When Linda Millen arrived at her father's burial ground she was heartbroken to be greeted by a "big fat padlock and chain".

About four times a year the Waihī woman and her husband Robin Millen travel to a tranquil patch of the Kaimai Range her father Tommy Clair used to own, and where he now rests.

"It's a beautiful place," Linda Millen said.

But when the couple - who have significant mobility issues - arrived on Tuesday at the usual State Highway 29 entry to the urupā at the Lower Kaimai Reserve, they were unable to get in.

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The Western Bay of Plenty District Council had restricted access to the site due to the number of people parking on the side of the highway.

"They've locked us out - of my own father's grave," she said.

The burial site is on Māori land Clair used to own near Ngamuwahine Rd and sits where the Ngamuwahine and Mangakarengorengo rivers meet.

The Millens have been visiting his grave, which is now part of a public reserve, for the past 20 years. But now a gate stretches across the driveway, secured by a locked chain and sign stating "no public access".

When the Millens contacted the council they were told they would need to access the grave site from Ngamuwahine Rd, the other side of the highway.

When the couple tried, they discovered a trek which involved climbing a fence and walking 300m over a paddock, through scrub, under a SH29 bridge and along the riverside.

"There's no way I can go scrambling through the gorse and walk along the river bank. I'm not even able to do 50m on a flat surface," Linda Millen said.

The 64-year-old has crippling arthritis in her hips which severely limits her mobility.

Robin Millen, in his 70s, also has bad hips and is heading in for surgery for this in a few weeks' time.

The couple's car displays a mobility card and they have had to sell their two-storey Waihī home for something without stairs.

Linda Millen said when her father died, she had been assured she would always have access to her father's grave site on his former farm because the land was now a public reserve.

In 1983 the land was taken from Clair under the Public Works Act, as part of the state highway realignment.

The Kaimai Ward Reserve Management plan recognises the presence of several grave sites and gave approval for Clair's resting place but Linda Millen said she was told she would need written permission to gain access.

The vehicular entry to the Lower Kaimai Reserve has been locked for safety reasons. Photo / WBOPDC
The vehicular entry to the Lower Kaimai Reserve has been locked for safety reasons. Photo / WBOPDC

Council reserves and facilities manager Peter Watson told the Bay of Plenty Times he would be happy to allow the Millens access, appreciating their ability to gain entry was "problematic".

Watson said the restriction was prompted after complaints last summer of people parking cars on the side of the highway while trying to visit the rivers.

People are entitled to access to Lower Kaimai Reserve for recreational purposes but the council has the right to restrict vehicular access "which it has done so in this case due to the danger of accessing the reserve from the state highway".

Watson said that having reviewed the sign "we see how it suggests that no public are permitted in the reserve which is incorrect".

The sign would now be removed and reworded "to better reflect the intention of discouraging regular access via the gate".