Rising above the urban Hawke's Bay landscape, Te Mata Peak is an icon of the region which attracts around 200,000 visitors every year - not to mention the locals who traverse its many walking and bike tracks.

The significance of the peak is such that in 1996 the Hastings District Council created a special character zone to protect the unique landscape at the foothills of Te Mata Peak - the first of its kind in New Zealand.

While it has become a symbol of Hawke's Bay, and an attraction for locals and tourists alike, for generations it has had huge ancestral, historical and future importance for Ngati Kahungunu.

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The legend is that Te Mata Peak, or Te Mata o Rongokako, is the reclined body of the chief Rongokako, the grandfather of Kahungunu and ancestor of all Ngati Kahungunu.

The tale is the people of Heretaunga, tired of fighting with the coastal tribes of Waimarama, planned for Hinerakau, the daughter of a Pakipaki chief, to make the leader of the Waimarama tribes, a giant named Te Mata, fall in love with her.

Although she too fell in love, the people of Heretaunga demanded she make Te Mata prove his devotion by performing seemingly impossible tasks.

He died on his last task, choking on the earth of Te Mata Peak as he sought to bite his way through the hills. His prostrate body forms Te Mata Peak.

It also has a personal significance to Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Inc chief executive Ngahiwi Tomoana, whose great-great-grandmother Winipere Rotohenga was captured atop the peak by rifle-bearing Waikato warriors and marched off to Maungatautari to be a slave.

"Before the women and children could be taken one of the women threw herself over the cliff while others grabbed mata, which is flint, and slashed themselves, their blood soaking into the ground.

"'Take my body but my blood will remain in this land forever' was the catch cry at the time, which pertains to all of us Ngati Kahungunu descendants. Our blood is in the land just as it was for our tipuna.

"It still burns deep within the fact that my great-great-grandmother was taken prisoner almost 200 years ago and that she cut herself deep to remind us of our kaitiaki responsibilities to protect our land."

Although Mr Tomoana is now one of the many stakeholders involved in finding a path forward for walking access on the eastern side of the peak, at the time of the Craggy Range track he said he felt "stabbed through the heart".

"To see the Craggy Range side of Rongokako sliced and butchered by an ugly zigzagging track looking like an open sore.

"How could this clown act happen in this day and age?"

Given the significance of the peak, Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Rex Graham said although he did not think they had played a statutory role around the peak, "I think we need to".

"What this has highlighted is that this is a special place. It has been highlighted as the most special landscape in Hawke's Bay. It's got huge historical significance for tangata whenua, so we do as a community all need to get together and say what are we going to do now."

Mr Graham said he respected, and supported Craggy Range's decision to remove it.

"I know a lot of people love it, but quite a large section of our community find it offensive and Craggy Range have acknowledged that and made a decision."

The Hastings District Council's district plan maps designates parts of the peak as "outstanding landscape".

A council spokeswoman said there are two components to the outstanding landscape on Te Mata Peak – the rocky feature which runs along the ridgeline and the wider landscape that adjoins the feature, which stretches toward Waimarama Rd.

Being designated as such under the district plan mean these areas are subject to consent under the Resource Management Act 1991 for development.

In identifying the outstanding landscapes within the district, consideration was given to those landscapes that have cultural significance. Te Mata Peak was considered to have cultural significance which contributed to its outstanding status.

Separate from the outstanding landscapes, sites that are considered sacred or are culturally sensitive to Maori are identified in the Wāhi Taonga section of the District Plan.

The inclusion of such sites within the plan are initiated by hapu. Council has not received a request from hapu to identify Te Mata Peak as a wāhi tapu or wāhi taonga.