More than 1600 utes, tractors, trucks and tradies' vans brought traffic to a standstill across Northland as the rural sector sent a clear message about what it sees as a rising tide of government over-regulation.
The biggest protest yesterday took place in Whangārei, where an estimated 600 vehicles, including at least 70 tractors, drove in convoy from Barge Park through the city centre to Okara Park.
Meanwhile about 450 vehicles, plus 40 tractors, travelled from Kerikeri Sport Complex to the town centre and back via the Heritage Bypass.
With so many taking part the first utes got back to the sports complex before the tractors had even left the gates. Traffic was near-gridlocked from noon until 1.45pm but the atmosphere in the Kerikeri CBD was festive with footpaths crowded with spectators.
The nationwide ''Howl of Protest'' was coordinated by rural lobby group Groundswell NZ.
Protests were also held in Kaitaia and Dargaville, each attracting a few hundred vehicles and, in Kaitaia's case, a dozen horses.
At each event local organisers read a statement from Groundswell 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 didn't respond adequately by August 16.
Each protest also featured a ''bark up'' in which farm dogs were encouraged to make a racket.
Placards fixed to many vehicles showed SNAs were still at the front of people's minds — an anti-SNA hīkoi in Kaikohe last month drew more than 2000 people — but it was clear the ''ute tax'' had mobilised a broad swathe of rural Northlanders.
The ute tax is a Government scheme whereby fees on new high-emission vehicles, such as double-cab utes, will be used to subsidise electric vehicles.
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.
The numbers at yesterday'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. 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."
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, described the turnout as ''unbelievable'' and ''amazing''.
He 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.
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 the 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.''
Among those taking part in the Whangārei convoy were the Butcher and Newick family, who have recently become "townies" after selling their dairy farm south of Dargaville.
Caroline Newick said the decision to end 25 years of farming was heart-wrenching.
''We got out of farming because we were sick of the b*******. It's so important to stand up and be heard.''
Doug Butcher said a constant barrage of new rules and regulations had drained the enjoyment from farming.
''It just makes the job harder and harder. We had to draw a line in the sand and say this is it.''
Dairy farmer Daryl Barge, from Pipiwai, 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."
Even though his children loved the farm, none of them wanted to pursue it as a career, Barge said.
"I'm glad they don't, I wouldn't want to see them go through this."
Senior Sergeant Mohammed Atiq, of Whangārei police, said other than large numbers of utes and tractors disrupting traffic, the peaceful protest had caused no major issues requiring police action.
''We were pretty happy with how it went.''
Meanwhile, about 350 people filled Pioneer Rugby Park in Dargaville with 200 utes, tractors and trucks of all sizes.
The protest's success had yet to sink in for organiser Colin Rowse.
''The last few days have been bewildering for me. 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.''