A trust composed of Māori landowners has successfully bought 57ha of contentious land in Pātaua South in Whangārei.
However, representatives say the issues surrounding the land and neighbouring blocks have not yet fully been resolved.
"While the Whangārei District Council have turned up and admitted some of their shortcomings and failings, the Department of Conservation hasn't," said Mark Ngāhōia Scott from Te Waiariki.
It was revealed on Friday last week that the Pukahakaha East 5B Trust's bid on the 57ha block of land known as the Harrison Block in Pātaua South had been accepted, following a month-long occupation and years of work going on behind the scenes.
"It's taken up a third of all our [the trust's] funds ... That 57ha represents a very small part of all of the lands that Te Waiariki have lost," said Scott.
According to Scott, the trust was lucky to place a bid for the property on time, as authority over matters relating to the trust had only been "handed back to the tribe's hands" hours before offers for the property closed.
"The trust was sitting under the Māori Trustee and that has only come back into the tribe's hands last Monday ... The Māori Trustee had taken over this particular trust and it had been in the Māori Trustee for the last 80 years," said Scott.
"That hearing wasn't over until around 3.30pm and we had to quickly run off and put in the bid with only half an hour to spare before offers closed at 4pm."
Scott, who has been an active member of mana whenua efforts to resolve various issues in the area, said that the vesting of the land by DoC to the WDC went against its own internal advice and ignored warnings of damaging an "already fragile" relationship with local hapū.
The hapū was actively considering seeking a judicial review of DoC's decision to vest the land.
"They had outlined that the relationship with DoC was already fragile but they went ahead any way [and vested the land]," Scott said.
Following an Official Information Act request lodged by local hapū representatives, internal correspondence from DoC shows an operations manager stated in December 2019 that "the relationship with hapū remains fragile ... If the decision is made to vest the land in the council to allow legal access to the subdivision, this is likely to have a negative impact on the relationship".
Despite the warnings, DoC vested the contested land and that ultimately led to the occupation.
According to Scott, the hapū is now considering whether to end the occupation, or to continue occupying until all issues are resolved.
They were set to meet yesterday but were unable to do so due to bereavements. A decision will probably take place before the end of this weekend, said Scott. In the meantime, discussions around the future of the purchased block of land will be taking place.
"The grand plan is to return it to its former state by pulling down the stop banks and opening up the river," said Scott.
The river Scott is referring to is an old tidal river that once flowed over the land, connecting the Pātaua River and Tai Haruru Stream. The river and nearby lagoon ceased to exist after previous owners were given permission from local authorities to put in place stop banks, reclaiming the land.
Scott said the hapū is now considering the impacts of removing the stopbanks and what would need to be done to ensure continued access to what will once again be Pātaua Island.
"We've also been in talks with the local residents and ratepayers, who support the idea ... Because it's going to be a river, we're going to need a bit more than just a road," Scott said.
Whilst Scott admits there was a sense of relief among the hapū over the return of the land, there were still issues that needed to be resolved.
He said the fact that the hapū was forced to buy land it was alienated from is not an easy pill to swallow and a scenario that various whānau around the country find themselves in.
"We're essentially having to accept the fact that the only way to get back alienated lands is to buy it back ... The beach and the mountain are what we lost and that's part of the bigger scheme," said Scott.