Mayor 'sickened' if iwi paid for triathlon on lake

The Taupo Ironman event is to go ahead after local iwi and organisers agreed to a confidential settlement.

Discussions were held all week after Lake Taupo owners Tuwharetoa Maori Trust Board sought to charge a levy for Ironman New Zealand competitors to use the lake for the swim leg of the international triathlon, to be held next weekend.

The trust board was reported to be seeking a $40 levy for each entrant, which would have netted about $58,000.

Taupo Mayor Rick Cooper said he was sickened and saddened by yesterday's announcement. "If a charge has been set for the use of the lake I would be extremely sad; in fact, I feel sick to hear it.

"It defies logic that a group of people can own something which was put there by Mother Nature, and I believe I would be supported by the majority of the Taupo community.

"If anything has been paid to use the lake - and I'm not privy to the agreement discussions - I'm sure it will put an end to other commercial events being held on Lake Taupo in future."

Central government should realise that such outcomes were the consequence of signing Treaty settlements, he said.

Ngati Tuwharetoa, under a revised deed of settlement signed with the Crown in 2007, are considered legal owners of the lake bed and air space above it, and have the right to license commercial users of the lake.

Other event organisers, such as the New Zealand Offshore Powerboat Association, are levied for the use of race buoys anchored to the lake bed during the annual "Thunder on the Lake" series.

Under the settlement, the iwi received $1.5 million a year from the Crown.

The annual Ironman Taupo event attracts 1500 triathletes and is a qualifying leg for the world championships in Kona, Hawaii, in October. Entries are usually booked out within 24 hours.

It has been held in Taupo for 15 years and is estimated to add about $4m to the local economy.

The contract to hold it in the town has another two years to run. The Taupo District Council contributes a confidential six-figure sum through its events budget to stage it in the town.

Tuwharetoa Maori Trust Board chairman John Bishara said an ongoing relationship between the board and Ironman NZ was important to both parties and Taupo.

"Lake Taupo is a taonga to Ngati Tuwharetoa and has provided for our people over many generations. As such, revenue from commercial activities will be invested back into our people.

"Tuwharetoa leadership and the trust board have always supported the ironman event and will continue to do so.

"Events such as this bring huge benefits to the wider Taupo community and New Zealand, and we are committed to supporting them."

Ironman NZ said it was pleased to reach an agreement. Ironman Asia Pacific chief executive Geoff Meyer said the organisation looked forward to continuing to work with the trust board for the use of the lake.

"Taupo is the home of Ironman New Zealand and we look forward to staging this long-standing, iconic sporting event in the region for many years."

The Dominion Post