Explainer: The complex history behind Ihumātao

Ihumātao is a contentious piece of land with a complex history and valuable heritage.

It's one of the country's earliest settlements and the first recorded place of gardens being established.

Some say it's New Zealand's version of Stonehenge, and that it should be protected.

"Of all the thousands of places you could build houses in Auckland, this is a really dumb one," says archeologist and historian David Veart.

The people of Ihumātao were evicted during the Land Wars in 1863.

A few years later the land was acquired by the Crown, then granted to the Wallace family, Pakeha settlers who farmed it for the next 150 years.

But five years ago it was named as a Special Housing Area and in 2016 Fletcher Building bought it with plans to build almost 500 homes.

At that point, the protests started, with the group Save Our Unique Landscape, known as SOUL, setting up a camp to protect the land.

Veart says heritage has lost out to housing.

"This situation was going to occur somewhere eventually, the checks and balances have all been removed," he says.

Fletcher Building has agreed to return 25 percent of the land nearest the Stonefields reserve to the Kingitanga in agreement with local iwi.

But that hasn't been enough to quell the protesters.

"My message to both sides [is] there's nothing stopping us from getting into that room together and finding a way forward," says Matthew Tukaki, national executive of the New Zealand Māori Council.

But the Māori Council wants more research carried out into the historical ownership and further surveying of the land.

"I would hate to think that we're going to be turning shovels on a place that was also a resting place for our ancestors," says Tukaki.

Veart says there's too much history to lose.

"There's the whole story of the human settlement of this part of Aoteroa written on that land."

And only in taking its full history into consideration, they say can its future and final chapter be decided.