There's no substitute for seeing a site of controversy for yourself. No words, no maps, no photographs can tell you what it really looks like.
I drove to Ihumātao without much sympathy for the protest against a housing development near the Ōtuataua Stonefields. I wanted to see how near it was, and whether housing really would do much visual harm to the historic site.
The protest was being compared to Bastion Pt and that worried me. As at Bastion Pt, elders of the tangata whenua supported the housing development and younger members of the iwi were opposed to it. At Bastion Pt, their opposition had been based more on emotion than fact.
I remember my frustration as a reporter trying to accurately convey how little of Bastion Pt would be taken by the housing proposal. The Government's land department planned to sell a couple of strips on the periphery to round off the streets already there.
The housing would have been well down the inland slopes of that magnificent landscape and scarcely visible from the great sweep of open space up there.
But you had to go there to know the lie of the land. Facts, figures, photographs and maps could not tell the truth. They were overwhelmed by the controversy. People had the impression houses would cover the area where the protesters camped.
I had never been to Ihumātao. Many times driving to Auckland Airport I'd seen the road sign and remembered what a treat there must be in store out there somewhere. I love historic places. A site revealing traces of one of the earliest Polynesian settlements in New Zealand must be something to see.
So I confess when I drove out there last week I was hoping to avoid the protest and walk around the stonefields first.
No chance. The roads leading to the historic reserve were blocked, first by police and further along by the protest, which had put a barrier across the road permitting entrance only on foot. The guys on gate duty welcomed the nosy Pākehā, and those manning the information tables were helpful.
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Tents were pitched in a field where Fletchers was hoping to start building houses. The field and others around were fenced with stone but these fences were not ancient, they explained. They'd been built since Europeans arrived. The historic stonefields were further west, out of view beyond a low ridge.
Obviously the houses would not be visible from the stonefields and would not intrude on them in any way. The real reason for opposition to the project was a little volcanic maunga on the ridge. Tino rangitiratanga flags were flying on it but in its normal state it would be charming.
The little maunga was beautiful and yes, it made this landscape lovely. Maybe not "unique" as the Save our Unique Landscape campaign would have it, but lovely.
Even on an overcast afternoon with spits of rain around, the fields with stone fences sloping up from the road to the maunga did seem worth preserving. Yes, I agreed, a residential subdivision would ruin the scene from where we were standing, on the only road through the district.
The area didn't seem ideal for housing anyway. It had no views of the nearby Manukau Harbour. Their only outlook would be of industrial estates pressing right up to the road.
Driving here from the turn-off near the airport I'd been amazed at the march of industrial development. It used to be that industry clustered around sea ports, nowadays it flocks to airports.
So no, the housing project should not proceed. Hand-written placards posted on trees, buildings and the stone fences declared there would be no profit for Fletchers there. The company is reportedly keen to quit the project, understandably.
It should not be too hard to negotiate a solution that satisfies all concerned, not least the elders of Te Kawerau ā Maki who agreed to the development that would return some land to the iwi and some houses for their people.
Bastion Point ended well for the small subtribe of Ngāti Whātua Orākei once the elders and protesters found common cause in a Treaty claim. Most of the headland plus Okahu Bay was granted to them. Te Kawerau ā Maki could get co-governance authority over an enlarged historic park.
We don't do historic sites well. All the battlefields of the land wars should have their fortifications restored and be more accessible. I still haven't seen the Ōtuataua Stonefields. One day it might be possible to drive up to a reception centre for a proper introduction to remnants of life here long ago.