More than 100 visitors were turned away while less than that number made their way to the popular Mermaid Pools in Matapouri despite a rāhui being in force.
But the local hapu has put the situation over the Easter long weekend down to unfamiliarity with Māori culture rather than a blatant disregard for the rāhui that was put in place last Friday.The Te Whanau a Rangiwhakaahu hapū put a rāhui in place over the popular pools at the northern headland of Matapouri and the access route over the Rangitapu headland to restore their environmental, cultural and spiritual wellbeing.
A ceremony took place at Matapouri Beach at 5am on Friday to bless and dedicate a carved pou before those present went to the local marae to conclude the formalities.
Rāhui a form of taboo restricting access to, or use of, an area or resource by the kaitiakitanga or guardians of the area.
Sandra Hawken, a trustee of the hapū, said between 40 and 50 people were spoken to upon their return from the pools on Friday while about 150 people were turned away the next day.
"People just didn't understand what rāhui meant. A majority were foreign tourists while others were from outside Northland who have not been here before. We spoke and clarified any misunderstanding they had and also explained what a rāhui was and why it was put in place.
"Once we told them that, they understood. Most of the people were very understanding. Some wished us luck, others said they'd come back in a few years time to see what the pools look like," she said.
Hawken said some visitors over the Easter weekend thought a rāhui was in place over the pools only while some thought it was for the track only.
They did not understand the history and significance of the place, she said.
"The main question people had was why was there a rāhui in place. They didn't understand the impact of pollution. A few families that visited the pools six months ago couldn't believe the condition they were in at present.
"Generally the response has been good, consider the fact that over Christmas we were having an average of 400 people in a couple of hours to having 150 per day," Hawken said.
Environmentalists, community groups, civic leaders and the local hapū have long been concerned about the degraded state of the pools and the condition of the track.
Issues include no provision of basic infrastructure like a proper track, toilets or rubbish disposal facilities and all these will have to be addressed, the hapu said.