Plans for a boardwalk through ancient pōhutukawa trees on Auckland's North Shore are polarising the community and iwi.
Auckland Council is considering two options for a boardwalk at the northern end of Takapuna beach, with one option for it to go through the sacred pōhutukawa grove and the other stopping access and removing existing infrastructure.
Māori prepared bodies for burial in a wāhi tapu area where the 19 ancient pōhutukawa grow and it is of great significance to mana whenua. Tūpāpaku (dead bodies) were placed in the sitting position and wrapped in whāriki (mats) and placed in the tree to naturally decompose before being buried.
There are existing walking tracks through the grove providing beach access and access to viewing areas, but last June parts were closed due to health and safety risks from falling trees.
The council has consulted with seven iwi, who want to block off the grove to the public.
Iwi want the boardwalk completely removed, rubbish bins taken out, and for seeds to be collected to safeguard against myrtle rust.
However, local residents want to see the boardwalk retained, because it provides access along the northern part of the beach at high tide. The tide extends up the seawall, meaning there is no access for a short period of time either side of the high tide.
Auckland Council manager of sports parks design and programme, Kris Bird, said the boardwalk was "a polarising topic".
"There's a large section of the community who want to see access maintained," Mr Bird said.
"It is a bit of a contentious project - we certainly acknowledge the wāhi tapu of the site and we are happy to work with all parties to receive all points of view."
Devonport-Takapuna local board chairperson George Wood said rebuilding the boardwalk was a complex issue because it could damage the tapu trees.
"People believe it should be an area that they can walk through and that would require the boardwalk to be reconstituted, but in doing that we could cause irreparable life threatening damage to the trees and that is a real issue that we are up against," Mr Wood said.
Ngāti Whanaunga spokesperson Gavin Anderson said they did not want to stop access, but to protect the trees.
"We support the careful management of those rākau - our tūpuna and the whenua there," Mr Anderson said.
"There may be differing ideas of how that should be done but I think in the long term people will start to see the value of the recommendation that has been made by mana whenua in terms of the careful management of the area."
People can offer feedback on the boardwalk plans until July 12.
The feedback will be presented to Devonport-Takapuna local board and a decision is expected in August to September.