Police have said it allowed the illegal crossing of the Auckland Harbour Bridge today "to avoid escalating the situation".
The protest saw the harbour bridge closed for 90 minutes today as about 2000 people walked across the bridge chanting "mandates gone by 1st of March" and "freedom".
The decision to let protesters walk across the bridge came even though the protest was known about last week and followed police speaking with protesters this morning.
A police spokesman said officers "actively engaged with the protest organisers this morning to deter them from unlawfully crossing the Auckland Harbour Bridge".
The protest march then went ahead.
The spokesman said: "In order to avoid escalating the situation and thus creating further significant safety risks to the public, police closely monitored the group as they walked along the two outside lanes of the Harbour Bridge and all southbound lanes were closed in order to manage safety risks."
Protesters unfurled a giant anti-mandate banner on the bridge, fixed onto a clip-on rail.
All protesters were off the bridge by 12.45pm, with the crowd gathered at Victoria Park in the city.
The protesters were now gathered in Victoria Park and traffic was again flowing across Auckland Harbour Bridge and motorways.
At 1.30pm, Waka Kotahi said all southbound lanes of the Auckland Harbour Bridge had reopened.
"The lanes were closed just before midday on the advice of police, in order to manage the safety risks posed by protesters who unlawfully entered the state highway network on foot," Waka Kotahi said in a statement.
"Motorists are advised that delays remain in the area, and it may take some time for congestion to clear."
According to a motorist who earlier travelled over the bridge northbound, the protest march had a police escort at front and back.
The motorway was closed at Esmonde Rd and "there's a bloody big queue of cars".
He says it was "absolute gridlock".
Five lanes of the bridge were closed off due to the protest action.
After the march, the walkers gathered at Victoria Park to hear from a variety of speakers.
One offered help to teachers to get them to Wellington this week to join the Parliament protest and support a court case.
There were calls for freedom and a push to end vaccine mandates by March.
During the march, two police vans were in the centre span of the bridge, and a dozen police officers stood on the road on the centre span of the bridge.
At 11.50am, Waka Kotahi NZTA Auckland & Northland tweeted "Due to an event, SH1 Northern Motorway is now CLOSED to southbound traffic between Esmonde Rd & Fanshawe St. Please avoid the area or use SH16 and SH18 as the alternate route."
In a statement, Waka Kotahi said it closed the southbound lanes of the bridge "to manage the safety risks posed by protesters who have unlawfully entered the state highway network on foot".
But the manager of New Zealand's state highways took a backseat over the bridge closure, saying it was for police to answer questions.
"Waka Kotahi was aware of the planned demonstration, and the intention of protesters to attempt to cross the Auckland Harbour Bridge on foot. Waka Kotahi was not contacted by the organisers of this demonstration.
"NZ Police is the lead agency with responsibility for monitoring and managing the protest activity safely."
The transport agency described the national state highway network in its current Statement of Intent as part of "one of New Zealand's most important assets". The harbour bridge is a key part of State Highway 1.
Waka Kotahi's Statement of Intent this year stated: "State highways provide a strategic roading link helping to facilitate the safe and effective movement of people and goods throughout the entire country."
During the protest, Waka Kotahi told motorists to avoid the area and put off non-essential travel. It said those using the ring road through west Auckland should expect delays - it too was packed with cars.
The protest convoy and marchers had earlier made their way through Onepoto Domain, with a woman yelling through a loudspeaker: "Everybody say, Freedom".
When the leaders of the march reached Onewa Rd, near the lanes heading towards the Auckland Harbour Bridge, they slowed the pace of the march, saying "this is not a power walk", and that they intended to enjoy the day.
They then walked up a motorway onramp.
A speaker said the group were there to "make a stand".
"We're making a stand for people who have lost their jobs. It's time for us to make a stand in unity."
They then shouted: "What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"
"Make some noise so Jacinda can hear you," the group were told.
The police helicopter was circling the area as thousands of people poured onto the motorway.
There was no resistance from police.
The protest – organised by Destiny Church's Freedom and Rights Coalition – was scheduled to start at Onepoto Domain at 11am. Gazebos were this morning set up at the domain, at least one with Trump flags flying.
Locals residents were blocked from leaving their homes because of vehicles parked across driveways.
One of the protest organisers warned people to act responsibly to avoid confrontation with the police.
Herald reporters on the scene said local roads around the domain were beginning to be blocked shortly after 11am.
The protest event was set to end at Victoria Park, where organisers say "we will enjoy a couple of great speakers and some live music. We will also outline what is next planned."
Police were on high alert ahead of the event, earlier confirming to the Herald they would have a "significant" presence at the protest.
Police had warned they would "actively engage" with anyone who tried to cross the bridge on foot.
"The safety of all road users, our police staff and the protesters is our priority and our focus will be around public safety and ensuring that the disruption to the public is kept to a minimum.
"There will be a significant police presence around this protest, and we will be actively engaging with those present to prevent them crossing the harbour bridge due to the significant safety risks posed for those involved and the wider public."
Yesterday, Waka Kotahi NZTA said there were no plans to close the Auckland Harbour Bridge, despite anti-mandate demonstrators flagging they planned to traverse the landmark structure on foot.
A spokesperson said the road agency had not been contacted by organisers of the demonstration and there were no plans to close the bridge to traffic.
"NZ Police will lead the response to this demonstration, with Waka Kotahi providing support to ensure the safe management of traffic in the area," a spokesperson said.
The Automobile Association's motoring affairs principal adviser advocacy, Martin Glynn, also told the Herald he had serious concerns about safety as well as traffic disruption if a march over the harbour bridge was attempted.
The bridge spanning Auckland's central CBD and the North Shore was one of the busiest stretches of motorway in New Zealand and it would be hugely dangerous if people attempted to walk over it without proper precautions having been set up to keep vehicles and marchers separated, he said.
"There have been protest marches over the bridge in the past but they need to be well organised and sanctioned by authorities to ensure the people marching and all other users of the bridge are safe and traffic disruption is minimised.
"As far as we know the news of this possible protest march has only recently become known and the authorities have no plans in place to accommodate it so hopefully we do not end up in a situation with a crowd attempting to walk across the bridge among live traffic and putting people at massive risk."
Auckland mayor Phil Goff criticised any plans for protest action to impact on the lives of others.
In a statement to the Herald, Goff said: "The right to protest is a fundamental and valued part of democratic society. That does not, however, give anyone protesting the right to consider themselves above the law.
"The role of the police is to uphold the law. Though they have independence to determine how they respond operationally to any breaches, I would expect the police to respond strongly to any action that puts lives, safety, or property at risk.
"Any protest that needlessly and significantly disrupts the lives of others both invites a police response and will fail to win sympathy from the wider public for its views."
In Tauranga, a convoy of about 50 motorcycles revved up and parked up at Memorial Park about midday.
They joined a growing crowd of protesters of about 300 people.
People stood along the pavement holding signs. A man in a car driving past yelled out "get a job". Other motorists were tooting or ignoring them.
Traffic moved slowly along 11th Ave in both directions.
A white truck labelled "the peace train" arrived to loud cheers.
The crowd was made up of people from the wider Bay of Plenty.
There were loud cheers of support for the Auckland protesters crossing the harbour bridge.
The speaker said the issues around Covid and mandates all started when the Government removed Jesus Christ from Parliament.
And in Wellington, a group from the Freedom and Rights Coalition gathered at Civic Square in support of the harbour bridge walk and set off on foot towards Parliament.
Wellington protesters yelled "mandates over" on loudspeakers and took over Victoria St. Hundreds of motorbikes revved, causing a real stir in the streets.
About 200 people marched in Napier, from Dalton St to Dickens St, to a reserve near the city's Sound Shell.
Protesters were told that come March 1, there would be a united national protest if protesters' demands weren't met.