Northland tourism businesses whose takings soared in July as New Zealanders answered the call to explore their own country are nervously awaiting the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland.
While many tourism operators in the South Island have been hard hit by border closures, some Northland businesses say their income rose dramatically after the end of the first lockdown.
The increase has been put down to New Zealanders, Aucklanders in particular, holidaying in Northland instead of heading overseas for winter breaks.
Scott Elliffe, manager of the Russell heritage property Pompallier House, said revenue from guided heritage tours, the cafe and gift shop in July 2020 was double that of July 2019.
"It was fantastic, up 100 per cent. That's the power of the offshore dollar spent locally," he said.
He had also noted a sharp increase in the number of "treat purchases". One visitor, for example, had spent $1000 on art prints. That was likely someone who had put money aside for an overseas trip but had decided to spend it on redecorating instead.
"It was great that Kiwis were getting out there and enjoying their own country, and we enjoy hosting them. I pinched myself a couple of times, wondering if the figures were sustainable. Now, with fewer people moving about [due to Covid restrictions], we'll just have to wait and see."
The record-breaking July was not confined to Bay of Islands businesses.
In Kaikohe, Di Maxwell, owner of Left Bank Hotel and Mint Restaurant, said takings were up 71 per cent on the same time last year.
She had hired three extra staff and was looking for more.
"The forward bookings in accommodation are huge. They go right through to next April," she said.
Many hotel guests were corporate clients who stayed in Paihia until Left Bank opened two years ago. It was also popular with cyclists, mainly from Auckland, riding the Twin Coast Cycle Trail.
The restaurant enjoyed "fantastic support" from local residents and had "great Māori chefs" producing local dishes and bringing out local flavours, Maxwell said.
Initially she was nervous about Covid's effect on the business but after delving into tourism statistics she felt hopeful that New Zealanders holidaying in their own country would offset the loss of overseas visitors, who in any case only made up 10 per cent of Left Bank guests.
"We even thought we might have an increase, but we didn't expect this much."
According to Tourism NZ, international visitors brought $17 billion to New Zealand in 2019 and New Zealanders spent about $9b overseas.
Maxwell said she hoped the latest outbreak was ''just a blip''.
''The Government's handling it well, we have to take what comes. When you're in business there are constant blips.''
Waitangi National Trust chief executive Greg McManus said July visitor numbers at the Treaty Grounds were up 59 per cent on last year and the number of domestic visitors was up 266 per cent — more than making up for the loss of overseas tourists.
"It was like summer. It was fantastic."
During the July school holidays he had to bring in extra staff and put on more guided tours and cultural performances.
August had also been "going gangbusters" as large numbers of retired couples in campervans and South Islanders explored Northland for the first time.
McManus had hoped for a repeat in the October school holidays, though it could now "all come crashing down".
Elliffe said Covid was changing the nature of tourism.
"One of the predictions when we were first looking at life after Covid was that we'd see a trend towards slow tourism, in which people experience attractions in greater depth and in a more meaningful way. Heritage fits that quite nicely."