“It’s like someone went into St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and took a nude photo,” Dennis Ngawhare, a spokesperson for the local Maori community, told the BBC. “It’s a sacred place and something like this is just very inappropriate.”
Cook, 25, posted a photo on Instagram last Friday that shows her from behind standing at the top of the mountain wearing nothing but a hat, gloves and sneakers.
“This climb has forever changed me,” she captioned the photo. “I proved just how far I could push myself and I am truly proud of my accomplishment.”
According to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, “Mt. Taranaki has great spiritual significance to local Maori: the crater and summit is the sacred head of Taranaki, the rocks and ridge are his bones, rivers his blood and plants and trees are his cloak and offer protection from the weather.”
The organization’s website encourages climbers to “respect the mountain” and “do not stand directly on the summit stone.”
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Cook defended her actions, saying that being naked is not a sign of disrespect.
“[The photo] is not crude or explicit in any way,” she told New Zealand’s Stuff. “We made ourselves knowledgeable on the history of the mountain. We were quite respectful. Being nude is not something that is offensive in any way. It’s natural and pure and it’s about freedom and empowerment.”