An iwi ranger on the Far North’s Karikari Peninsula says a furore over a beach access road is highlighting wider problems of vehicle damage to dunes and sacred places.
Whānau Moana and Te Rorohuri, two hapū of Ngāti Kahu, have been occupying a stretch of Whatuwhiwhi Road since last week in protest over what they say is a landowner’s plans to bulldoze an access road through sand dunes to the beach.
The landowner has agreed to close off one of the two access ways and allow it to be replanted, but the occupiers say they will not budge until the dunes are fully protected.
The dunes are not officially registered as a wāhi tapu, a sacred place, but an application has been made through the council’s District Plan.
Hapū members say ancestors are buried in the dunes, which are next to Haititaimarangai Marae.
Nina Raharuhi, a kaitiaki o te taiao, or environmental monitor, said she welcomed the occupation and the controversy over damage to the dunes.
“I’m actually glad that this has happened, because it’s brought awareness to our people and to our community,” she said.
Raharuhi said she was worried not just about desecration of the sand dunes at Pātia o Matariki, but all over the Karikari Peninsula.
“It’s a concern not just for out hapū, but for the long-standing community throughout the peninsula. Motorised vehicles are driving up and down the dunes where there are kōiwi [skeletal remains], whale bones, flora and fauna, and dotterel trying to nest,” she said.
“It’s enough that we’re dealing with climate change and erosion of the dunes, now motorised vehicles are making it even more evident that we have kōiwi in all these dunes and they’re becoming more and more exposed. So I’m happy this is happening, it’s making our people much more aware, especially our rangatahi – it’s making them aware they can’t be hooning up and down any more.”
The occupation would also show developers, planners and councillors that hapū were serious about protecting their wāhi tapu, dunes and sacred maunga [mountain] Te Pū o Te Wheke.
“We’ve have seen bikes and four-wheel-drives going up and down our sacred maunga, hooning around and then taking off. We’ve witnessed people coming up all the way from Tāmaki for joy rides. We see trailers full of motorbikes, holiday-makers coming in with their motorbikes who see our beautiful paradise as a place to hoon around in the dunes.”
Her message to visitors was to respect tangata whenua and wāhi tapu, and “find somewhere else to go and play” if they wanted to drive off-road.
Raharuhi has been part of Ngāti Kahu’s kaitiaki ranger programme since 2018.
The programme’s original focus was on educating visitors about responsible camping, in particular not going to the toilet in the dunes.
That work continues but with the drop in tourism during the Covid-19 pandemic, damage done by off-road vehicles has emerged as a more immediate environmental threat on the peninsula.
The programme is supported by the Department of Conservation and local councils.