Northland MP Matt King set off for Cape Rēinga, with his wife and parents, on Tuesday, but he didn't get there. State Highway 1 was blocked several kilometres south of the cape, and the four people manning it had no intention of letting him past.

By the time he had given up, however, he was convinced that the roadblock had nothing to do with Covid-19.

"I got them to admit that it was about Māori land," he said.

"They told me they owned the land, and they weren't going to let me past.


"I just wanted to go to the cape, on a public road, which I am entitled to do."

One of those manning the gate, he said, had threatened to knock him out, while another said one phone call would bring 500 reinforcements to the gate, and that they would "eat me alive".

A police officer was present, but did not intervene, and left when King did, following him south. (Police have given an undertaking that officers will be present at every Covid-19 checkpoint).

The constable had looked very uncomfortable, he added, and had King's sympathy.

"He was in a real bind," he said.

"He said he had been told not to take action, so he was in an impossible position, but his role had been to keep the peace. If he hadn't been there it could have become quite ugly."

King said he had been contacted by numerous people, including tour operators, who were concerned and upset by the road closure.

Most of them were afraid to speak publicly, so he was speaking for them.


He had seen a number of tourists, and a Doubtless Bay family, turned back while he was at the roadblock.

Attempts to contact Ngāti Kuri chairman Harry Burkhardt yesterday were unsuccessful, but Far North police area commander Inspector Riki Whiu said the iwi was undertaking a cultural process that it believed was required on behalf of those who had died during the Covid-19 lockdown, so they could complete their journey to one of the most culturally significant places in the Māori world.

"They need time to do that," he said.

The iwi had talked to the NZ Transport Agency last week, Whiu saying he understood that an agreement had been reached regarding a traffic management plan on Tuesday.

The constable referred to by King, he added, had been there to ensure that everyone was kept safe.

Ngāti Kuri noted on its Facebook page that it had re-opened the road to Te Hapua last Thursday morning with the easing of the Covid-19 alert level 3 to 2. The checkpoint on SH1 at Ngataki had been dismantled the previous week.