A central North Island iwi has taken a "rare measure" of invoking a rāhui on the entirety of Whirinaki Conservation Park in an attempt to protect its low-vaccinated community.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whare advised of the rāhui, which asked people to stay away from the park, late last week.
The rāhui was supported by the Department of Conservation, which updated its website and information on the park on Monday to include the new information on the Whirinaki Te Pua a Tāne Conservation Park.
It would be in place from December 17 until January 31.
The message had been shared by Ngāti Whare on social media, where it explained while it had a proud record of welcoming visitors to the area it had reluctantly taken the measure as a way of protecting its community in Te Whaiti, Minginui and Ngaputahi from Covid-19 by reducing the number of visitors with whom community members could come into contact.
"Our community has limited access to medical services and among the lowest vaccination rates in New Zealand."
Compliance with the rāhui was a matter of respect to its perspectives and cultural practices as kaitiaki of the area, it said.
It urged anyone with bookings with amenities in the area to cancel and contact the Department of Conservation for a refund.
"In recognition of the rāhui, DoC will not be taking further bookings at this time."
The iwi said it recognised the rāhui could disrupt travel and holiday plans but suggested a decision not to visit at this time "would provide peace of mind for our vulnerable communities and avoid potentially uncomfortable conversations with people who feel threatened by visitors."
Ngāti Whare chief executive Mere George had been disappointed by some of the responses by people outside the local community.
"Some of which has been quite bad. We've been targeted with abuse and racism where our intellect has been questioned."
But the positive response from neighbouring iwi and concessionaires had outweighed the bad, she said.
"The other disappointing thing is, from my perspective, they are ill-informed. They've forgotten it's our land."
This was in reference to commenters that claimed to be 'locked out' of the forest.
"We are in legislation recognised as kaitiaki."
It was about protecting their community's vulnerable, she said.
While Stuff reported Conservation Minister Kiri Allan opposed the rāhui, a spokesperson said the Government's traffic light system was designed to provide appropriate management of Covid-19 across all of New Zealand.
"There is a requirement that all users of DoC campsites and huts aged 12 and over be vaccinated.
"That is in place to provide increased levels of reassurance to both communities and visitors, while reducing the risk of transmission."
The spokesperson did not provide the minister's stance.
Ngāti Whare's Facebook post, however, received a mixed response and was shared on a number of pages.
Some commenters claimed they would flout the rāhui and visit anyway, while others praised the move.
There were several who called out those who took a negative view: "This is a temporary rāhui placed by Ngāti Whare to protect vulnerable members of their community. We know Omicron is likely to make its way into New Zealand eventually, and it is more contagious. Patience and tolerance please."
Another said they lived in Minginui and was disappointed by the move.
"The risk to local people from tourists must be very low. There is very little interaction ... so many places are blocked to visitors, it's very sad.
"To be in nature in these times is the best medicine of all."
Destination Rotorua was approached for comment regarding the potential impact the rāhui could have on local businesses.
The Department of Conservation was also approached for further comment.