Easter weekend ‘felt like Christmastime’ – Northland businesses

A campaign aiming to persuade Kiwis to spend their Easter break in Northland seems to have paid off with many businesses reporting a bumper weekend.

NZTA’s original plan to close State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyn Hills for urgent repairs from 7 February sparked an outcry from Northland hospitality and tourism businesses, who feared a drop in visitor numbers at a crucial time of year.

The roading agency agreed to delay the closure until the end of February instead, and temporarily open the highway for six days during the Easter break.

That – along with fine weather and the nationwide “It’s Northland time” marketing campaign – seems to have done the trick.

Kerikeri’s Old Packhouse Market co-owner Judy Hyland said Easter Saturday was the market’s busiest day since the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a wonderful weekend. I don’t think we’ve had a Saturday like that since Easter of 2019.”

Hyland believed most Easter shoppers at the market were from Northland and Auckland, but there were also plenty of overseas visitors and people from the rest of the country.

Weekday cafe sales had dropped by about 10 percent since the highway closed and the previous few weekends had been quiet, but it was hard to know whether that was a result of the closure, other events around Northland, or the cost-of-living crisis.

Old Packhouse Market owners Warwick and Judy Hyland

Hyland said the marketing campaign seemed to have worked.

“I think they’ve done the best job they can. It’s been great seeing the local business associations working with Northland Inc and the local tourism organisations pushing the Northland Time campaign. The publicity around the actual detour route, and explaining it isn’t really as bad as people may think, has also really helped us,” she said.

‘Absolutely flat out’

Paihia tourism business Island Getaway Tours co-owner Adam Prendergast expected a few more people in the Bay of Islands during Easter.

“But it was absolutely flat out,” he said.

“In fact, looking around town, it was packed. There was nowhere for people to park, everyone was out doing things. We were full all weekend and all the other operators on the water were non-stop.”

Paihia-based tourism business Island Getaway Tours had its busiest weekend since January 2024.

Prendergast said it was the biggest weekend, Sunday especially, for the boat tour business since the summer peak in January.

The weather had played a part as well, he said.

“The original forecast wasn’t looking too good, and that dampened everyone’s spirits. But once we got to Friday, blue skies opened up and we just couldn’t keep up.”

Thunder Trike Tours owner Mark Fincher, who offers rides from the Paihia waterfront, had a second trike running all weekend and could have used a third.

He said the word that Northland was open for Easter seemed to have got around the country.

“A lot of people have come up. We were quite surprised. It was so busy it felt like Christmastime. There was a really positive feel here.”

Thunder Trike Tours owner Mark Fincher, right, with employee Steve Beattie.

Fincher said business had dipped since the highway closure, but cruise ship passengers had helped fill the gap.

“It’s been all right. I know some businesses haven’t had as good a run, but it’s just one of those things.”

State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyns will close again from 11.59pm Tuesday, 2 April.

The road is scheduled to reopen five weeks later, on 12 May.

After that date, work will continue to shore up the south side of the Brynderwyns ahead of expected winter rain, but traffic will be able to use both lanes.

Three detours are available during the closure.

They are around the east coast via Waipū, where trucks with trailers are banned; via Paparoa-Oakleigh Road, west of the Brynderwyns; and the long way around the west coast via State Highways 12 and 14 for the heaviest trucks.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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