Steps have been taken to stop people accessing a sacred Northland mountain after visitors uncovered ancestral remains.

A Northland family walking around the base of Taratara Maunga, near Kaeo, found bones and skulls tucked inside rocks. They did not touch the bones, left the remains in place and alerted local police who then contacted local Māori.

The discovery prompted a hui with local hapū, Ngāti Rangimatamomoe and Ngāti Rangimatakakā of Whangaroa, making a collaborative decision to restrict all access to Taratara Maunga to protect the tūpuna kōiwi - ancestral remains - that are secured within the mountain.

Temporary signage has been put at the three access points to the mountain and it is hoped they will be made permanent in about two weeks.

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Taratara Mountain is sacred and is off limits to the public. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Taratara Mountain is sacred and is off limits to the public. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Electric tape has also been erected around the mountain base with the hapū working with local farmers to put up permanent fencing.

The mountain, off State Highway 10, on Otangaroa Rd between Kaeo and Mangonui, is significant and within local Māori lore is known as wāhi tapu, or a sacred place, and has been designated as such in the Far North District Council District Plan.

The magnificent rock formation rises some 300 metres above sea level and is covered in native flora. Local kaumātua Harry Brown said the restrictions were put in place to mitigate any further disturbance.

"Taratara is a resting place for our tūpuna. We are taking steps to ensure they remain at rest," Brown said.

"We acknowledge that our maunga is majestic, and curiosity gets the better of visitors to our area. The restrictions are to protect people, not penalise them and is the most responsible action in stewardship by our local hapū," Mr Brown said.

Taratara, tapu mountain, Whangaroa, north of Kaeo. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Taratara, tapu mountain, Whangaroa, north of Kaeo. Photo / Peter de Graaf

He said hapū had long-established relationships with local landowners surrounding Taratara, who supported the decision to stop access.

Kuia Patricia Tauroa said the remains had been concealed and hapū would be taking steps to educate the wider population with a vision for the significance of the mountain to be introduced into local education and curriculum.

"The significance of Taratara to our people is known and understood here in Whangaroa," Tauroa said.

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"We seek to extend the scale of that understanding to safeguard any further confusion and intrusion."

The local iwi authority, Te Rūnanga o Whaingaroa, supported the decision of the hapū to make the mountain off limits.

It was a five-and-a-half-year old boy out with his family who found the skulls.

His mother said her son had peered into a rock crevasse and found the eight skulls.

She said the family had not been to the mountain before and there were no signs to indicate it was sacred and off limits, and there was a well-worn path that led them across paddocks to the mountain.

"It's a beautiful place to explore but when my son found the bones I knew it was sacred and to be respectful. I would be interested to learn more about this place," she said.

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