Genuine question: how far down from the summit is a mountain no longer sacred?

Guest post

Trampers seeking to climb Mt Ngauruhoe, or “Mt Doom”, will be asked to show “respect” for the mountain by giving up their quest.

The popular trek up Mt Ngauruhoe, a feature of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, is an added bonus for keen walkers who embark on the 20-kilometre journey along one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks.

The mountain holds a special attraction for some visitors thanks to its famous role as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings.

But the Department of Conservation (DOC) wants people to stop walking up Ngauruhoe as its peak, along with Mt Ruapehu’s peak, are considered sacred.

DOC removed access signs to the peaks in October, and up to five rangers will be monitoring the area from Saturday.

DOC biodiversity services manager Bhrent Guy said the department was not telling people to stop climbing the mountain, but rangers would tell them “to respect [the mountain] by not going up there”.

It’s nice to show a bit of respect for other people’s feelings by not deliberately doing things that upset the sensibilities of a stone-age belief that a mountain is a person, but what practical limits do we have to set here?

It’s clear they don’t have a legal way to keep people off it.  They simply have stopped advertising the route and put some people around it to go “boo”.

There are many places around New Zealand that are apparently sacred to some Maori.  Quite a number of rivers.  Quite a number of springs.  And quite a number of prominent geological features.

I don’t see why their connection with parts of the land prevents others from being there.  Or drinking its water, or swimming in it, or indeed walking across the land.

If the summit is especially tāpu, I’d like to know how Maori spiritually define the summit.  Is it “the” highest point?   Anywhere 10m or higher up to the highest point?   Would I respect it by stopped 11m short?   Am I really respecting it 11m down, and disrespecting it 9m down?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Just like I wouldn’t take a leak against a memorial stone at the top for someone who had died there, but would take a leak somewhere else, I wouldn’t deliberately go dance on the bit that people consider sacred.

But the problem is that it’s all a bit woolly.


– Stuff

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

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