Concerns about vandalism, thefts and an accident in which a camper van tumbled into a river have prompted a Far North community to take charge of a popular picnic spot.
Forest Pools, just off State Highway 1 north of Okaihau, was until recently a Department of Conservation campground. It is also a popular picnic area and swimming spot on the edge of Puketi Omahuta Forest.
Earlier this year a group of Waihou Valley residents approached DOC with their concerns about behaviour at the campground, particularly thefts and ongoing vandalism.
They formed a group called Te Mauri o Waihou which has taken over management of Forest Pools and spent the past four months working with DOC to upgrade the area. The new-look Forest Pools opened on December 5 with a blessing, the unveiling of a carved welcome sign and a whanau day. It is now a picnic area with no overnight camping.
Plans to decorate a new toilet block with a mural, painted by local kids and a street artist going by the name of Chile, were postponed due to rain.
The weather cleared later for a shared lunch, children's games and a visit by Hana Koko (Santa Claus), who traded his sleigh for a quad bike for the day. The blessing was conducted by Minister Jenny Henare.
The group has been assisted by DOC ranger Dan O'Halloran and Te Runanga a Iwi o Ngapuhi development leader Tania Pene.
Interim treasurer Tui Barnett said the aim was keep Forest Pools a safe and clean area for everyone to enjoy. The group encouraged everyone to use Forest Pools, but asked visitors to respect the new kaupapa of no camping, no dogs and no alcohol or drugs.
Last December a Welsh couple staying at Forest Pools tried driving to the old toilets, about 300m up a narrow road from the main camping area. Their van came too close to the edge of a slip and tumbled six metres into the Waipapa River.