Kaikoura Island – Scenic Reserve

The Opening

On the 7th May 2005 over 300 people joined locals to celebrate the purchase and opening of Kaikoura Island as a Scenic Reserve. Rough seas prevented the Fullers ferry from berthing at the island so the ceremony was relocated to The Port FitzRoy Boat Club on neighbouring Great Barrier Island after a circumnavigation of Kaikoura Island.

Five years after the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act was passed, the Government had finally contributed almost $8 million of the $10.5 million price of Kaikoura and was now investing $2 million for conservation work on the seven Gulf islands. The funds spread over four years will go towards pest eradication, track development, and signage on Kaikoura, Waiheke, Motuihe, Motutapu, Rangitoto, Rakitu and Great Barrier islands. The massive planting programme required on Tiritiri Matangi is not necessary on Kaikoura Island because of the natural regeneration of existing native bush.

Known as Project Hauraki, with the funding spread of four years, Prime Minister Helen Clark and Conservation Minister Chris Carter spoke of how the project was designed to raise the profile of the Hauraki Gulf as a visitor destination.  Community Trusts and numerous volunteers were acknowledged and it was intended that Project Hauraki would complement their work in island restoration.

How it Came About

In May 2004 Kaikoura Island came into public ownership after a lengthy campaign which began when the island was for sale at $2m in 1995.  At that time a group called “Save our Islands Trust” attempted to have the island brought into public ownership.  However, the Department of Conservation, Auckland Regional Council and Auckland City were not interested.  During the summer of 2002-2003 the island went back on the market for $10m and the Native Forest Restoration Trust announced it’s intention to begin fundraising.

Again the Department of Conservation wasn’t interested saying “Kaikoura Island doesn’t have the conservation value to justify its price”.  Initially Conservation Minister Chris Carter said he did not propose to purchase the island. 

At the same time there was public debate about the suitability of plans for a $10m glass building in memory of Sir Peter Blake.  This debate prompted Brian Rudman, Herald reporter to make the suggestion, in his column, that Kaikoura Island would be a more fitting memorial.  “Blake’s dream was to save endangered parts of the planet for future generations and to educate the youth of the world about the fragility of the eco-system.  Where better to start than at home on Kaikoura Island?” he asked.

The Herald was swamped by support of the purchase of Kaikoura Island as a memorial to Sir Peter Blake.  The idea had the backing of Christ Carter, Conservation Minister, former Team NZ Director and Blake mentor Sir Tom Clark and former world champion sailor Tony Bouzaid.  Sir Tom said it was a “wonderful idea, especially if it acquired a camp where people could learn to sail and the island was conserved as creatively as Tiritiri Matangi”.

A TV One Colmar Brunton poll on the 16th of June 2003 revealed 72% support from New Zealanders to buy Kaikoura Island and make it an environmental reserve. 

In their editorial of 23rd June 2003 Jim Holdaway and Ted Lees urged those responsible for the stewardship of the Hauraki Gulf to hold true to the early vision of the people of Auckland which was to acquire and protect as many as possible of the 60 special islands within its waters.  The goal, they said, was always for the Hauraki Gulf Park to be enlarged and enriched.

Also on the 23rd June 2003, in Bernard Orsman’s Herald column, it was reported that NZ’s largest conservation group Forest and Bird supported the purchase of Kaikoura Island, calling for greater recognition of the Barrier islands in the Gulf for threatened plants and animals. 

In a presentation to the Council by the Native Forest Restoration Trust spokesman Geoff Davidson said “it is the last chance to buy Kaikoura before it is sold and subdivided.  It is a ‘reality waiting to happen’ with cabin facilities already in place for an outward bound type environmental education experience”.

In August 2003 Auckland Mayors were prodded into action to consider how councils could contribute to the purchase of Kaikoura Island. The Nature Heritage Fund, an independently run fund set up by the Department of Conservation is confirmed to contribute $1 million.  Mayor Sir Barry Curtis is quoted in a Herald column by Anne Beston as saying “I happen to believe the islands of the Gulf should be held in public ownership for the benefit of future generations”.  The Native Forest Restoration Trust applied to a number of Charitable Trusts and two corporates had expressed interest in helping improve the island’s accommodation for children’s camp type activities.

In October of 2003 Greg McKeown, an Auckland City Councillor, wrote “While Kaikoura as a project stands on its own, there are nevertheless good links with Sir Peter’s life. It lies off the coast of Great Barrier Island, which was described by Sir Peter as probably his favourite island, and which captures the on-the-edge feeling that characterised so much of what the great sailor and environmentalist did.

New Zealand is a world centre of seabird diversity, and Kaikoura would provide an opportunity to establish new colonies for threatened species, as well as becoming a breeding sanctuary for many natives.  Islands provide an advantage for breeding programmes and pest control. Furthermore, a programme on Kaikoura would provide an incentive to eradicate pests on Great Barrier, where the Department of Conservation has large holdings.

The argument that Kaikoura is too far away is nonsense. Many school trips head off to National Park, and some even go overseas. We can make Great Barrier and Kaikoura more accessible to more New Zealanders and there’s enough work to be done to make the project relevant for decades. Great Barrier Island and Kaikoura offer a remote wilderness and island experience quite different from the inner Hauraki Gulf islands. The alternative of letting island assets such as Kaikoura fall into international ownership and become the private playgrounds of a few wealthy individuals should have no carry with the Government and regional and local councils”.

In his Herald column on 7th May 2004 Brian Rudman announced that “the Government had stepped in to save a Hauraki Gulf jewel from falling into foreign hands by buying Kaikoura Island for $10.5 million”.  The Government will contribute about half the cost through the Nature Heritage Fund’s ‘Public Wildlands Programme’.  The ASB Trusts will contribute at least $2 million, Auckland Regional Council $250,000 and a further $250,000 from the region’s city and district councils.

Mike Lee – Chairman, Auckland Regional Council Speech Notes (07 May 2005)

The Prime Minister, Rt Hon. Helen Clarke, the Minister of Conversation, Hon. Chris Carter, Merv Maghee, Chairman of the Ngati Rehua Trust Board and elders of the Tangata Whenua Ngati Rehua, His Worship Bob Harvey, Mayor of Waitakere City, Cr Faye Storer, Chair of NHF Di Lucas, Chair of ASB Bank Community Trust, Kevin Prime, Chair GBI Community Board, Tony Bouzaid, Chair of Conservation Board, Paddy Stafford Bush, Chair of Motu Kaikoura Trust and Chair of the Motu Kaikoura Trust, Geoff Davidson.

This is a remarkable gathering of people. There are so many important people, people whom I know who have been involved with conservation in the Auckland Region. It is as if my email inbox has taken human form. The trip over must have been one of the biggest networking exercises ever held.

This literally is a time of thanks giving. The purchase into public ownership of Kaikoura Island was a long and difficult task – at times seemingly impossible – so much so that at time I felt St Jude the Patron Saint of hopeless causes must have intervened to keep the cause alive.

But good things never come easy and I want to thank all of these people, over many years who joined the cause to secure Kaikoura Island for the people of New Zealand.

First of all, D’Arcy O’Brien, the former Commissioner for Crown Lands, who tried unsuccessfully to buy the island in the 1970’s for the Hauraki Maritime Park Board.

Moving forward to 1995, and while it was a little disappointing that we couldn’t get ashore on the island, I personally find it very appropriate that we are holding the ceremony here at the North Barrier Boating Club because it was here that my involvement with this cause began, almost exactly ten years ago when Will Scarlett lobbied me in the bar over there.

In response, a group of us formed the Save Our Island Trust. I would like to acknowledge Whetu McGregor, Chair of the Trust Ben Dunbar-Smith, the aforesaid, Will Scarlett, Professor John Morton, Ted Lees, Hon. Phil Amos, Gordon Hodson, Lorna Cleave, Judith Voulaire, Lee Sutherland and Peter Aldridge.

Moving on to 2003 – I want to acknowledge Merv McGhee and Rawiri Wharemata of the Ngati Rehua Trust Board, also Allan McKenzie General Manager, Nature Heritage Fund, Geoff Davidson, Jim Dart and Bryan Davis of the NZ Native Restoration Trust and, of course, Brian Rudman of the NZ Herald.

Also Di Lucas, Gerry McSweeney, Jan Riddell of the Native Heritage Fund. the Nature Heritage Fund has done so much over the past fifteen years to secure natural areas and open space in public ownership, Brian Lythe Chairman of the Grants Committee and the Trustees of the ASB Bank Community Trust.

I also wish to acknowledge Auckland’s local bodies led by the former Chair of the Auckland Regional Council, my good friend, Gwen Bull and Auckland’s Mayors led by Bob Harvey who was a supporter of this cause from the start.

Finally, I want to thank the man who had the vision and the decisiveness to use his powers to secure this island into public ownership, Minister of Conservation, Hon. Chris Carter.

We should have no doubt that this is a significant and historic achievement. Kaikoura Island is the 8th biggest island in the Hauraki Gulf, coming in just behind the famous Motutapu (and I acknowledge Chris Fletcher, Chair of the Motutapu Restoration Trust who was here today, along with John Lawrence of the Motuihe Trust and, while I am acknowledging, a former Mayor of Auckland, can I also acknowledge Dame Cath Tizard).

Apart from its immense scenic landscape values, which we have just experienced, Kaikoura has enormous potential for conservation restoration. The value is intrinsic but Kaikoura has enormous strategic potential as staging post in the long-term vision of a pest free Great Barrier Island which would create a wildlife reserve of international importance. We all would appreciate the significance for biodiversity and the significance for economically vital nature tourism in the Hauraki Gulf and the Auckland Region that a wildlife reserve on that scale would mean.

Today’s journey is a reminder that the Auckland region is not just a slab of mainland – it is also an island region. I pointed out that Kaikoura was the 8th biggest island in the Gulf – there are more than 350 islands in the Gulf ranging from Great Barrier Island 28,000 ha to small islets and stacks. All different and valuable in their own way.

That is why the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act entered into law by this government in February 2000 has such enormous potential for the Auckland region in particular. Can we call Motu Kaikoura the anchor stone of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park? In this context, it is exciting indeed to hear of the Governments plans to breathe life into the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park referred to in the NZ Herald this morning. We wait to hear of the details of these initiatives with much interest.

This achievement was very much about partnership and leadership. Partnership with the community as exemplified by the gathering here today and personified by this unique gathering of personalities who have done so much for conservation. And leadership, leadership of this Minister and leadership of this Prime Minster.

Finally, it is important to remind ourselves that this would never have been achieved under any other government and so our enduring thanks must go to this Minister, this government and this Prime Minister.