Whānau worried about eroding cemetery

By Te Kāea
  • Auckland
  • Waikato/Bay of Plenty

Rising water levels is threatening an ancient seaside cemetery in the Coromandel, forcing the families of those buried in the cemetery to take action. Families living in Koputauaki are calling for the wider families to come together and work on a solution after decades of division.

A cemetery facing complete erosion as the sea eats away at the land.

“What we've got here is that the whole coastline is eroding,” says Richard Williams (Ngāti Maru, Ngāpuhi).

“My biggest concern is that Tangaroa is gonna take our tupuna,” says Karo Hikairo (Ngāti Hikairo).

While the threat at low tide is relatively mild, the anxiety is high for the descendants of the deceased, as the bank protecting the cemetery is hammered during high tide.

“It has moved probably about two metres. The bigger tides, it's basically lapping on the inside of the fence line,” says Williams.

“My mums there, my brothers, my uncles my aunties they're all there, and I know for a fact that the water has gone over them, not once, but many times,” says Hikairo.

The cemetery was established in the eighteenth century. While unknown, most of those buried there were Ngāti Rereahu victims of various epidemics, including the elderly and many children. But there are also more than 20 members of local families in marked graves.

“I hear them calling, I hear them saying, do something. We can't just sit back and watch it float away. I don't want to see them washed away, I don't want to go out there and pick up their bones and put them back in, only to be washed out again.”

The families of Koputauaki were first made aware of the issue over 40 years ago. Over time, the primary option was to build a sea wall, which was projected to cost around $300,000.

“Why haven't you guys done anything about it? Finance was the main thing, trine raise finance amongst whanau, you know it's pretty hard,” says Williams.

“It’s gonna cost a lot of money, but I don't think of the money, I just think about what needs to be done,” says Hikairo.

The alternative option is to exhume the remains and move them. An option that is creating further division amongst the families involved. 

“I know it’s gonna be a big thing but I'd sooner have them removed from here and in a safer area so they can rest peacefully. Coz the water is rising all the time, because even with the wall, it may still rise,” says Hikairo.

The families are now seeking more support and direction on the matter. With the hope of finding a solution before it's too late.