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Photo: Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller
Photo: Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller

OPINIONĀteaNovember 22, 2021

You can leave the city on December 15. But should you?

Photo: Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller
Photo: Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller

Aucklanders are already booking summer holiday houses in record numbers. Leonie Hayden argues for putting off that road trip just a little longer.

We did it Tāmaki! More than 90% of our eligible population have received their first dose of the vaccine and as our reward, restrictions are starting to ease. We’re already allowed to see 25 people outdoors and we can go into stores, and soon we’ll be moving to the traffic light system. And, from December 15, people will be able to leave the city, as long as they’re vaccinated or have a negative test.

People have houses and family in other parts of the country they’re dying to get to, and it’s great that we can do that in time for summer and Christmas. We’re already booking flights and holiday houses in record numbers. It’s gonna make the end of a really hard year a whole lot easier. Great, right?

Well, sort of.

Te Tai Tokerau is my one of my favourite places to holiday. Head up state highway 16, stop and mihi to the rellies out Kaukapakapa on the way, perhaps go for a swim at one of the falls. On through Dargaville, then the beautiful Waipoua forest where our ancient kauri tower overhead. Open all the windows because the warm, damp ngahere smells so good. Then there’s a breathtaking moment as you come over the hill to Ōmāpere. One moment you’re on a county road, the next, all of Hokianga is laid out below, like a bejewelled robe for the gods. Golden sand dunes, sparkling blue waters. Slow right down and enjoy the amble through Opononi; no one’s in a hurry. Maybe stop for the famous fish and chips, then on to Rawene to catch the car ferry ­– gateway to the far north and its pristine, isolated campgrounds and beaches. And kaimoana.

Thousands of people experience the same delight of that journey every summer.

Currently, nearly a third of those towns are unvaccinated. Up in Kaitaia, one of the last places to do your big grocery shop if you’re heading all the way up the motu, only 59% are fully vaccinated.

Click here to see the vaccination rate for every suburb in New Zealand on an interactive map

Some summers we might head to Te Tai Rāwhiti, where the kaimoana is lush and plentiful, the manaaki is unparalleled and every beach is more stunning than the last. Our gorgeous East Cape is only 65.7% fully vaccinated; the areas surrounding Gisborne are well under 70%. Head inland to Te Teko, Ruatorea, Ruātoki and it’s less than 60%.

Nearly half a million people visited the Coromandel Peninsula over the Christmas and New Year period in 2016/2017, with Aucklanders making up the majority of visitors. Hahei, Cook’s Beach, Waihi, Pauanui and Whangamata are all around 85% vaccinated, which is great, but only 63.5% of Coromandel township, where so many people stop for a break and a sandwich, has received their second dose.

We’re opening our borders in the knowledge that many of Aotearoa’s favourite holiday destinations, or the gateways to them, have our lowest vaccination rates. What I’m hearing is: “People need a holiday. We have to accept the collateral damage.”

I find that a hard pill to swallow. It’s not just me – iwi have also said stay away or “send body bags”.

Full disclosure, I’ll be visiting family in Wairarapa. I’ll catch a plane to Wellington, where they’re mandated to check MyVaccinePass (more details on that here) or a negative test result. My folks are over 70 so I plan on having both. One of my family members will pick me up and we’ll drive straight home (to a town which has a second doses rate of 89%) without stopping. I’ll return to Tāmaki the same way. I’m grateful to be able to see them, and all families should find a way to be safely reunited. I can’t wait to hug my mum and dad.

What I’m advocating for is putting the great New Zealand road trip on hold for now – the campgrounds, the hired baches by the sea. The fewer of us who flood the small towns of Aotearoa, the less likely we are to spread the virus. The onus is on the government to support those businesses who rely on summer tourism, not on us. We can still choose to look out for each other.

We’ve been told police will be doing spot checks, where they’ll check your vaccine pass or your text message confirming a negative test. If you don’t have either there will be an infringement fine of $1,000, and presumably you’ll be turned back. But the reality is it will be very, very easy for people who are unknowingly carrying the virus to leave.

There are currently 4,097 active cases in Auckland; 966 new cases last week alone. 839 cases from the past fortnight are still unlinked, and we’re still well shy of all three DHBs hitting 90% of second doses.

Auckland has endured so much and we deserve a break (heck, we deserve a medal, a cash bonus and a foot rub from Beyonce), but is other people’s health, or even their death, a price we’re willing to pay for that?

We have beautiful beaches and walks here in Tāmaki. There will be other summers. But when this is all over, we need to able to look at ourselves and say “I did everything I could”.

Keep going!