Hollywood director keeps quiet on lake access

17:30, Feb 12 2014

Hollywood mogul James Cameron is keeping silent on whether he will keep up a tradition of letting the public have access to a "very special" lake he owns.

The director, whose blockbuster Avatar has strong themes of conservation and resistance to private ownership, bought Lake Pounui in 2012.

Concerns over the public's right to have access to the lake have come to light in documents provided under the Official Information Act, which detail Masterton district councillor and environmentalist Chris Peterson's inquiry in 2012 into whether Cameron would continue to allow access to the lake, south of Featherston.

Mr Peterson, a former Tararua Forest Park caretaker, deer culler and environmental leader, has taken students to visit the lake with a previous owner's permission, and called it "very special" and "iconic, unusual . . . for the whole Wellington region".

He said the lake, on the eastern slopes of the Rimutaka Range 90 minutes' drive from Wellington, was unique in the region for being large, unspoiled and dramatically located.

"You really only see lakes surrounded by native bush in South Island forest parks."


Lake Pounui was described in a regional council report last year as having "exceptional indigenous biodiversity values".

After Cameron bought it during a series of Wairarapa land purchases worth tens of millions of dollars and totalling more than 1500 hectares, Mr Peterson was concerned that previous owners' openness to public access might change.

He approached the Walking Access Commission, the government entity in charge of public access to the outdoors.

He was told that, as a resident, Cameron was not required to allow public access to Lake Pounui.

An Overseas Investment Office representative wrote in the documents that, if a prospective landowner intended to reside indefinitely in New Zealand, public access to the land was not a consideration in their application to buy it, just as it would not be for any other resident.

An esplanade reserve along the lake's southern shore is owned by South Wairarapa District Council, and the public are allowed on it. However, it is accessible only by crossing Cameron's land.

Cameron, 59, a Canadian, applied for residency in 2012 under Immigration New Zealand's Investment Plus category, restricted to people investing more than $10 million.

There are restrictions on what he can do with the lake, as it is protected under a Queen Elizabeth II National Trust open space covenant, but public access remains at the landowner's discretion.

Cameron is giving researchers from GNS Science and Victoria University access to the lake for scientific purposes. However, Mr Peterson said this did not constitute allowing public access, "but rather a very specific group having access".

He called on Cameron to allow anyone to enjoy the lake. "James Cameron . . . has a very strong environmental ethic and we need to experience these special places to have a better relationship with that natural world."

He had not contacted him directly, because his main interest had been whether Cameron was under any legal access obligation, but he was now considering doing so.

Neighbour Denise MacKenzie said previous owners of Lake Pounui allowed her and others to do a four-hour walk through "special" bush and, while she had not asked, she thought Cameron would be similarly receptive.

The Overseas Investment Office has said Cameron, wife Suzy Amis, and their children, Claire, Quinn and Elizabeth Rose, intend to live indefinitely in New Zealand.

Law firm Bell Gully, which represents Cameron in New Zealand, said there would be no comment from him "on private matters".

The Dominion Post