New Zealand's own version of the Statue of Liberty may soon welcome visitors at the entrance to Auckland Harbour.
The structure of Papatūānuku the Earth Mother, proposed by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and part-funded by Auckland Council, would stand 30 to 50 metres tall on the historic headland of Takaparawhau/Bastion Point.
That would make it as big as, if not bigger than, the New York icon, which is 46m.
The iwi has conceived it as Auckland's version of the Statue of Liberty or the 30m Christ the Redeemer above Rio de Janeiro, visible in lights at night from across the city, with stunning views from downtown, the North Shore, and from ships and ferries.
Mayor Phil Goff said it "has the potential to be an iconic symbol of Auckland".
"It will reflect the unique culture and identity of our city and be enjoyed equally by Māori, the wider community and international visitors," he said.
Auckland Council has approved $1 million in its 10-year budget for initial design and development of the proposed structure or "pou" - $100,000 for design in the current financial year and a further $900,000 for initial development next year.
"It is anticipated that council funding will be supported by other funding contributions," the council said.
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust chairwoman Marama Royal said "conceptual designs" were still being considered.
"While there is still a consultation process to go through and a more detailed concept to be developed, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei supports the idea of having a culturally significant icon in Tāmaki Makaurau that will be recognised across the world," she said.
A video shown at the recent education summit by the chief executive of the iwi's tribal development arm Rangimarie Hunia depicted a conceptual design of a shimmering Papatūānuku.
"We are looking for conceptual designs that are timeless, that are majestic, that speak to the human spirit," she said.
But the iwi would not release a visualisation of the proposed statue to the Herald on Sunday.
Instead, the video depicting the conceptural design would be released "in due course", an iwi spokesperson said.
In Māori tradition, Papatūānuku is the land. "She is a mother earth figure who gives birth to all things, including people," the Te Ara Encyclopedia says.
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei sees potential for a structure "inspired from some of the world's greatest monuments".
"For me, this is all about nationhood," Hunia said.
"This is a legacy for our next generation to be proud of our culture, our history and our identity as ahi kaa [literally 'burning fires' in occupation] in Tāmaki."
Royal said there would be wide discussion on both the design and the exact location on the 60ha Takaparawhau Reserve.
Ōrākei Local Board chairman Kit Parkinson was excited by the proposal.
"From the tourism point of view, it would be an amazing addition to the Auckland waterfront," he said.
He said the iconic pou could stand on the western headland of the reserve above Kelly Tarlton's aquarium and Okahu Bay, so it would not detract from the memorial to Michael Joseph Savage on the eastern headland above Mission Bay.
He said it would need to be tall to stand above a forest of more than 10,000 kauri trees which have been planted on the headland.
Ōrākei ward councillor Desley Simpson said the proposal tied in with a strategy of developing a Māori visitor cultural experience at Bastion Point.
"It is envisaged that the pou will be installed in time for the America's Cup, and create an iconic cultural feature for Auckland that is attractive to both visitors and residents," she said.
Ōrākei Community Association chairman Alastair Bell said Hunia and Simpson outlined the proposal at the association's annual general meeting this week and the community "welcomes the intention that was expressed to have input and have a discussion about it".
The historic headland was confiscated by the Colonial Government in 1886 to build a now-demolished Fort Bastion, and the Ngāti Whātua people were moved to a village in Okahu Bay.
The Okahu Bay land was also confiscated by the Government for a park in 1951 and the people were moved again to nearby Kitemoana St. Their houses and marae in Okahu Bay were burnt down in 1952.
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei occupied the headland for 506 days from January 1977 to stop a proposed housing development by the Muldoon Government.
The iwi lodged a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal in 1984 and the land was returned to the iwi in 1991. Since then it has been governed jointly with the Auckland Council.