The ''disgusting and disrespectful'' dumping of heads, skins and guts from stolen sheep at a popular swimming spot has sparked outrage in the Far North.
Lake Rotopokaka - or Coca-Cola Lake as it is commonly known because of its deep brown colour - on the Karikari Peninsula is a popular tourist destination and fresh-water swimming spot used for centuries by Maori for its reputed healing properties. It is also a precious ecological site.
Hence the shock of local resident Ian Burke when he tried to go for a dip late on Saturday only to be confronted by a rotting mass of sheep heads and guts. The offal had been dumped in a quiet spot used by locals about 200m across the water from the main swimming area.
''It was very hot and muggy so I thought I'd go in for a quick dip, but I was greeted by heads, skins and guts. The sheep had obviously been butchered there because there was still blood on the bank,'' Mr Burke said.
''It was pretty disgusting. It has spoilt my swimming hole for a while.''
He went back on Sunday to take a photo, then posted it on a Kaitaia Facebook page. By 4pm yesterday his post had sparked more than 140 outraged comments.
Anahera Hebert-Graves, chief executive of Te Runanga-a-iwi o Ngati Kahu, saw the post and alerted the Northland Regional Council's Kaitaia manager, Peter Wiessing.
Mr Wiessing said it wasn't just ignorant and disrespectful, it was also a criminal act.
The hoggets had been stolen from Rangiputa Station and then, to add insult to injury, the offal was dumped where many people went swimming.
The offal could have degraded water quality in the ecologically sensitive lake and put human health at risk, he said.
Council staff responded quickly, along with the Department of Conservation, arriving at the lake about 10am yesterday. They were beaten to it, however, by staff from Rangiputa Station.
Mrs Hebert-Graves said station worker Boyce Lawrence cleaned up the mess first thing on Monday morning.
''Thank God for local heroes like Boyce ... he's a man of few words but he gets down and does what needs to be done.''
It beggared belief that anyone would want to defile the lake, she said.
''Rotopokaka has been known by our people for hundreds of years for its healing properties. I can't even start condemning the people responsible, because I won't be able to stop.''
Rangiputa Station manager Scott Hussey said sheep rustling was an ongoing problem but was especially bad in the summer holidays and long weekends.
Last Monday a large number of ewes had been stolen, as evidenced by pools of blood in a paddock where they had been shot and dragged to a truck.
A week earlier a group of children aged 10-15 had been caught in the act on a neighbouring farm. The sheep's throats had been cut but the young rustlers had been nabbed before they could steal the meat.
The lake was used by many of his staff and their children so they were wild about the dumping.
''You wouldn't want them to catch you doing it,'' Mr Hussey said.
Mr Wiessing said there were similar problems around Northland with people dumping fish waste in swimming areas. Children ended up with spikes in their feet and the offal attracted sharks and stingrays.
He urged people to dispose of animal waste properly by burying it at least 50m from water.
Some people mistakenly believed eels would clean up offal dumped in fresh water but the volume was too great so it just rotted. In any case, discharging animal waste in water was an offence, he said.
Mr Burke said he was considering going back into the lake today, once the rain eased, to hook out any guts left behind.
Rotopokaka is one of several dune lakes on the Karikari Peninsula. It gets it nickname, Coca-Cola Lake, from the natural tannins which stain its water a deep brown. It is accessed from Ramp Rd near the southern end of Tokerau Beach.