Rotorua mountain bike trails have been closed to protect the tapu status of a neighbouring lake.

Lake Rotokākahi, Green Lake, is privately owned by iwi and no swimming, fishing or boating is allowed.

Its small island, Motutawa, is the burial ground of many Māori ancestors, and Rotokākahi is now overseen by a Board of Control.

Last week the Board of Control told media the site was being disrespected by visitors not following the rules and it called for the closure of nearby tracks.

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Most of the trails were built by Rotorua Trails Trust volunteers.

This evening, in a post on Facebook, the trust announced "the trails leading to Lakefront Rd, as well as Lakefront Rd itself are closed until we can come up with a permanent solution."

The closures come at the peak of the summer tourism season in Rotorua.

A 2018 economic impact study revealed people who ride in Whakarewarewa Forest contribute between $30 million and $50m in spending annually to the Rotorua economy.

The Trails Trust post said: "So, Te Kōtukutuku is closed, the bottom sections of Te Ahi Manawa and Kung Fu Walrus are closed and Lakefront Rd is closed. We'll update you all when we know more but in the meantime, please be respectful of the situation and stay out of the area."

The 2.8km Te Kōtukutuku trail open last year.

It goes around a slope above Lake Rotokākahi and was approved by the Forest Recreation Management Group - made up of the Rotorua Lakes Council, Timberlands, CNI Holdings and landowners.

Rotorua Trails Trust apologised on Facebook for not posting about the situation earlier.

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"Over the last year, the Rotorua Trails Trust and Rotorua Lakes Council have been working with the Rotokākahi Board of Control in an attempt to stop people and their animals accessing the lake.

"We've added and improved signage, posted on social media and built fences in high access areas. Unfortunately, there are still people using the road who have ignored the signs and damaged one of the fences. This is one of those situations where the actions of a few have impacted the many."

KiaOra everyone, firstly we apologise to everyone for the delayed post around the situation at Lake Rotokakahi. Over the...

Posted by Rotorua Trails Trust on Sunday, 29 December 2019

In a written statement forwarded to the Rotorua Daily Post last week, the Rotorua Lakes Council said it had been working to establish a relationship with the Rotokākahi Board of Control to support the board's aspirations for the whenua [land] and lake.

The council would continue to work with the board to alleviate issues where possible, the statement said.

Ride Rotorua spokesman Graeme Simpson told the Rotorua Daily Post last week he had not heard about the issue until the media reports in the days prior.

"I know the rules about Rotokākahi and most locals would, I assume, and many of them have ridden in that sector for decades with no problems."

He said, "the volume of traffic out there really has jumped dramatically and it's very possible some people aren't aware of the tapu status, especially visitors to Rotorua".

Simpson said more signage would be helpful, and Ride Rotorua was "getting the word out".

"My personal opinion is tikanga and the environment should take precedence over recreation in cases like this".

Ride Rotorua spokesman Graeme Simpson. Photo / File
Ride Rotorua spokesman Graeme Simpson. Photo / File

Rotorua Lakes Community Board chairman Phill Thomass said the Rotokākahi Board of Control's comments had not been raised with the Lakes Community Board in the last 18 months since tracks such as Te Kōtukutuku opened.

"The Forest Recreation Management Group is the appropriate body to find a solution... In general, I'd like to see more signage around all our lakes educating people on their history and significance to Māori, and this may also help resolve the issue at Lake Rotokākahi."

He said he'd known about the lake's sacred status and rules since childhood.

"I think it's widely known by locals as well, there is an element of community pride that we have a lake that is protected in this way."

Earlier this year the International Mountain Biking Association renewed the city's gold-level ride centre status for another four years.

There are currently only six gold-level centres in the world.