A blessing on Ninety Mile Beach where New Zealand's biggest ever methamphetamine smuggling attempt took place will restore the area's sanctity and send a message that the drug is not wanted in the Far North, a local iwi says.
Earlier this week Stevie Cullen and Selaima Fakaosilea were jailed after a trial in the Whangārei High Court for 27 years and 12 years, six months, respectively, for their parts in a plan to smuggle more than 500kg of methamphetamine into New Zealand.
Fakaosilea was already serving 14 years and six months on other charges; another 10 people are behind bars after pleading guilty over smuggling the drugs onto Ninety Mile Beach.
The group's plans unravelled when locals became suspicious of their inept attempts to launch a boat from Ahipara in June 2016.
They eventually managed to pick up the drugs from a vessel waiting offshore, then dumped their brand-new boat at Hukatere, buried some of the drugs in the dunes and loaded the rest into a campervan. A sharp-eyed junior police officer pulled the van over near Totara North and discovered the country's biggest ever methamphetamine haul stacked in the back.
With the court case concluded iwi are planning to carry out a blessing at Hukatere to declare Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē (Ninety Mile Beach) a sacred space out of bounds to methamphetamine.
Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said details of the karakia (prayers) still had to be worked out with Te Aupōuri, the other iwi which counted the beach as part of its rohe (tribal area). The blessing would be open to all.
Piripi said the blessing, part of a wider campaign against the drug in the Far North, would be a symbolic act and could not be enforced.
''But it will let everyone know this is an area we believe is sacrosanct. It's an area that should be enjoyed by everyone peacefully. We don't want it used as a smuggler's cove,'' he said.
''This sort of activity is so destructive to our people and to society, we have to address it in every way we can.''
The iwi had been shocked by the sheer magnitude of the haul.
''That's what really scared people, and it certainly scared our iwi. Something on that magnitude can destroy an entire iwi.''
He was pleased those involved were now in jail. The iwi had done what it could to help police during the operation, Piripi said.
The Far North's top policeman, Inspector Riki Whiu, said police would support local iwi by taking part in the blessing.
''It will give iwi an opportunity to have some closure and acknowledge the impact of such heinous criminal activity which has trampled on the mana of the place and the people,'' Whiu said.
''It will acknowledge the breach of tapu the iwi has sustained, but it's also an opportunity for the rest of the country, and the world, to hear from iwi about how they feel about the activity of this group of people, who are not from the Far North. How dare they bring this type of activity to an area that is steeped in sacredness and history, an area which is already suffering harm and not just from methamphetamine?''
Piripi said some Far North residents were upset when the finger was first pointed at local gangs after the bust, but that perception didn't last long.
Those jailed belonged to criminal groups in Hong Kong and Australia. Some of the Australians were so-called ''501s'', deportees named after the act under which they were sent to New Zealand.