Was the Easter bach invasion real?

Holiday towns around the country have been on edge, fearing Easter visits from city folk going to their baches. But in one instance, the fears might have been over-stated. Tim Murphy reports.

Truth is the first casualty of war, and we keep getting told we are in a war against the virus and need to adopt a wartime spirit.

So was the Covid-19 hype leading up to Easter about city dwellers inundating holiday spots to take up temporary residence in their baches true, or a result of rumour and a one-plus-one-equalling-five mentality in small communities?

In one holiday spot, Whangamata on the Coromandel, the over-stated fears of residents that "out-of-towners"  were invading by night ahead of the long weekend have been knocked on the head by none other than the local police sergeant.

In a straight-talking post on a community Facebook page on Thursday evening, Sergeant Will Hamilton said traffic technology on roads leading into the town showed no increase in the number of vehicles.

"I note that there has been a significant amount of discussion going on around people arriving from out of town. Yes there will be some and unfortunately we cannot get them all. I can assure you that we are doing our absolute best for you as a community.

"We have some technology at the entrance of town which today I have had the opportunity [to] gather stats from. What this data tells me is:

- volume of vehicles has dropped significantly
- there is little to no difference of vehicles coming and going from the town this week compared to the same days last week after lockdown."

"What this indicates is that the masses coming to town is not as much of an issue as people (rumours) have said it is."

He then addressed another line of evidence cited by those claiming city folk had broken the lockdown to go to Whangamata.

"I will not speculate on the lines at the supermarket, however this is consistent behaviour with other years leading up to a day where the supermarket is closed."

The Thursday before Good Friday. People stocking up in advance, like last year and the year before.

Police did set up checkpoints on the road from Kopu, near Thames, across to Hikuai, leading to Coromandel beach spots and did turn some motorists back if they did not live on the peninsula or have essential business.

Sergeant Hamilton's post went on to ask Whangamata locals on social media to calm down.

"Something I have noticed is the behaviour of some on social media and our local pages. Come on team, some of this behaviour is appalling to say the least. Social media is not a platform to have an argument or get 'one up' on anyone. I watch these closely and what I can see is a pretty negative culture developing. This needs to stop! We are all together in this and in this town. Think before you comment or post."

Posts on the Facebook page beneath his admonishment included one exhorting permanent residents and those who had been legally in the town at the beginning of the lockdown to wear an item of green clothing to differentiate themselves from the interlopers. Another encouraged residents to take photographs of individuals and vehicle number plates and post them to the police national hotline.

The sergeant also chastised some who had sought to patrol the town. "Vigilante patrols/surveillance of town entrances and roads - I don't want to see this again, those involved know who you are. Stay home means stay home."

Police nationwide warned bach owners and those thinking about going to Easter holiday spots to refrain and had promised a range of checkpoints to ensure the flow of traffic and people did not breach the Level 4 lockdown. 

And there have certainly been examples of people basing themselves in towns before lockdown, heading between towns and having to be turned back or some getting through - from Wanaka to Haast to Ruapehu to Northland. But the intense feeling in at least one community might, just, have been over-stated by debates on social media.

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