Outspoken New Zealand First MP Shane Jones says continued closure of Cape Reinga on the basis of ''mangled Māori spirituality'' is threatening the North's post-Covid economy.
The road block, a few kilometres south of the cape, again hit the headlines last week when Northland MP Matt King took his parents on a road trip and clashed with members of Ngāti Kuri iwi who wouldn't let him through.
The road closure is, however, supported by the Department of Conservation (DoC), which has co-governed the area with iwi since a 2015 Treaty settlement, and was backed last week by the Far North's top cop.
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In Māori tradition Cape Reinga is the departing place for spirits to return to their ancestral home in Hawaiki.
Jones, however, has taken exception to claims the cape needs time to come out of its slumber after the Covid-19 lockdown, and called on the tribe's elders to rein in the ''road protesters''.
''The whole of the North is reeling from the economic impact of Covid-19 and is desperate for visitors to come, but economic recovery is being held to ransom by road protesters and their mangled understanding of Māori spirituality.''
While Ngāti Kuri had co-governance of the land, taxpayers had paid for the highway and all tribes of Te Hiku had rights to the cape, Jones said.
However, if King thought he had gained an ally in Jones, he was mistaken.
Jones said the Northland MP had ''absolutely zero understanding of Cape Reinga'' and called his road trip a political stunt and a trap which Ngāti Kuri had fallen into.
Most checkpoints gone, Covid-19 patrols are next
Kaikohe checkpoint still operating as police spell out rules
He understood why police had allowed road blocks in areas with pockets of vulnerable people, and credited them with deterring international tourists from spreading the virus.
However, Covid's economic impact was now the number-one foe, he said.
''The North has escaped the fangs of the medical disease, now economic contagion threatens to lay it to waste. We cannot afford to be divided as we respond to this new threat.''
King said he had been contacted by upset tourism operators who wanted to get back to work.
A Houhora business owner had called him on Monday to say he had lost a booking for 10 after they found out the cape was still closed.
King said he had taken the trip north to see if the road block was still operating, combining it with a family outing.
''He [Jones] can call it a political stunt if he wants. I've been on the case of road blocks for five weeks — he's just jumped on the bandwagon because he's seen the depth of feeling about this.''
NZ Transport Authority spokesman Andy Knackstedt said there no formal road closure before the Cape Reinga carpark but the agency had approved a traffic management plan including a turnaround point for visitors.
''The purpose is to help DoC and Ngāti Kuri safely restrict access to the land at Cape Reinga/Te Rerenga Wairua while they work to prepare the facilities to reopen,'' he said.
Meirene Hardy-Birch, operations manager for DoC Kaitāia, said as the kaitiaki of Te Rerenga Wairua, Ngāti Kuri had DoC's full support to manage the area and keep the community safe during the Covid-19 response.
Together with NZTA, police and DoC, Ngāti Kuri was working through a cultural process that allowed Te Rerenga Wairua to ''awaken from its slumber'' so the public could return.
The cape would reopen on Friday, Hardy-Birch said.
In the meantime DoC was checking tracks, campgrounds, toilets, septic tanks and water supplies to make sure they were ready for visitors to return.
She asked visitors to ''allow us this short period of time to ensure the tasks required for physical and cultural safety are done''.
Police said the local iwi had asked NZTA to keep part of State Highway 1 closed while they conducted tikanga at Cape Reinga. This request was ''not sitting with police''.
Police were present when King attempted to go through the road block and ensured there was no breach of the peace.
Last week Far North police area commander Riki Whiu told the Northland Age the iwi was undertaking a cultural process it believed was required on behalf of those who had died during the Covid-19 lockdown, so they could complete their journey to one of the most culturally significant places in the Māori world.
''They need time to do that,'' he said.
The road to Te Hapua, New Zealand's northernmost settlement, reopened on May 14 while another road block on SH1 at Ngataki was dismantled the previous week.
Meanwhile, Jones urged his ''nephs'' (nephews) at the road block to ''lay down their stop signs and pick up the go-to-work signs'' because the Government, via the Provincial Growth Fund, had money for fencing work coming to their area.
Cape to reopen for Queen's Birthday weekend - iwi
New Zealand's northernmost iwi will reopen Te Rerenga Wairua/Cape Reinga this Friday after a reconsecration ceremony.
Ngāti Kuri Trust Board chairman Harry Burkhardt said a team was working hard to put protocols in place and restore access to a place that was significant to many.
''As we move through to level 2 and to acknowledge New Zealand's response to Covid-19, Ngāti Kuri's obligation with the support of all hapū and iwi Māori is to now reaffirm the sacredness of Te Rerenga Wairua. This will be symbolically signalled by the opening of the gate at Te Werahi,'' he said.
The land on both sides of SH1 from the Cape to Te Paki, 19km to the south, was Ngāti Kuri whenua. Until the reopening the only people allowed on that part of the peninsula were Te Paki farm staff.
The two campgrounds in the area, at Tapotupotu and Kapowairua/Spirits Bay, were closed on March 20, five days before the lockdown.
Campers were moved to Rarawa Beach, about 60km to the south, where they were supported with essential supplies until they were moved to official lockdown camping areas in Whangārei.
The gate on State Highway 1 at Te Werahi, just south of Te Rerenga Wairua, was closed on March 25 as ''protection and acknowledgement of the wāhi tapu'' (place of spiritual significance).
Friday's reopening ceremony will be livestreamed so anyone can watch. Those planning to take part in person include Dame Naida Glavish, chairwoman of Ngāti Whatua.
Burkhardt said Te Rerenga Wairua would be open to manuhiri (visitors) travelling north during Queen's Birthday weekend.