Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has unleashed on anti-lockdown protesters as "crass and stupid" who blocked highways across the country leading to major delays for thousands of motorists.
The Freedoms & Rights Coalition protest group planned a "Great Gridlock" of slow moving vehicles to block traffic across several New Zealand cities today.
Goff expressed his anger on Facebook this afternoon after he personally encountered protesters on Auckland's Southern Motorway returning from a vaccination drive at Mt Smart Stadium.
"Apart from spreading disinformation and lies about Covid and vaccination and trying to prevent people going into Eden Park to get vaccinated last weekend, was there anything else the extreme anti-vaxxers could do to alienate more people in the community?" Goff wrote.
"Apparently yes. On the way back from Mt Smart Stadium this afternoon where I saw volunteers and medical staff working in the pouring rain to ensure people are protected, I ran into the anti-vaxxers protesting on the motorway.
"Cars across the three lanes of the motorway doing 50kph deliberately blocking people going about their business. Crass and stupid but what else would you expect!"
In Auckland, the motorcade of around 200 vehicles started at Manukau Central at 11am and split in two to do a southern-northwest-southwest highway loop along SH1 and SH20 to the city centre.
One convoy went clockwise and the other anti-clockwise. The group claimed to be intentionally travelling at 50kmh.
For periods after midday today, motorists reported it taking an hour to get from the CBD to the South Auckland area on the city's highways.
As of 2.15pm, NZTA were reporting traffic was starting to ease across the Auckland motorway network with congestion now only impacting the Southern Motorway.
Delays had extended into the Northern Motorway and the Southwestern Motorway at the protest's peak.
Police officers were present on Auckland's Southern Motorway taking pictures amid lots of honking and yelling from the motorcade.
One witness said that while traffic was blocked heading south there was no "crazy behaviour".
One motorist who got caught on Auckland's Northwestern motorway said it took them nearly 30 minutes to get from Newton Road to Waterview tunnel.
"There are lines of cars driving incredibly slowly with hazard lights on in the three leftmost lanes," the motorist said.
The Auckland protesters begun gathering in the car park of the Destiny Church base on Druces Road, Wiri, from 10am today.
A voice was heard over loud speaker from inside the church.
It is estimated a few hundred people gathered there. The motorcade of vehicles set off from Destiny Church around 11am.
"Gridlock is well and truly on now, road outside Destiny is backed up like crazy and a never-ending stream of cars are joining from the carpark," one person at the scene said.
NZ Police said yesterday they were aware of planned protest activity across the country on Saturday, and would monitor activity.
"Police officers will maintain a presence and will respond to events as appropriate at the time," a police spokesperson said.
"As with previous large gatherings, police may follow up on any identified offences or breaches at a later time."
On their website, the protest group has a fitting typo for the wet weather when describing their aim today.
"The gridlock will be a slop [sic] moving loop for you to join in on from your respective suburb. Cars, Motorbikes, Trucks, Tractors...all are welcome.
"The reason this is not a standstill is that we still want to be responsible in terms of health and safety and be able to make way for any emergency services, or allow people to use the motorways and streets/exits if need be."
The protest group is associated with Destiny Church, whose leader Brian Tamaki has been charged by police with breaching the Health Act for organising a series of protests at Auckland Domain.
The latest, on October 30 two weeks ago, attracted more than 5000 people. But Tamaki wasn't in attendance because of his bail conditions.
School principal at protest
Speaking on the protesters' Facebook live stream, a woman who gave her name as Emily said she was the principal of a private school in Auckland. It had 20 teachers and only one was vaccinated, so it faced closing on Tuesday.
The identity of the woman who called herself Emily, and said she was a principal of a school that faced closure, is unclear.
The Herald has attempted to ascertain whether she was Emily Tukapua, who is the principal of Destiny School. The school is associated with Destiny Church.
The Herald called a cellphone number listed for Emily Tukapua in the Education Gazette. A woman called Emily answered the phone but said she was not Emily Tukapua.
Tooting could be heard in the background.
The Herald has contacted Destiny Church to ask if Destiny School's principal had called the livestream and if the school faced closure next week.
Church spokeswoman Anne Williamson said she had not been listening to the livestream and did not know who Emily was - but that she could have been anyone.
Destiny would not be commenting on what would happen next week, Williamson said.
"I think it's a very distressing time for everybody, vaccinated, unvaccinated," she said.
"Schools are trying to regroup and manage staff and get kids back to school and there's so much going on.
"To be honest with you we're just, we're focused on doing the job and being in front of children and look after parents and kids and we're just not interested in contributing to media at the moment and news - that's just where we're at," Williamson said.
"We're focused on other stuff, we're not interested in making comments to media, right across the board there's so much more going on in people's lives - so right now...that's all I'm gonna say."
Disruption in Wellington and Christchurch
In Wellington, about 50 protesters have been gathering at the velodrome in Hataitai Park.
The Wellington motorcade plans to do loops along the following streets: Customhouse Quay, Aotea quay, Wakefield St, Vivian St, Kent Terrace.
As of 11am, Wellington's protest had left Hataitai Courts and was making its way around the Basin Reserve.
A small group of protesters at the Basin Reserve in Wellington were met with toots and shouting from passing vehicles.
Traffic was slightly congested from Kent Terrace and the Mt Vic Tunnel around midday but has since cleared.
At 2.15pm, NZTA updated that delays around the Basin Reserve have eased and regular traffic flow has resumed.
A Wellington Free Ambulance spokesperson said while they were "aware of the protest planned for today, we do not have any additional plans in place as an emergency can take place at anytime, anywhere".
"The protesters have made it clear that they will make way for emergency services throughout the day."
Waka Kotahi/NZTA manage the motorway system and for information about State Highway traffic the public is urged to use Waka Kotahi's journey planner tool:
In Christchurch hundreds of protesters took to the inner city streets.
Revving motorbikes and loudspeakers made loud impact as they travel from the Cathedral Square through the CBD.
There were MAGA signs, New Zealand flags and a man dressed in a Mel Gibson Braveheart kilt in tow.
They made their way to Cranmer Square, with much chanting, music playing and food and coffee carts.
Christchurch City Council transport operations manager Steffan Thomas said they would also be coordinating any response to today's protest with police.
"We are aware of the planned protests and will be liaising closely with the Police to ensure traffic can move around the city safely," Thomas said.