Covid-19: Waiheke and Great Barrier Island braced for visitors at red light

RYAN ANDERSON/STUFF
Locals on Waiheke voice concern after the island records its first case of Covid-19. (Video published October 21, 2021)

Aucklanders will be free to visit Waiheke and Aotea/Great Barrier Island from 11.59pm on Thursday as the country moves to the Covid-19 traffic light system.

The Hauraki Gulf islands have been off-limits to daytrippers during lockdown, with anyone who doesn’t normally live on the two islands banned from recreational visits.

Crowds are expected to descend on Waiheke at the weekend, with businesses ready to welcome punters with open arms and locals preparing for Covid-19 spreading on the island.

Waiheke Local Board chairwoman Cath Handley said visitors would get a warm welcome, but urged them to be “Covid savvy”.

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“It’s really important as numbers swell that we don’t let our guard down,” she said.

After months without visitors, Waiheke Island is braced for crowds at the weekend.
RYAN ANDERSON/Stuff
After months without visitors, Waiheke Island is braced for crowds at the weekend.

Simon Pope, owner of The Local fish and chip restaurant in Oneroa, was hoping for a busy first weekend back.

“We’re a little bit apprehensive but clearly want to get some money in the till,” he said.

“You can’t keep living on fumes, can you?”

He was expecting to “cop a bit of flack” about enforcing the vaccine requirement for customers.

“There are the serial anti-vaxxers here on Waiheke, it’s going to be tricky.”

However, he said the majority of people were happy to follow the rules, and he was expecting a lot of visitors from the city.

Bianca Ranson from Piritahi Marae said while local businesses were “really suffering”, she was worried about what opening up would mean for the island’s vulnerable communities.

“My main concern is around Māori vaccination rates on the island and protecting our community.

Bianca Ranson from Piritahi Marae is worried for vulnerable communities as the island opens up.
RYAN ANDERSON/Stuff
Bianca Ranson from Piritahi Marae is worried for vulnerable communities as the island opens up.

“I think once the borders open we will inevitably see the presence of Covid here.”

She urged people to get vaccinated, and to talk to community leaders, people at the marae and Piritahi’s Hau Ora medical centre if they had questions.

“Particularly for our Māori and Pasifika populations on Waiheke I just don’t think there’s time to wait.”

Waiheke Island Tourism Inc chairwoman Christina Hyde said reopening was a “huge relief” for businesses.

There was a “big question mark” over what December would bring because a lot of venues had been nervous about booking Christmas parties, she said.

Aotea/Great Barrier Island Local Board chairwoman Izzy Fordham said islanders were “nervous and apprehensive” about the border reopening.

People with second homes on the island were “itching” to visit, which she said was hard to begrudge.

Tourism businesses were also eager to see holidaymakers return, Fordham said, because they depended on summer to “boost their coffers” to get through the quiet winters.

There were concerns visitors would bring the virus with them, especially as the island had some of Auckland’s lowest vaccination rates.

Covid had not reached the island, but Fordham said there was a “feeling of inevitably that it will come knocking on our door”.