The lifespan of the country's biggest working cemetery is being reviewed in light of its other role as the largest public open space in West Auckland's urban area.
Waikumete Cemetery will run out of land for graves in eight years based on the present rate of 480 burials a year and a cultural preference for burial over cremation by a growing sector of the population.
It adjoins 43.9ha of undeveloped reserve land but expanding into that will be controversial as much of it is protected due to ecological and landscape heritage values.
A cemetery and reserve management plan for the next 10 years has been put out by Auckland Council for discussion ahead of a public open day on December 1.
It suggests improving safety by encouraging use for recreation, with a network of walking and cycling trails.
It also raises issues of vandalism, theft and lack of care in the older area.
Friends of Waikumete promotes the historical and horticultural features and in summer takes monthly guided walks.
Barbara Harvey, who has walked there for 15 years, said: "It's my favourite place. I could spend hours here." Mrs Harvey is concerned that developments around and within the cemetery are unsympathetic to the historical legacy of a graveyard which has operated since 1886.
Noeline Erceg opposed any "beautification" of the old part.
"Keep it natural while letting the graves preservation continue. Weeds make it look horrible and unkempt yet with the wildflowers in bloom it looks beautiful."
Council central and western cemeteries manager Daniel Sales said Waikumete management was reviewed a decade ago by the former Waitakere City Council.
It also asked people the question: "Would you be prepared to use a more efficient land-burial method yourself?"
Most wanted the traditional burial. But some also favoured being buried standing up, as was introduced in Darlington, Victoria, in order to save cost and space. "They want a mix and Waitakere took a position in the middle by offering a range of innovative ideas."
Feet-first burial is not suggested in the new discussion paper.
"Neither is an alternative Melbourne development where an old cemetery is being excavated and the bodies exhumed and relocated deeper in the ground, to allow two decks of other graves above.
"We have to be careful not to lose the focus of what we do here," said Mr Sales. "A cemetery is for the living, it is designed for the living and it is important for the families who visit to like the feel of the cemetery.
"We need a balance of providing burial space for the people out west, but we don't want to lose the sheer beauty of the cemetery."
Waikumete had tried to save land by offering chambers in a public mausoleum and an eco burial option in a field without headstones.
Infill in older parts of the cemetery would give 500 spaces at $2195 compared with the $3000 to $4000 of new areas.
Mr Sales said if that the council approved a further 15ha for expansion, Waikumete could have burials for more than 30 years.
Waikumete Cemetery and Reserve
108ha total land area.
62.11ha in use.
480 to 500 burials a year.
43% are burials, 57% ash interment.
10,000 recreational visitors.
Burying the dead
*In Darlington, Australia, bodies are buried "standing up". The feet-first burial was introduced to save on space and costs.
*In Melbourne, bodies at a cemetery are being exhumed and reburied deeper so new bodies can be "stacked" on top to allow three decks of graves.By Wayne Thompson Email Wayne