Island Tourism Boom

Kapiti Island Tourist BoomKapiti 2

Proposed in New Report

By K Gurunathan
11th November 2009

The Kapiti Coast’s tourism industry could soon be reaping the benefits of a new proposal to more than double the numbers allowed to visit the Kapiti Island Nature Reserve.

But any proposal to increase the current 86 visitors to up to 200 per day could set off alarm bells amongst hard-line environmentalists who fear adverse environmental impacts.

The figures are included in a report prepared by Tourism Resource Consultants for the Kapiti office of the Department of Conservation.

The report recommends an increase to 150 visitors per day, but notes that if all its recommendations were implemented Kapiti boatthat number could go up to 200.

The report has not been formally released but according to sources copies are “floating around”.

It is not known if DOC would trigger a public consultation process on increasing visitor numbers similar to public consultations held by DOC in 2004 to 2005. A majority of submitters then supported increasing visitor number to the northern end of the island.

Treaty of Waitangi Deal

The move to get more commercial value out of the nature reserve comes with changes in the way reserves are managed under the new National Government and the Treaty of Waitangi deal that saw a Heads of Agreement signed off by the Government and Ngati Toa in February this year.

The deal includes the return of Kapiti Island to Ngati Toa.

Kapiti Island Watching Interest (KIWI) spokesman Hugh Barr says the settlement process still has a long way to go as both parties have to make statements setting out the details of the agreement and Parliament had to pass an Act.

“Ngati Toa is likely to have different views of the outcome compared to the Crown,” he says.

The agreement, however, provides a guideline on what could happen – the 1965-hectare island and world-famous nature reserve would be vested in the iwi.

‘Gift for all New Zealanders’

Kapiti Island 1A  Ngati Toa press statement in February 11, 2009, said iwi would “hereafter gift it back to the Crown for the benefit of all New Zealanders”.  At that time, iwi sources said a strategic advisory committee to enhance Ngati Toa’s co-management of the island would be set up.

The creation of such an advisory committee is now included in the recommendations made by Tourism Resource Consultants.  It also advocates a consultation and implementation taskforce to “move things forward’

The main assumptions of the report say the management of Kapiti Island has evolved from pest eradication to active restoration and to monitoring and maintenance.

It says: “It is now at a point when visitor management needs to come to the fore and the concession document needs to be strengthened”.

Under the new proposal visitors would be able to get their permit and boat trip at the same time, book and pay for it on line, and access booking though visitor information centres and not only through  DOC.

There would also be just one permit for the whole island instead of the current two separate permits — one for Rangatira Point and another for the northern end which includes the privately owned Maori block.

Other key recommendations include:

  • Building a new reception centre at Paraparaumu Beach and improving the quality of service
  • More regular  boat trips
  • Building a track to connect  Rangatira Pt and the Northern block, and  easier track options
  • More activities and programmes, including the Marine Reserve
  • Better guiding services using rangers and volunteer hosts from the community.

More Visitors – less impact?

The report claims better management of visitor numbers, including phasing visitor arrivals throughout the day, would actually improve the present impact of visitors on the island.

The report notes that total visitors to the Kapiti Horowhenua region were forecast to grow from 1.88 million in 2007 to 2.01 million by 2014.

Tourism accounted for $83.1m of the regional GDP and 383 businesses were directly dependent on tourism.

It says Kapiti Island is recognized locally as the flagship and driver of the local tourism industry but visitor numbers to the island have remained static over the last 10 years, at 8,000 to 9,300 a year.

Most visitors to the island were from the Greater Wellington region with significant numbers from North America and the UK.

Political Opposition

Commercialisation, increasing visitor numbers and Maori sovereignty over the island have always been contentious issues.

In his February 11, 2009 press statement, Ngati Toa runanga chief executive Matiu Rei, said his iwi had conquered the island in early the 19th century and it had become a base for its maritime empire.

“Overtime the iwi came under pressure from the Crown to acquire its lands there for a reserve. The iwi resisted and in the end the Crown legislated to force the island’s acquisition,” he said. A small block at the northern end remained under Maori ownership.

In 1999 John Barrett and Amo Clarke started operating a commercial lodge. They are members of the hapu that owns the private land at the northern end.

Fear that uncontrolled access would introduce pests and threaten the nature reserve caused some public opposition and this pressure saw council issue an abatement notice.

Mr Barrett responded by exercising his right and made a consent application to operate an eco-lodge.

Local environment group KIWI launched a nationwide campaign claiming the lodge was a danger to the nature reserve. The application attracted 1000 submissions split almost evenly for and against the lodge.

KIWI said a further 2000 signatures in opposition were not accepted by Kapiti Coast District Council as individual submissions as they were submitted in a pro forma format.

During the hearing, Matiu Rei (Ngati Toa) warned that many Maori were watching the process with interest as there was a Treaty claim over the whole island.

KCDC Backs Ltd Commercial Activity

The council planner’s report to the hearing commission said some commercial activity with co-management with tangata whenua private land owners was the only way forward.

Chris McLean, author of the authoritative book ‘Kapiti,’ called for a balance between the need to preserve the unique island environment and nature reserve with the aspirations of the Island Maori. He said they have had great historical relationship with the island for several hundred years.

The hearing commissioners gave the lodge the green light. KIWI appealed in September, 2003, to the Environment Court, which supported the commissioners’ decision but imposed 56 conditions. They stipulated the setting up of a committee, including the appellants, to monitor the eco-lodge’s compliance.

Membership of the Kapiti Island Monitoring Committee became another battleground.

KIWI accused KCDC of stacking it with three iwi members instead of the required one. They took the matter back to the Court for a ruling. In June 2004 the Environment Court ruled in favour of KIWI and KCDC was forced to pay $3400 in court costs.

Part of the consent requirement included an independent audit of the conditions, its implementation and effectiveness.

In February, 2007, DOC was trying to get protocols on helicopters and planes buzzing around Kapiti Island. Mr Barrett was advocating an increase in the number of helicopters allowed to land and an increase in visitor numbers.

For six months, as part of the audit process,  KCDC had been trying to simplify the management process. But in March 2007, faced with the prospect that KIWI might appeal the matter to the Court, it withdrew the proposal.

Senior manager Kevin Jefferies said the applicant and appellants could live with the conditions.

Monitors Impressed by Maori Work

Kapiti IslandLast year, following a field visit to the island, some members of the Kapiti Island Monitoring Committee said they were impressed with the work carried out by Mr Barrett and his team.

With business growing at 20 per cent per annum, Mr Barrett’s company Kapiti Island Alive has been under growth pressure.

The family business now has five full-time workers and five part-time working mostly as guides. There are also eight trainees.

Other island hapu members are also looking at developing visitor programmes, including teaching surfcasting and processing fish for food.

The company was the Supreme Winner in the 2006 Te Roopu Pahiki Maori Business Awards and went on to be a finalist in the 2007 Wellington Gold Awards.

Mr Barrett himself is chair of the Maori Tourism Council and a member of the Tourism New Zealand Board.

He is also a board member of Nature Coast, the economic development agency of Kapiti Horowhenua region.

What are your views on this?