An enormous pohutukawa takes root in downtown Mount Maunganui, standing tall among new residential developments.
The Pitau Road tree, which is estimated to be 500 years old, has been through it all. Withstanding Cyclone Bola in 1998 and the urbanisation of Mount Maunganui.
A Tauranga City Council project recently saw the installation of a sign on Pitau Reserve, reflecting on the significance of the tree.
The tree is a reminder for the community to reconnect with the history behind the area's sacred sites, says Ngai Tukairangi hapu chair Anaru Timutimu.
"It's a wahi tapu, a sacred place," says Anaru. "It's in the middle of urbanisation which makes it that little bit more special.
"This tree is important to all iwi in Tauranga Moana, and it's slightly sad to see it squashed between building and development.”
It’s about 16.5 metres tall, has a spread of 30 metres and is one of the oldest known trees in Tauranga.
"Tauranga Moana kaumatua Kihi Ngatai of Ngai Te Rangi tells of the area surrounding this tree being used for the preparation of tupapaku for burial," the sign reads.
Anaru says the tree’s association to the deceased and death means it needs to be treated with particular care.
The Tauranga City Plan Notable Tree register protects the Pitau Road pohutukawa through rules around what can be done to it. Council completes a full inspection of it every three years.
Community is encouraged to view it, but we ask that people don’t do anything to damage the tree, says Council Community Services general manager Gareth Wallis.
Wooden infrastructure props up the tree’s branches which were damaged after a “split out failure” in the mid-1990s.
Gareth hopes the tree will be self-supporting within three years.
"Our goal is to phase out all of the old struts by establishing natural aerial roots, capable of retaining the tree’s form as it develops.”
Anaru encourages locals to connect with and cherish sites of significance around the peninsula, saying the Pitau Road pohutukawa, Mauao and Hopukiore (Mount Drury) all have important stories to tell.
“These sites are special icons and can’t be replaced.
“If you grow up in a place, whether you are Maori, Pakeha or a newcomer – knowing these stories strengthens the linkages to your home particularly when you move away or travel.”
He says Ngai Tukairangi hapu are working to support and elevate the stories of these historical sites in Tauranga Moana.