Sanitary towels, sunscreen, urine and other rubbish were discarded at the site, which is also known as Te Wai o Te Taniwha.
The failure to respect the delicate ecosystem of the pools, which are also recognised as taonga – a highly prized sacred object or space – by indigenous people, has resulted in the group Te Whanau ā Rangiwhakaahu Hapū confirming that a rāhui – a temporary ritual prohibition – would be placed over the pools.
“It’s a step we had to take,” Kris MacDonald, the chairman of the Matapōuri marae, told Stuff.
“There is no point in having a beautiful taonga like this if it’s going to be killed by too many people.
“It’s got to the point now where we have to do something,” he said.
The popularity of the pools has intensified due to people sharing social media posts featuring them, leading to up to 1,000 visitors to access the site every weekend.
MacDonald said that the closure could last for a number of years, until the taonga recovers.
Te Whanau ā Rangiwhakaahu Hapū are working in conjunction with the Department of Conservation and Northland Regional Council to address the problem. MacDonald said that the decision had garnered much support.
One local resident said, “The place is no longer safe for swimming. People are defecating and leaving their sanitary pads lying about. Also, all kinds of other rubbish and waste.”
The New Zealand government confirmed that 3.86 million visitors entered the country in 2018.
Popularised as a tourist destination by the Lord of the Rings film franchise, New Zealand is one of a raft of countries struggling to maintain the fine balance between sustainable tourism and overtourism.
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