Coastal bach owners at idyllic Whanarua Bay are concerned they will be locked out of their holiday homes if iwi takes ownership of nearby land.
Opotiki District Council is working through a proposal by Te Arawhiti Maori Crown Relations to transfer several parcels of council-owned reserve land to Te Whanau a Apanui as part of its Treaty of Waitangi settlement.
One of those parcels of land provides the only way for beachfront bach owners at isolated Whanarua Bay on the East Coast to access their properties.
Owners are concerned that if the iwi gains ownership they will lose that access and be effectively locked out of their homes.
To further complicate matters, the land in question is reserve land and an ancient urupa.
Access has never been granted or formalised by the Ōpōtiki council, making the use of that land as a roadway illegal.
Bach owner Peter Martelletti said it was a big mess that needed sorting.
"This has all been caused by mistakes made in the past and they [the council] are not dealing with the mistakes," he said.
"We've been trying to have an easement drawn up for years. We were going through the process several years ago but then they put it on hold because of the pending claim.
"I feel like the Government policies are pitting us all against each other and it shouldn't be like that."
The original issues with access began when Whanarua Bay was subdivided in the 1960s. No accessways to the newly created blocks were formalised then, or since.
Residents used to access their baches alongside a creek, but that land was returned to the local hapū as part of its Treaty redress.
Residents then created their own road across the reserve land, which is steep hillside. They have maintained the road and installed traffic lights.
Closer to the sea, the road crosses a thin strip of privately-owned land, which bach owners have paid for an easement to use so they can get to their properties.
The road is also the only way many other Whanarua Bay property owners and the public can access the ocean. Hundreds of people illegally use it every year, especially over summer.
Theoretically, the private landowner could fence off their land and install a lockable gate that only the bach owners could use, placing the bay off limits to holidaymakers and other residents.
Martelletti speculates the council may be pleased to rid itself of the land due to the accessway issues.
It would also receive monetary compensation from the Government for the land, he said.
"They don't have to give it [the reserve] away, they could keep it," he said.
"They want to get rid of it because of the issues around the accessway, but that doesn't work for us ratepayers. If they can offer it to iwi, why can't they offer it to us? Why are we different?"
If the council did pass the land to iwi, they would be passing on all these issues too; Martelletti said it would be better for the council to hold onto the land until the access issues had been sorted.
It would be easier for residents to negotiate with the council as ratepayers than it would be to negotiate with iwi, he said.
"We can't be guaranteed that they will work with us; they don't have any obligations towards us.
"At the end of the day we just want certainty, it's not a lot to ask."
Te Whanau a Apanui spokesman and Ōpōtiki councillor Louis Rapihana said the iwi was seeking the land be returned as it was a place of great sacredness.
He said the reserve was a place of wahi tapu for the hapu of Te Whanau a Kahurautao and Rangi i Runga as it was an urupa and the resting place of many tipuna.
"Other reserves were taken with the rating of land and whānau not being able to pay the rates when land was surveyed and split up," Rapihana said.
"It is only right these lands are returned to the iwi and hapu of Apanui.
"Apanui is awaiting the result of consultation that the Opotiki District Council is going through for this situation. Many of the hapu and whānau have made submissions to the consultation. It is vital that we all work together on this process to ensure the right outcome for all concerned iwi, hapu and residents," he said.
Submissions on the proposed transfer of land close on Sunday and council planning and regulatory group manager Gerard McCormack said those concerned should take the opportunity to submit on the proposal to council and include any conditions they feel should be attached to the transfer.
"These will all be considered by council, and it is important to note that no decision has been made," he said.
"We were pleased to see around 50 people attend a consultation event at Whanarua Bay on the weekend and we feel we have a good understanding of the situation. However, we will still encourage people to submit."
As well as the reserve land at Whanarua Bay, the council is considering the transfer of land at Hawai, Omaio, Maraetai Bay and Waihau Bay.
Submissions will be considered at a council meeting in April.