• Tangata whenua flags fly at the site of the proposed development. (Reuters)Source: Reuters
Activist group Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) and local tangata whenua protest a housing development in southern Auckland.
Madeline Hayman-Reber

7 Aug 2019 - 2:43 PM  UPDATED 7 Aug 2019 - 2:55 PM

A national day of action has taken place in Aotearoa after police intimidated protesters at the site of Ihumātao in southern Auckland.

Activist group Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) have been camped out for over a week with local tangata whenua, desperately trying to prevent the construction of a housing estate by company Fletcher Residential.

They say it was one of the first places occupied by Māori people and that they want it returned to them, not used as the proposed site of 480 residential houses.

The country's media outlets are reporting that last night police stormed the camp to "maintain order" of the tangata whenua locals and allies, despite a "peaceful vibe" at the camp.

"We're not too sure why, it was very unexpected. It was very intimidating... I was concerned about the safety of the people," SOUL co-founder Pania Newton told The Morning Report.

"There were hundreds of people in the dark roaming the land. They were all here to protect it. There were many [police] in the paddocks, many on the front line, there was a very strong presence."

New Zealand Police have said that they ramped up their presence due to reports that the group was planning on occupying the area.

"Police are also continuing to have ongoing dialogues with protest organisers to ensure protest action remains peaceful," Counties Manukau District Commander Superintendent Jill Rogers said in a statement to media.

This morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged protesters to remain peaceful following the dramatic ramp up of New Zealand Police presence.

She has previously received criticism for failing to visit the site despite desperate pleas from activists, however she has since initiated a meeting between the parties.

This resulted in stalling the process until the local tangata whenua, the developers, and the Auckland City Council can come to an agreement.

"My plea would simply be again the same as I made a week ago - there are talks underway," Ms Ardern told TVNZ1’s Breakfast.

"What we're very keen to see is that while people are having their voices heard that we just try and make sure that of course everything is as peaceful as possible, that we do have a deescalation."

When pushed on her thoughts of the protests, Prime Minister Ardern defelcted saying it was a "really complex, complex issue".

"So the job that I see we have is to try and help find a solution and that solution needs to obviously involve manu whenua and that's the conversation that's being had now, and that's where I want to put all of our energy," Prime Minister Ardern said.

"Ultimately I think we do need a for Māori, by Māori solution. We need resolution and in the meantime people will want their voices heard - I acknowledge that, I hear there's a day of action - we just ask that they continue to be peaceful."

The tangata whenua activists say they won't stop their fight until their land is returned to them.

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