Escape from Auckland: Data confirms mass exit hours before lockdown

Author
Nikki Preston, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 16 Feb 2021, 5:11PM
Traffic on the Southern Motorway heading north just before 10pm on Sunday. Photo / NZTA
Traffic on the Southern Motorway heading north just before 10pm on Sunday. Photo / NZTA

Escape from Auckland: Data confirms mass exit hours before lockdown

Author
Nikki Preston, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 16 Feb 2021, 5:11PM

NZTA figures show a surge in Aucklanders heading out of the city and towards holiday hotspots in the hours before the city's borders shut on Sunday night.

As criticism emerged online of Aucklanders fleeing the city before the borders were closed - traffic data shows there were 1200 more vehicles heading south near the SH1 and SH2 interchange at 10pm on Sunday compared to an average Sunday at the same time last year.

Traffic steadily rose from about 8pm - an hour after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Auckland would enter level 3 restrictions at 11.59pm on Sunday while the rest of the country would move to the less restrictive level 2 after the emergence of three cases of Covid-19 in the South Auckland community.

The number of vehicles heading north was not as readily available, but screenshots from NZTA's traffic cameras show a constant steam of vehicles heading north on the state highway on Sunday night and there are similar reports of build-ups on the southern motorway near Drury.

Ruapehu mayor Don Cameron said he was aware some Aucklanders were attempting to avoid the region's level 3 restrictions by coming to stay at their holiday properties and Police planned to crack down on it as they were putting vulnerable communities at risk.

"We are urging anyone thinking of travelling to Ruapehu from the Auckland region not to do so. Rethink your plans and stay home," he said.

"Our townships are small and Police and residents quickly notice if new people or non-residents are about."

Vehicle numbers heading south peaked at 10pm on Sunday night just hours before Auckland went back into level 3 lockdown. Source / NZTAVehicle numbers heading south peaked at 10pm on Sunday night just hours before Auckland went back into level 3 lockdown. Source / NZTA

Auckland mayor Phil Goff yesterday also urged Aucklanders to stay put and warned them they would be turned around if they attempted to head to their baches.

Thames Coromandel mayor Sandra Goudie said there was no doubt that there were more vehicles heading from Auckland into the Coromandel Peninsula on Sunday night, but it was unsurprising given 51 per cent of property owners did not live in the district full-time.

"Anecdotally there was a big influx of people last night because of dark it means you can see the lights on the state highway. No one really notices because they just go to their respective destinations and it's all very low key."

Goudie said she was not too worried about the rise this time around because most people would be responsible about where they had been and what they had been doing and she had been reassured Covid-19 testing stations could be set up if needed.

In the north, Kaipara mayor Dr Jason Smith said he was not aware of an increase in Aucklanders in the district particularly in beautiful holiday hot spots like Mangawhai.

Smith said he had been at the checkpoints on Monday and said there were four times more motorists heading south than those heading north.

The confusion over whether places like Mangawhai were classed as level 2 or 3 had now been cleared with checkpoints being relocated 20km north so as to not include any of the Kaipara District in the level 3 restrictions.

He said while this would avoid confusion, there was still significant disruption.

Spokespeople for both Whangarei and Taupo district councils said there had not been a noticeable increase of Aucklanders to the area trying to sneak into the area before the checkpoints had been put in place.

Hamilton City Council was also not aware of an increase of people entering the city on Sunday night.