Both sides of the city entrance to Tauranga Harbour could end up in Maori ownership under a proposal being pursued by Ngai Te Rangi iwi.
Matakana Island hapu and their iwi have spent 18 months talking to the Western Bay of Plenty District Council on the return of Panepane Point, which is the southernmost tip of the forested part of the island opposite Mauao.
Council and iwi negotiators are proposing a staged approach to the possible return of the estimated 200-hectare block to tangata whenua.
Maori preference was for the full return of title, subject to public access guarantees and joint management of the land with the council.
The news comes nine days after Mount Maunganui hapu Ngai Tukairangi put the case for the Tauranga City Council to transfer the last chunk of Mauao into Maori ownership - the land occupied by the Beachside Holiday Park and Mount Hot Pools.
A report to Western Bay council's tangata whenua subcommittee envisaged a staged approach, starting with joint governance delivered by a reserve management plan in which ownership was not transferred.
Preparation of the management plan would involve public hearings, with iwi and council representatives on the hearings panel.
If the council signed off on this approach, it could see the draft plan developed by December. It would include reference to Panepane Point's future ownership, and it was hoped that the plan would be adopted by the council early in 2014.
Any transfer of ownership would require public consultation, with the council signalling that the most appropriate time for this to happen would be the 2014-15 annual plan.
"This will allow sufficient time for the parties to complete the necessary actions regarding the governance structure and reserve management plan," the report said.
The chairman of the Ngai Te Rangi runanga, Charlie Tawhiao, said Panepane was wahi tapu because of events that took place on the spit, including battles and burials. It was important because of the stories associated with Panepane and because it stood as a powerful cultural sentinel with Mauao at the southern entrance to the harbour.
He said the land was taken for harbour purposes that never really eventuated and it passed to the council in 1989.
Ngai Te Rangi was seeking a commitment for the iconic feature to be returned to iwi ownership in case future councils came under pressure to commercialise the land. "We are doing something for the whole of our communities for perpetuity. Everyone who lives here has a stake in the harbour."
Mr Tawhiao said they had to have regard to what the public thought and neither did they want to burden the under-resourced island community with another cost.
A staged approach would test the waters to see how it could work.
Taken under the Public Works Act for harbour purposes and vested in the Bay of Plenty Harbour Board.
Transferred to the Western Bay of Plenty District Council in 1989 when local government was restructured.
Port of Tauranga applied unsuccessfully to the Maritime Transport Authority in 1990 to have the land transferred to the port.
A council investigation in 2000 recommended the land should become a regional park once the forestry lease expired in 2026.
Now part of Ngai Te Rangi's Treaty of Waitangi claim.