The closure of a Far North campsite blocking access to one of the country's most popular beaches is creating tension in the lead up to Auckland's borders opening on December 15.
Karikari Peninsula's Maitai Bay lies about 44km northeast of Kaitaia and in non-Covid-19 times, draws thousands of people to the area each summer.
The Department of Conversation managed Maitai Bay Campsite lends itself access to the beach and is considered one of New Zealand's most popular tourist destinations.
During the summer months, the campsite can reach a capacity of up to 500 campers per night, often exceeding that number during the busy Christmas/New Year period.
The area is also of great spiritual and cultural significance to Ngāti Kahu and two local hapū, Te Whanau Moana and Te Rorohuri.
Of particular significance is the headland on Maitai Point between the two beaches that are accessible from the camp.
The community and Iwi view the Maitai Bay campground as a potential vector for Covid-19 and due to concerns for the wellbeing of the community, have therefore closed the campsite to the public until further notice.
Karikari Marae chairwoman and Te Whanau Moana spokeswoman Margaret Mutu said Te Whānau Moana o Karikari hapū, with the support of Ngāti Kahu iwi, decided to keep the campsite closed over the Christmas holiday period to protect local residents.
"With each outbreak of Covid-19, the camping ground has been closed and has been re-opened each time the disease has been eliminated," Mutu explained.
"Loss of control of Covid-19 in Auckland has meant the camping ground has been closed and as the disease cannot now be eliminated, the alternative is to vaccinate at least 90 per cent of the locals before re-opening it."
Mutu explained 22 of the 28 Far North cases had been in Ngāti Kahu territories and that only 54 per cent of the Māori population at Karikari Peninsula were fully vaccinated.
On Saturday, the kaumātua and kuia of Ngāti Kahu, Te Taumata Kaumātua o Ngāti Kahu, issued a directive in accordance with Ngāti Kahu tikanga (law), that in order to protect Ngāti Kahu whānau and hapū, all Aucklanders (along with those coming through Auckland, and holidaymakers and tourists) were asked to stay away until they were 90 per cent vaccinated.
"The kuia and kaumātua of Karikari are extremely worried for their whānau," Mutu said.
"They also miss the many of them living in Auckland who always come home for Christmas and it causes them great pain to have to say to them, please do not come home this Christmas."
The Department of Conservation Kaitaia confirmed it was preparing to realign visitor management in the Far North with the Covid-19 Protection Framework for the pending opening of the Auckland border.
DoC Kaitaia operations manager Meirene Hardy-Birch said she recognised the traditional Christmas-New Year's break made the Far North a popular destination for people to recharge their batteries and uplift their wellbeing.
She said DoC's goal was to provide safe spaces for locals and visitors to relax, recharge and enjoy one another.
"The feedback we are hearing is that most people staying in DoC accommodation and campgrounds would like the confidence that others sharing these places are also vaccinated," Hardy-Birch said.
"As the Government releases further details on its Covid-19 traffic light policy settings we will be updating our policies on vaccination in line with these."
Hardy-Birch explained at alert level 1 and 2, the community had to rely on the goodwill of campers and day visitors to follow the Covid-19 rules of staying home when sick, as well as cleaning up after themselves in a public.
She said due to Matai Bay Campground not being manned 24 hours a day, it would make checking of 'rules' difficult.
"We acknowledge many families come north to camp at this time of the year and ask for understanding while we navigate this process," she said.
"DoC is closely following all the latest public health advice as we work hard to ensure people can enjoy these facilities safely.
"There are no other DoC camps in Northland that are closed but we will continue to work with local communities and update our information on the DoC website if there are any changes."
A TV1 News report filmed at the weekend grew further criticism of the closure, with the reporter allegedly receiving backlash from locals for asking why the campsite was closed.
The reporter said she was met with anger from one of the local iwi representatives and allegedly forced to remove herself from the site.
Former MP Shane Jones said it was important the campground was open to the public for Christmas and was disappointed by the confrontation at the weekend.
"I am a strong believer that our border should be open and Kiwis should not be denied access to the beaches, to the coast and to camping grounds," Jones said.
"This campsite has been a favourite for decades. Locals know it well and the out of town tribe regard it as a New Zealand jewel.
"On a more robust note, I absolutely resent these patero shouting and dividing us in the North.
"They have no legal right to close the campsite and while that site may come back into Ngati Kahu ownership, the offensive behaviour reported in the media by some patero does not enhance the reputation of Ngati Kahu and only creates division in our community.
"On the Taipa side of Ngāti Kahu, there is a kaupapa that is peaceful, respectful and pleasant. In Karikari we are seeing seeds of division, offensiveness and that is not the Ngāti Kahu spirit."
The Maitai Bay Campground will remain closed while DoC works alongside hapu and the local community in relation to Covid-19.