The occupation of a housing development in South Auckland is showing no signs of shrinking as busloads of activists arrive from around the country.
The group at the Ihumātao stonefields in Māngere swelled to around 700 people today, with some setting up tents in the warm winter sun. Buses of supporters are on the way from Northland, and more sympathisers were flying in from Wellington. Further bus services are being arranged from marae around Auckland and a big concert is planned for tomorrow."People from all around the country are aching to get here because they can see the simple injustice at the heart of it," said Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, who visited the site in South Auckland today.
The police presence appears to have grown too. The Herald counted 65 police officers in the line across the stonefields, protecting the proposed site of a 480-home development.
The protest has reverberated across the country, with supporters holding events in Rotorua and Dunedin today.
Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt was visiting Ihumātao this afternoon.
"There are several issues facing the mana whenua and all other participants involved in the dispute," he said. "We need to bring together a range of perspectives to identify ways of resolving this dispute in an enduring way."
The protesters, who call themselves protectors, were at pains to keep the growing occupation civil.
"Some whānau are taking affirmative action," said one of the speakers, Hemi Pirihi, referring to a group of seven protesters who were arrested after blocking SH20 last night.
"Don't feel compelled to follow them. We are working to a plan. Let's deliver our korero with love."
Superintendent Jill Rogers, Counties Manukau District Commander, said no further arrests had occurred today and police were pleased with the peaceful nature of the protest.
She said police had allowed the group to take over one of the paddocks.
"This decision was made on safety grounds given the current numbers at the site, and in anticipation of further people arriving over the weekend."
SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) have been occupying the site for three years but the situation escalated this week as Fletcher Building sought to begin building the houses. They are doing so with the local iwi's blessing. However, the SOUL group, which includes mana whenua, say it was unfairly confiscated in 1863 and they want it to be turned into a public space.
A major support operation has begun at the stonefields, with a makeshift kitchen dishing out chicken sandwiches in foil trays, fresh fruit, water bottles, and biscuits. Firewood was being dropped off to refuel smouldering cooking fires, and a pile of blankets was being distributed to newcomers. There was face-painting and waiata next to the long line of police officers.
"With the fires burning last night, it looked like a pa," said kaumatua Erueiti Rakina. "Guess what, there were no X-box machines here last night."
"Where else can you get that in Auckland? This fight is for all of us - we want to hold on to this greenery for everyone."
As the occupation grows, it threatens to become more of a headache for the Government. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has repeatedly said it is an issue for Māori.
Davidson's frustration with this position was evident today, though she stopped short of saying the Greens could pull its support for the Government over Ihumātao.
"The Government cannot ignore this," she said.