A Far North iwi occupying a piece of coastal land for the second time in just over a decade say this time they won’t budge until the land is in public hands.

The occupation, at the corner of Wharo Way and Foreshore Rd in Ahipara, started two weeks ago on Saturday and was sparked by the felling of half of a culturally significant pōhutukawa.

The tree — which local Māori say is at least 200 years old — was subject to a private covenant and listed as a significant landmark by Te Rarawa, but was not listed on the Schedule of Notable Trees or under formal council protection.

The land is owned by a Kaitaia GP who had planned to build his retirement house on the property.

It is currently occupied day and night but as long as Covid level 3 restrictions apply, numbers are limited to 10 and visitors are asked to wear a mask and stay behind a barrier.

Kaitiaki James Taniere (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Whatua) said the group weren’t going anywhere.

”We’ll stay long as it takes until we get our rākau [tree] and whenua back in hapū hands,” he said.

”It’s a beautiful thing to be here fighting for our rākau … Every kid should have the right to come here, learn about the history and be part of the whenua.”

Organising an occupation during alert level 3 posed extra challenges, as well as the heartbreak of having to turn away manuhiri (guests).

”That’s disgruntled a few people but we have to protect our koros and grannies.”

Once level 3 was lifted anyone would be welcome to visit for a kōrero and a cup of tea, Taniere said.

The occupiers had been subjected to the odd racist comment from passers-by and had been told of a petition to get them off the land, but overall the response from Ahipara residents had been overwhelmingly positive.

The aroha, as shown for example by regular donations of food, was humbling.

Taniere said he hoped the occupation would lead to some kind of healing process.

Children from local schools had helped plant 200 donated flax plants and pōhutukawa along the boundary and in the adjoining historic reserve, and a carving workshop was planned with some of the pōhutukawa logs.

Occupation leader Rueben Taipari said the tree was the only significant thing that remained from the original Māori occupation of the whenua.

”It’s a symbol of our connection to this land,” he said.

The developer was aware of its significance because of an earlier occupation when the subdivision was first mooted more than a decade ago.

The land had been a meeting place, with a waka landing site on the nearby beach, a marae and a Māori land court which brought people from far and wide.

The land was donated to the Catholic Church and sold to a developer in the 2000s.

Taipari said all five arborists who had looked at the tree agreed the work done on it went well beyond pruning.

However, they also believed the part that remained could recover.

Mulch and seaweed had been applied to the ground and it had been roped off to protect the roots.

New shoots were starting to appear, Taipari said.

Landowner Cecil Williams earlier told the Advocate he had put the property on the market, and hoped the iwi or Government would buy it and make it a reserve.

Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said the previous occupation lasted about 18 months.

When it ended more than a decade ago, iwi thought they had an undertaking that the front corner of the subdivision — include the tree and former marae site — would be a reserve.

The iwi was surprised to discover the reserve that was eventually established only covered 650sq m, squeezed between two residential lots, he said.

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