Covid 19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Steve Braunias – In defence of the Wānaka lockdown breachers


No, wait. Put down the pitchforks. Step away from the pair of pliers and the blowtorch.

Maybe we have it all wrong about the Wānaka Couple. Maybe we’ve been too quick to write them off as primordial ooze, as slime crawling from the swamps of privilege, as creatures from a black lagoon where conscience and good character have never seen daylight.


There is a case to argue in favour of the Wānaka Couple. It’s not a very strong case and it may fold under the lightest scrutiny, but the possibility exists that the hapless duo may actually possess a shred of decency. They may even – this is daring, this is radical – have acted with honour.

We assume they travelled from Auckland to Wānaka for selfish reasons. Wānaka’s nice. It’s got a lake and what-not. But did they really want to see it and enjoy it just for their own pleasure? Isn’t it possible that they were doing it for all of us?

They, too, like everyone in Auckland, have laboured long under the lethargy and listlessness of four weeks of level 4 lockdown. Our pain was their pain. We were all in it together. And when they left the gloom of life in level 4, and struck out for the promised lands of level 2, they carried our hopes and aspirations with them in their luggage.

They put the luggage in the car. They opened the garage door. This was the normal level of excitement in Auckland, in level 4. They looked at each other. Wanaka Man said, throatily, “Do you really want to do this?”

Wanaka Woman held his gaze, and replied: “For the noble cause of Auckland, yeah sure.”

Their freedom was our freedom. Auckland, that beautiful, watery city, their province, their home, beat in their hearts like a drum as they crossed the border to Hamilton.

They turned that delicious phrase “crossed the border” in their mouths like a fine wine. They sang songs of exhilaration and liberty. Roadhouse Blues by The Doors came on – they listened to Auckland’s station, Radio Hauraki – and they bellowed along with Jim Morrison, “Keep your eyes on the road, your hand upon the wheel!” And they pulled into Hamilton airport.

Moved by the same spirit that has always propelled those of brave heart to rebel against tyranny, they flew to Queenstown, and got a rental car. They were quiet now. Their thoughts turned to the deserted streets of Auckland.

Poor, put-upon Auckland, doing it hard and aching for release. Heroes by David Bowie came on – Hauraki has good reception in the Cardrona – and they sang with quiet determination, “We can be heroes just for one day!” Actually they had two days before they got busted.

When they got to their holiday home in Wānaka, the first thing they did was contemplate their actions as rebels in a land which demands that we all conform. They read out loud from Fretful Sleepers, Bill Pearson’s classic 1953 essay about the New Zealand character. Wānaka Man quoted, “There is no place in normal New Zealand society for the man who is different.”

Wanaka Woman took the copy from him, and brayed, “We spend half our energy disapproving the conduct of others. There is no emotion we feel so at home in as moral indignation. There is nothing unites us so much as having someone else to condemn…”

They knew the dangers. They realised they were outlaws. They were Bonnie and Clyde, and when the cops came for them, their first instinct was to go down in a blaze of glory. Auckland moved in their blood. Auckland! That shining palace, a Pacific port full of promise and sunlight, the waters of the Waitematā sparkling like diamonds in the dew – it was a city that bucked convention, and never gave up.

He called for help.

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