An iwi-run roadblock is barring people from travelling to the northernmost reaches of State Highway 1 and has done so without police present.
It has stated that the roadblock would continue operating throughout alert level 3 and would refuse access to those who did not live - or have specific essential business - in its area.
It comes just a day after Police Commissioner Andy Coster came under fire for defending community and iwi-led checkpoints as lawful if supervised by police.
Travellers in the Far North were yesterday greeted by a sign reading: "We love you - we are not ready to open our bubble. Please stay where you are for a little bit longer."
The operation of the Ngāti Kuri roadblock at Ngataki, north of Kaitaia, contradicts testimony given by Coster to the epidemic select committee this week.
Coster told MPs community checkpoints now had a police presence "so that they are lawful" and that movement on the road was not impeded.
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Responding to a challenge from Opposition leader Simon Bridges, Coster said: "Throughout we have actively protected the interest of New Zealanders to move freely on the roads.
"It is vitally important New Zealanders are entitled to move in the ways lawfully permitted."
Coster said there were communities that felt particularly vulnerable to the threat of the virus and understood they wanted to take steps to feel secure.
"It's really important to us that communities not only are safe but feel safe."
Aimed at restricting the spread of Covid-19, the Ngāti Kuri roadblock has shut State Highway 1 down to a single lane and is stopping every car to ask drivers their intentions.
Under alert level 3, regional travel is lawful and it is not legal for citizens to obstruct the movement of other people travelling on state highways.
Residents of nearby Pukenui told of friction at the roadblock when people had tried to access the popular local Rarawa Beach.
That included one person who sent a text message to Bridges in which they reported being obstructed at the same roadblock.
When a journalist with NZME - the owner of the NZ Herald, Northern Advocate and other outlets including Newstalk ZB - arrived at the Ngāti Kuri roadblock yesterday, there was no police officer present and they were told they would not be allowed to travel any further north.
Travel was refused despite documentation showing media were classed as essential workers.
Ngāti Kuri spokeswoman Sheridan Waitai said the iwi did not consider media to be an essential service and no travel north would be allowed.
She said there had been other instances at Ngāti Kuri roadblocks where essential workers had been rejected, including police being turned back on the final stretch of road to Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga).
Waitai's message was delivered while in the presence of a police officer, who arrived about 10 minutes after NZME arrived at the checkpoint. The officer - stationed at the nearby town of Pukenui - was seen parked at a farm further down State Highway 1 as NZME headed north.
The roadblock was said by Waitai to be necessary to protect vulnerable communities living in the Far North. She said kaumatua and kuia particularly needed the protection provided by the isolation, although it extended to protect all who lived in the area.
She said history and research had been shown communities such as those living in Ngāti Kuri's rohe - predominantly Maori and living in poverty - were particularly vulnerable to an epidemic.
Waitai said the blockage extended to whanau members who lived outside Ngāti Kuri's boundaries who had attempted to return to their ancestral home as the lockdown came into force.
NZME was told by locals the roadblock was one of three in the area with others on the final stretch of SH1 to Te Rerenga Wairua and the road leading to New Zealand's most northern settlement, the village of Te Hapua.
Whakawhiti Ora Pai Community Health Services clinical manager Maureen Allan was carrying out Covid-19 tests at nearby Waiora Marae.
She said iwi work to support the community, from food packages through to the roadblock, had helped locals get through the lockdown.
Allan said health services had registered a noticeable reduction in coughs and sniffles that usually presented at this time of year, which she put down to the halt on people moving about.
"That's the only way to treat Covid-19 - that's to completely close it down. I think this roadblock here is really good for the communities."
Bridges said he was concerned because the Herald's experience raised questions about the evidence given by Coster.
"I think the commissioner has misled the committee and has disregarded the law. That's not good for a commissioner in his first month on the job."
He said the commissioner had assured the committee there would be a police presence at every checkpoint and "that's not the case".
"While iwi might have good intentions, for me it starts and stops with the fact this is unlawful and the police commissioner should be taking the law more seriously."
In the instance to which Bridges was alerted, a local couple attempting to access Rarawa Beach were told they were not able to travel north on SH1.
An appeal to a police officer - at that time present - led to the couple getting through the roadblock only to face further difficulties at the beach. At that point, they said the police officer asked they decide against a walk and were escorted back through the roadblock.
Northland District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill said police apologised for what had happened and it was an "error of judgment" stopping the NZME journalist.
"Police are in discussions with iwi around closing down this checkpoint and looking at alternative ways to help protect their most vulnerable community members."
After initially saying the officer was at the roadblock, police then clarified that he was absent for 70 minutes attending a mental health-related job. The officer had otherwise been present.
It comes as former MP and community leader Hone Harawira announced a projected increase in checkpoints across the North.
Harawira said a meeting of those who had been operating checkpoints in Northland, with police present, had led to a decision to expand the operation.
It would see checkpoints running throughout the day and night and to set them up in places that might surprise people who should not be travelling.
"Our thinking now is to run a mix of checkpoints across the north where we can have an impact in places where people might not expect."