed north, arriving at Tubbs' home in Kerikeri in time for breakfast yesterday morning.

"It's been lovely and long-awaited," Tubbs said.

"We've had lots of video calls, but it's not the same as cuddles."

Son-in-law Andrew Payne said they left Te Awamutu as soon as the lockdown ended.

"We couldn't wait," he said.

Tubbs said her grandchildren had grown so much in the past seven weeks that their first foray into town was to buy new clothing. Their next priority was coffee at her favourite cafe, Barrow Boys.

It was their first get-together, their first time shopping and first cafe visit since the lockdown.

"It's such a sense of freedom," she said.

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Her daughter's family are due to return to Te Awamutu on Sunday. They planned to spend the rest of their time "getting out and about, going to the beach and just hanging out together."

Tibetan Monk Karma Gyasey is pleased to be at work at the Himalayan Trading Post in Whangārei, enjoying passersby, the sunshine and seeing work mates. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Tibetan Monk Karma Gyasey is pleased to be at work at the Himalayan Trading Post in Whangārei, enjoying passersby, the sunshine and seeing work mates. Photo / Michael Cunningham

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Around Kerikeri, the excitement was palpable as shop owners unlocked their stores, swept footpaths and got ready to welcome customers inside for the first time in seven weeks.

There was a steady buzz of traffic from about 8am, with the odd driver tooting in celebration, and most parking spots along the main street were taken.

The biggest, and earliest, queues were outside the barbershops, where everyone from farmers to lawyers waited for the chance to get unruly lockdown hair back under control.

The next busiest place in Kerikeri was probably Barrow Brothers Coffee Company.

With some cafes yet to reopen, the ones that had fired up their espresso machines were inundated with customers looking for a caffeine fix and a catch-up with friends.

Tables had been spaced out, and customers were asked to give their contact details; otherwise, it was just a busy version of business as usual.

Owner Miles Toto hadn't had a break since the doors opened at 7am and was still too busy to talk.

"It's humming," he said.

Shirley's Photo Centre team with Megan Johnston, Toni Owen and Shirley James back in the same bubble and really excited to be at work again. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Shirley's Photo Centre team with Megan Johnston, Toni Owen and Shirley James back in the same bubble and really excited to be at work again. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Steve White, the owner of Ferment bar and wine shop, had a coffee window open during level 3 but was able to reopen the shop yesterday morning for wine sales.

The bar, however, had to stay closed for a further week, and when it did reopen it would be with half the number of tables, no ordering at the bar and with seated patrons only.

White said he'd been lucky because he was able to do wine deliveries during the lockdown, keeping some income trickling in.

Similar to Kerikeri, the barbers' clippers and scissors in Whangārei were working their magic on plenty of men keen for some much-needed hair care today.

By 7.30am queues had begun to form outside barbers including Bank Street Barber.

One of those waiting in line was Northpower worker Shaun Brown, who had spotted news stories on the internet showing lines for barbers in Wellington.

"I thought I'd better get here quick," Brown said. "But there were a few people who had the same idea."

Sushi was on the menu for 11-year-old Alinda Zubenko and her mum. Photo / Kristin Edge
Sushi was on the menu for 11-year-old Alinda Zubenko and her mum. Photo / Kristin Edge

Marec Morrison, was glad to be out of the house and pleased to be able to get his hair cut. He was going for an aggressive cut, opting to have it all lopped off.

"Yep, it's all coming off. I normally come here, and they do a great job, but I'm just going to make it really easy today."

11-year-old Rawiri Connor was waiting with his dad Haane Kingi. They came prepared for a long wait and had camping chairs they were using. Photo / Kristin Edge
11-year-old Rawiri Connor was waiting with his dad Haane Kingi. They came prepared for a long wait and had camping chairs they were using. Photo / Kristin Edge

Kamo intermediate student 11-year-old Rawiri Connor was waiting with his dad Haane Kingi.

They came prepared for a long wait and had camping chairs they were using.

Kingi reckoned his hair didn't grow much these days, but Rawiri was going to get a mullet.

"I'll get them to do the sides and trim the top but leave the back for a mullet. I just like it like that."

During lockdown and level 3 Rawiri had delved into the world of baking and had produced sponge cakes and biscuits.

Cynthia Osborne takes Albie, one of the Whangārei Pound dogs, for a walk along Kioreroa Rd which was very busy with traffic on the first day of level 2. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Cynthia Osborne takes Albie, one of the Whangārei Pound dogs, for a walk along Kioreroa Rd which was very busy with traffic on the first day of level 2. Photo / Michael Cunningham

"I've never done that before, so it was fun with my sisters and mum."

Most businesses in town had sanitation stations at shop entrances, with customers washing hands on their way in and business owners are taking names of people coming into shops for contact tracing.

Okara Park shopping centre also jumped back to life, leaving only a few vacant car parks for keen shoppers.

The lines outside The Warehouse and other stores were more than 100m long, and not everyone seemed to keep to the two-metre distance rule, which caused some tension, however police were patrolling the area.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website