Opponents of a massive housing development set to be built alongside historically significant land in Auckland say they will do whatever it takes to stop it going ahead.
The Environment Court yesterday released its decision, which declined to overturn the permission granted to Fletcher Building to put up 480 houses next to the Ihumātao and Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in Mangere.
Pania Newton and about 15 others from the group Save Our Unique Landscape, or SOUL, have set up a fully-functioning village at the site and have been living there for the past two years - sleeping in caravans, sheds, tents and even an empty boat.
She was not deterred by the Environment Court's decision giving the green light for the housing development to be built, and said she would go to any lengths to stop it.
"We've always maintained that we are peaceful, passive and respectful but if it comes to it we are prepared to stand in front of bulldozers to prevent them from coming onto this land.
"I'll put my life on the line for this kaupapa because it's so important."
The protesters said development would destroy the land, which was home to New Zealand's earliest gardens and was considered wāhi tapu (sacred) by local hapū and iwi.
The group's Facebook page has over 5000 members and Ms Newton sees parallels between what is happening at Ihumātao and the occupation of Bastion Point in the 1970s.
"We're talking about a 100,000 year project of human migration and it was here in Aotearoa that project came to an end, and it was here at Ihumātao that the history of Māori really began."
However, Fletcher's spokesman Steve Evans said the Environment Court's decision re-affirmed it was entirely justified in going ahead with the project. He pointed out the court found the company was actually providing a higher level of protection for the area than was required.
He called yesterday's decision "the last legal hurdle" and hoped construction would begin next year.
"It was clearly a positive step forward in terms of recognising the good consultative work that we've been doing on the project."
Mr Evans said Fletcher's had now been through the Waitangi Tribunal, the Māori Land Court and now the Environment Court - as well as the normal consenting process.
"The attempts by some of our opponents to stop the process have not been successful and we look forward to delivering the homes that Aucklanders need."
Mr Evans said the farmland the development would be on, which borders the 100-hectare stonefields reserve, was not unique or rare.
"[It] is not like the Raglan Golf Course or Bastion Point, which were publicly owned lands that had been confiscated from iwi and were returned by the government," he said.
"Much of south Auckland and parts of New Zealand now in private ownership were also confiscated from iwi, however, as private land is not able to be removed from its private owners, a government compensation process exists to compensate iwi for land taken from them."
Former Historic Places Trust archaeologist Dave Veart said "we've only scratched the surface" of the information the land could reveal - and if the development went ahead, it would be lost forever.
"It's like money in the bank having untouched archaeological sites.
"You know, you don't actually have to do anything with them - you can just wait until the technology gets to the point where, you know, who knows what information can be extracted?"
The Ihumātao Peninsula is also associated with arrival myths about the first Māori arriving in Aotearoa.
"Parts of the peninsula are identified with the arrival of the Tainui waka and are in fact identified with the arrival of the ancestor Hape, who beat it there by riding a stingray," Mr Veart said.
"That sort of idea - that memory - that this is the place where we started, seems to me to be a really good reason that, archaeologically, we should think, 'Aha, right, let's go and have a look a bit more carefully at this spot."
The proposed development would not be on the Ōtuataua Stonefields themselves but on adjoining vacant land.
However, opponents said the land was also of great significance and any development would be highly detrimental.