The first Covid-positive guests are expected today at a new iwi-led community isolation facility established in a secluded lakeside lodge in Rotorua.
Lakes Lodge Okataina, formerly a wedding and conference venue, was sold to Te Arawa iwi Ngāti Tarāwhai, which has been working with Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Rongomai to establish a facility for whānau to safely isolate.
Iwi officially took possession yesterday at a site blessing.
The facility, which has capacity for 78 people, is expected to start housing Covid positive people and their close contact whānau from today.
Ngāti Tarāwhai Iwi Trust chairman Cyrus Hingston said the isolated location of the lodge - on the edge of Lake Okataina, about 30km from Rotorua - provided an opportunity to provide support to people who need to isolate away from whānau.
"The majority who have difficulty doing that are Māori, with large or extended family. For us, it's only natural - the best people to look after our people, are ourselves."
Hingston said yesterday's official opening marked a "significant milestone" in the iwi's journey to reconnect its people with their homelands after the devastating Tarawera eruption of 1886.
Ngāti Tarāwhai gifted 3000 acres (400ha) to the Crown for the Lake Okataina Scenic Reserve in 1921 to stop the land being taken for public works and "the plunder of our burial sites by grave robbers", he said.
Iwi members who had worked in MIQ facilities felt the way they operated fell short, especially for Māori, Hingston said.
"Māori are highly likely to be most affected by coronavirus. It would be best if we trained and worked and looked after our own."
He said isolation practices were tikanga.
"Back in the first arrival of our people to these shores, you had to go through a process of getting rid of your tapu. The whole process was exactly the same."
He said there were stories of people being isolated from others until they could be cleared of their tapu.
"It's a natural thing for us to work in this space as far as we are concerned."
Facility workers had the necessary training, he said.
"It's not just 'let's make it up as we go along'."
The health service for facility users will be overseen by Ngāti Pikiao health, with support from the Lakes District Health Board (DHB) and the Ministry of Health.
Te Arawa Covid Hub would provide additional support, with the facility funded by multiple agencies including the DHB, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development and Te Puni Kōkiri.
Lakes DHB chief executive Nick Saville-Wood said in a statement the facility was an additional option for the community to safely contain and manage the spread of Covid.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Pikiao GP and member of Te Roopu Hauora o Te Arawa, Dr Grace Malcolm, said "as we learn to live with Covid-19 in our communities, we must also start destigmatising the virus".
"Community isolation facilities don't have to be sterile, solemn spaces. Our aspiration is to create a positive Covid experience at Lakes Lodge Okataina, where whānau can recuperate in a space that keeps them and the community as safe as possible.
"This is an iwi response, for the whole community, to this phase of Covid, with the principles of manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga, mātauranga and whakapapa at its heart."
Te Arawa Covid Response Hub kaumātua Monty Morrison told RNZ the facility, surrounded by bush, would be used for all of Rotorua, where the DHB area had 40 active cases.
There were no new community cases in the area yesterday. Nationwide there were 14 new cases in New Zealand including 34 in hospital and two in ICU.
Nick and Richelle Berryman decided to sell the lodge after 12 years due to the impacts of Covid-19 lockdowns on the business, describing it as "just another Covid casualty".
Nick Berryman declined to comment on the lodge's new use as an isolation facility.
The Ministry of Health was also approached for comment.
Rotorua's CBD hosts three Government-run Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities in the Rydges, Ibis and Sudima hotels.
The Government investigated adding another MIQ facility in the city last year but elected not to after widespread community objections.