Wellington mayor Andy Foster says he wasn't pitching tents with protesters at Shelly Bay, but rather being a "good camper" and helping to fix a broken pole.
Iwi group Mau Whenua met on Sunday to protest against a $500,000 million housing development at Shelly Bay, two weeks after city councillors voted to sell and lease land the council owns there.
Foster, a long-time opponent of the development plans, voted against the deal.
Mau Whenua member Dr Catherine Love gave a stark warning to councillors before they voted.
"You face today your Ihumātao moment. Please think wisely, use today to put an end to the conflict that has been, and the risk of further conflict", she said.
Foster was photographed yesterday helping Mau Whenua members with the tents, wearing his suit, after attending a formal reception at Government House.
Controversy erupted after the photographs were posted on social media as Foster had seemingly declared war on his own council.
But Foster told the Herald that was "absolutely not" the case.
He said he was invited to a "community gathering" scheduled at Shelly Bay on Sunday afternoon from 2pm.
"At that stage they had some tents up and they had a broken pole. I was being a good tramper and camper- I helped them with the broken pole. The tent was already up.
"There has been more written about a broken tent pole than seems reasonable at this stage.
"Some people want to take one and one and make about 16."
But some of Foster's councillors are absolutely fuming.
Councillor Tamatha Paul said Foster's behaviour was a "display of total disregard for the will of council he is supposed to be leading".
Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons said the council's focus should be on things like fixing water and transport infrastructure.
"The Wellington mayor protesting his own council's decisions puts us in uncharted waters."
Councillor Rebecca Matthews said they had all agreed to put the vote behind them.
"I would have done, had the vote gone the other way, so I see the mayor going and participating in the occupation as undermining our decision as a council.
"There's always going to be disagreements, and people are free to express their opinion, but the mayoralty does require you to rise above."
Councillor Jill Day said Foster's actions were disrespectful and showed little understanding of the position iwi were in.
"This is all very disappointing, we've already voted to support the right of mana whenua to determine their own future."
When asked if he knew the invitation was from Mau Whenua, or that they were planning to occupy the land, Foster said: "To be honest ... I'd actually have to pass on that one. I knew there was a gathering, and I knew there were quite a number of different parties and people involved in it."
Mau Whenua believe iwi-owned land should never have been sold to developers in the first place alleging the deal failed to get the necessary support from 75 per cent of Taranaki Whānui members to go ahead.
A case is scheduled to be heard at the High Court in March.
When asked what could be expected of his relationship with Mau Whenua in the future, Foster said:
"It's not my intention to be going and spending a lot of time over there, no."
Many councillors who voted in favour of selling and leasing the council-owned land said it was not for the council to wade into an iwi dispute, which the High Court is scheduled to hear in March next year.
Foster lashed out on Facebook following the vote, and refused to front media, choosing to issue a statement through his office instead.
But in his post he said the council has left others to fight what Wellingtonians and he believe in.
"I am deeply saddened for many thousands of Wellingtonians who care passionately about this iconic place, and that council is not standing with you."