Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a halt to building work at Ihumātao until a growing dispute over the South Auckland land is resolved.
She addressed media about the Ihumātao occupation this evening after a last-minute meeting with local iwi, Fletchers, and the Auckland Council.
Ardern made the statement from Auckland International Airport before departing for a three-day visit to Tokelau, the first by a Kiwi PM in 15 years.
"Things have escalated in recent times around the dispute," Ardern said.
"We have heard a strong voice of young people, and at the same time the perspective of mana whenua, who want to see their people housed on their whenua."
The group leading the protest, Save Our Unique Landscape, had called on the Government to buy the land off Fletchers and return it to iwi. Group leaders have so far held off responding to Ardern's announcement, and remained in a meeting as of 10pm Friday.
Ardern said ministers met on Thursday about the issue. Members of the government met this afternoon with Fletcher, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, iwi and members of Auckland Council.
"There will be no building activity on land while we try to find a solution," Ardern told media.
"We haven't been directly involved in the dispute but believe we can help.
"There will be conversations with those currently occupying the land as well. They will be part of the dialogue."
Ministers Willie Jackson and Peeni Henare would meet with the protesters tomorrow.
Minister Nanaia Mahuta acknowledged there was a complex set of issues, but she was heartened by the support of Te Akitai and Te Kawerau a Maki, supported by Waikato-Tainui.
"One thing we heard is iwi are keen to strengthen their footprint in housing in the area, engage in kinds of conversations to solutions that are tangible and real."
Ardern added that all parties wanted to find a peaceful resolution.
"While there is a pause in immediate activity, it will take time, and to ensure people can be housed on their ancestral lands, was a key message coming through.
"That activity just couldn't take place while there was such a large gathering there."
In responding to a question about delays in making a decision, Ardern said it was an issue they had left to mana whenua, but they had a role to play in helping to find a way through.
"The message we're sending to those gathering is we understand and know you want to have your voice heard."
Cautious optimism among those at Ihumātao
Protest leader Pania Newton of SOUL, which had been pushing for the Government to purchase the land and return it to iwi, was yet to comment on Ardern's announcement on Friday evening, and how that would affect the gathering at Ihumātao.
SOUL have been occupying the site for three years but the situation escalated this week as Fletcher Building sought to begin building the houses and served those occupying the land an eviction notice. They are doing so with the local iwi's blessing.
However, the SOUL group, which includes mana whenua, say it was unfairly confiscated in 1863 and they want it to be turned into a public space.
The group there swelled to around 700 people today, with some setting up tents in the warm winter sun. Buses of supporters are on the way from Northland, and more sympathisers were flying in from Wellington. Further bus services are being arranged from marae around Auckland and a big concert is planned for tomorrow.
On Friday evening the gathering remained peaceful, with sweet waiata ringing through the air as hoards of people arrived, each with fresh supplies, answering the call for manaakitanga (hospitality).
Several kapahaka groups performed for the crowd, continuing even as light rain set in.
Tyrone Te Whata, who performed with kapahaka group Te Taha Tū, said Ardern's announcement was positive.
"There are conversations that need to be had and they need to involve everybody. They need to be much more open about what is happening than they have been. There have been a lot of rumours going around, a lot of fear."
Te Whata's father was from the village and Makaurau Marae nearby, and he himself had grown up in the area. He said there was a need for housing, but it needed to be balanced.
"We are in a crisis in this country, but that needs to be balanced with protecting history and culture. There is still a lot of hurt, bad blood, at what has happened here, since the land was confiscated, and that can't just be easily smoothed over."
Others spoken to by the Herald were less optimistic about Ardern's announcement.
"It is one thing to say it on television, but she should be here," said Rapata, who had travelled down from Kaitaia with his whānau to support the protest.
"We will be here to awhi (support) until the discussions that need to be had, with all mana whenua, are had."
In the kitchen and koha station, the kaimahi (workers) continued unabated.
"I haven't even had time to watch, what did she say?" said Donna Tawha Allen of Makaurau Marae, coordinating the troves of koha flooding in, including everything from food and blankets, to nappies and even tampons.
"We will be here as long as it takes."
With huge crowds expected for Saturday, from Auckland and all across the country, Tawha Allen said the koha coming in meant they had more than enough to go around.
"The manaaki here has been empowering."
The police presence remained strong, with the Herald counting 65 police officers in the line across the Stonefields, protecting the proposed site of a 480-home development.
The protest has reverberated across the country, with supporters holding events in Rotorua and Dunedin today.
Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt was visiting Ihumātao this afternoon.
"There are several issues facing the mana whenua and all other participants involved in the dispute," he said. "We need to bring together a range of perspectives to identify ways of resolving this dispute in an enduring way."