Waikumete Cemetery reveals behind the scenes

Waikumete Cemetery reveals behind the scenes

The country's biggest cemetery has lifted the lid with its first behind-the-scenes look at the graveyard.

Waikumete Cemetery's first open day was an effort to show it isn't all about death.

But even the cemetery's days may be numbered. At 108 hectares, with more than 70,000 graves, it is the country's biggest cemetery.

But the crowds aren't attending a funeral; they're lifting the lid on Waikumete Cemetery and discovering there's more to this place than death.

"Waikumete's a place for the living, and a place for the living to visit their relatives," says Waitakere Local Board chair Sandra Coney.

More than just a lesson in history, it's a chance to change perception of what a cemetery offers.

"It's a place where you can really have respite and just enjoy the calm of the cemetery and the quiet," says Ms Coney.

It's also a chance to for the public to learn the burial traditions of different cultures, from Dalmatian Mausoleums to Maori burial grounds – there's a resting place to fit all beliefs.

Ismail Waja is part of a group providing traditional Muslim burials for free.

He says it's a method for everyone, not just Muslims. That's because with no casket or embalming fluid, it's more eco-friendly than many alternatives.

"We've been doing natural burials for 1437 years. We're hoping more and more people will do this and not poison the earth," says Mr Waja.

With eco-burials growing more and more popular, the cemetery is opening a specialist site, where trees take the place of traditional headstones.

"We're providing an option for our community in terms of people who want less of an environmental impact when they die," says Auckland Council cemeteries manager Roscoe Webb.

But even with those new plots on the way, Waikumete Cemetery is running out of room.

"It's possible that within four years it will have reached its limit," says Ms Coney.

It's hoped more land can be freed at Waikumete to keep the graveyard alive for generations to come.