A last-minute technicality threatened to put the kaibosh on Friday's Howl of a Protest in Kaitaia.
The protesters, with tractors, utes, dogs and horses, had already assembled at the showgrounds when Far North District councillor Mate Radich got the message that a council bylaw prohibited tractors from travelling through the town's main street.
Radich, who would have had more hope of walking on water than stopping the cavalcade at that point (although the police, who were there to direct traffic, could have done so by blocking the access to South Rd), called the council's general manager of district services, Dean Myburgh, who gave it the nod.
About a dozen horses led the protest, setting off from the showgrounds on the dot of midday, the procession taking more than an hour to navigate the street. If any non-protesting motorists were peeved by the snail's pace they were forced to move at they didn't show it, and there were plenty (travelling in the opposite direction) who tooted in support, while pedestrians lined both sides of the street to see what was happening, and in many cases to wave and shout their support.
The Kaitaia protest, one of almost 60 staged simultaneously around the country against what farmers in particular regard as unworkable and expensive government policies that unfairly target them, contributed to an estimated 1600-plus utes, tractors, trucks and tradies' vans that brought traffic to a standstill across Northland, 600 of them in Whangārei. About 450 vehicles, plus 40 tractors, turned out in Kerikeri, travelling in convoy from the Sport Complex to the town centre and back, via the Heritage Bypass.
The first utes had completed their lap before the tractors had even left the gates. Traffic was near-gridlocked from noon until 1.45pm, but the atmosphere was festive, spectators crowding the footpaths.
The nationwide 'Howl of Protest' was co-ordinated by rural lobby group Groundswell NZ, local organisers reading a statement at each protest, calling on the government to scrap recent environmental measures including freshwater rules, protection for Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) and ''unworkable'' climate change policies.
Further, unspecified action would be undertaken if the government did not respond adequately by August 16.
Each protest also featured a ''bark up,'' in which farm dogs were encouraged to make a racket. Some in Kaitaia did that with gusto, including one that faithfully obeyed the order to "Speak up!" from the moment his owner's ute left the showgrounds until it completed the approximately 2km journey an hour later.
Placards fixed to many vehicles showed SNAs were still at the front of people's minds, but it was clear the 'ute tax' had mobilised a broad swathe of rural Northlanders. Placards declaring that without farmers there would be no food, and that without farmers 'You would be hungry, naked and sober.'
Kawakawa farmer Kate Lowe, who organised the Kerikeri protest, said the aim was to ''put a stake in the ground against unworkable regulations, costs and outright land grabs.''
She said the government didn't recognise the hard work and contribution of the farming sector, or understand how its decisions affected farm viability and farmers' mental health, while the numbers at Friday's protests showed how upset people were with the ever-increasing rules and regulations they had to deal with.
''They need to leave us alone," Lowe said.
"The turnout speaks for itself, including all the tractors that have been pulled off farms at a busy time of year. They've all made a massive effort.''
Lowe said the ute tax had to go because it affected farmers, tradies and rural families who couldn't do without a ute on rough country roads.
Stephen Martin, one of the Whangārei organisers, said he was ''blown away'' by the turnout.
"We were expecting around 200 to 300 people but we've gone well beyond that. It's pretty impressive, and a little bit overwhelming," he said.
Martin said the numbers showed how many people were upset with the current situation.
"We're a group of people who don't usually do this sort of stuff. You don't usually see farmers standing up to something unless it really is a problem."
Trevor Barfoote, also part of the Whangārei team, called on the government to end ''pointless regulation'' and show respect for New Zealand farmers, who he described as among the greenest in the world.
"We need to stand together, push back, and say 'enough is enough','' he said.
Northland Federated Farmers president Colin Hannah said the mood in Northland had changed in recent months, and it didn't bode well for the government.
''There's an avalanche of regulations coming our way, targeting farmers, and that will affect the farmers, financially and mentally. All this will just increase the food cost, and farmers will bear the blame for that too," he said.
Caroline Newick said her family's decision to end 25 years of farming had heart-wrenching, but they were "sick of the bullshit. It's so important to stand up and be heard.''
Pipiwai dairy farmer Daryl Barge said he was fed up with being told what to do in a setting where farmers were silenced.
"The mental stress of being told constantly that you're polluters, that you are bad for the country… I really feel for the younger generation of farmers. It's pretty tough," he said.
His children loved the farm, but none of them wanted to pursue farming as a career.
"I'm glad they don't. I wouldn't want to see them go through this," he added.
Senior Sergeant Mohammed Atiq said other than large numbers of utes and tractors disrupting traffic, the peaceful protests had caused no major issues requiring police action.
''We were pretty happy with how it went," he said.
Apart from breaching the bylaw prohibiting tractors from entering Kaitaia's main street, the only other obvious snubbing of noses at law and order taking the form of people, of all ages, who rode on the back of utes and aboard trailers, and dogs that were not restrained. The police officers in South Rd, where the convoy left the showgrounds, and at the Church Rd intersection, outside Te Ahu, could not have failed to see them, but did not appear to be perturbed.
Meanwhile, about 350 people filled Pioneer Rugby Park in Dargaville with 200 utes, tractors and trucks of all sizes, a response that organiser Colin Rowse was struggling to take in.
''The last few days have been bewildering for me," he said.
"My phone's been going off with offers of support and help from people, a lot of whom I don't know. The protest went off really well. I really do think it achieved what we set out to.''
For many of those driving tractors through Kaitaia the protest ended in the carpark at the Collard Tavern, from where they slowly began drifting away. And some were interested to hear that NewstalkZB host Mike Hosking had asked one of his guests that morning if Labour might be in danger of "losing the provinces."
The general opinion on Friday was that they had well and truly been lost some time ago, and while one group of a dozen or so cheerily said they had voted Labour last year, as a tactic aimed at keeping the Green Party at bay, they would not be doing so again.