Invitations have been distributed for Cape Reinga's public reopening ceremony this Friday, after a Northland iwi have controversially bared the road to the national tourist attraction for months.
Since level 4 lockdown on March 26, Ngāti Kuri have closed gates along State Highway 1 five kilometres from the northernmost tip of New Zealand.
This week, Ngāti Kuri have been sending out invitations to the reopening ceremony at midday May 29, and a group will be walking from the roadblock point to the Cape.
"As we roll out of response mode and into recovery, Ngati Kuri is taking the opportunity to reset our treasured whai tapu Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) and we would love for you to join us," Ngati's Kuri Harry Burkhardt said in the invitation.
"By 2pm Te Rerenga Wairua will be open for all to enjoy."
The ceremony will be capped at 100 people according to current lockdown restrictions.
Department of Conservation operations manager Meirene Hardy-Birch told the Herald the continued closure of Cape Reinga since New Zealand has returned to level 2 restrictions is for "physical and cultural safety".
"Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) for Māori and New Zealanders alike is the most spiritually significant place in New Zealand," Hardy-Birch said.
"It is here that after death, spirits travel up the coast and over the wind-swept vista to the kahikaa/pohutukawa tree on the headland of Te Rerenga Wairua and depart.
"Like many places in New Zealand it has been in a state of slumber during the Covid-19 alert levels."
Hardy-Birch said Ngāti Kuri had the "full support" of DOC in the closure, and the reopening is being worked through with police and NZTA.
Hardy-Birch said physical safety checks of facilities were also being undertaken.
"As part of Covid-19 Alert Level 2 safety procedures, DOC is working to undertake physical safety checks at Te Paki Recreation Reserve (including Te Rerenga Wairua site, walking trails, campgrounds and amenities/facilities) to be ready to receive visitors," Hardy-Birch said.
"This work includes checking of facilities like septic tanks, bore pumps, water filtration systems, water drinking quality and toilets."
However, the closure had been labelled illegal by local National MP Matt King, who uploaded onto his Facebook a dispute with iwi guarding SH1 on May 24.
"What you're doing here is wrong, it's totally wrong and it's causing division. Blocking off a road is causing massive division. It's not helping your cause," King said.
"I want to do what's my right, which is to go about our business on our public road. You guys are doing something totally illegal here."
NZ First's Shane Jones was also highly critical of the roadblock, telling 1 News: "This notion that the spirits need to slumber post Covid is rubbish, this notion that the spirits are travelling to Cape Reinga to hibernate.
"I hope they called into the Houhora Pub and met their cousins Captain Morgan and Johnny Walker."
When asked about the legality of the roadblocks, police deferred the question to NZTA.
NZTA's Darryl Walker however said the reason for Cape Reinga's closure was only for Covid-19 safety reasons.
"Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is working with Ngāti Kuri and Department of Conservation who are restricting access at Te Rerenga Wairua until the car park and public amenities are cleaned in line with Covid-19 health and safety guidelines," Walker said.
"NZTA, as the road controlling authority, has approved a traffic management plan for an information point (stop/go) at Te Werehi carpark to ensure the safety of local iwi and all road users until access restrictions are lifted.
"A traffic management plan will also be in place for any reopening event to welcome visitors back to the area."