A year on - visiting Awaroa Bay, the beach that Kiwis bought video

BRADEN FASTIER / Stuff.co.nz

A journey to Awaroa Bay in the Abel Tasman National Park which is also known as New Zealand Beach after a crowd funding campaign succeeded in buying the beach back from a private owner.

The waters have calmed since the quest to buy 'The New Zealand Beach' at Awaroa gripped the country and led to people opening their wallets everywhere.

The warmer weather has provided the perfect opportunity for visitors to the secluded beach to see first-hand what their cash has bought and what the whole fuss was about.

Like the telethons of the 1970s and 80s, the nation rallied at fever pitch to raise money for the cause,​ via the digital platform of crowd funding to a level never seen in New Zealand before.

Visitors to Awaroa Bay in the Abel Tasman National Park, also known as New Zealand Beach, after a crowd-funding campaign ...
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

Visitors to Awaroa Bay in the Abel Tasman National Park, also known as New Zealand Beach, after a crowd-funding campaign successfully bought the beach.

By the time the pledge period closed on February 15 2016, 39,239 Kiwis – about the urban population of Whanganui –  cleared $2,259,923.21.

READ MORE:
A campaign in pictures: How NZ ended up buying Awaroa beach in Abel Tasman National Park
Money floods in for crowdfunded $2m beach in Abel Tasman National Park
'Best beach on the planet' on the market for $2 million 
Iwi Interests at Awaroa

The groundswell of financial support from Kiwis was enough to fend off other prospective buyers and firmly place​ the seven hectare, 800 metre stretch of beach, in the hands of all New Zealanders. Six months later, it became part of the Abel Tasman National Park.

Passengers board a Wilson's tour boat in Kaiteriteri during a journey to Awaroa Bay in the Abel Tasman National Park.
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

Passengers board a Wilson's tour boat in Kaiteriteri during a journey to Awaroa Bay in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Fast forward to January 2017 and the beach – tucked away in the northern reaches of the Abel Tasman National Park – is now in its first summer of public ownership since the July handover.

Part of the beach's charm lies in its isolation – you have to make an effort to enjoy the splendour.

A one-way boat trip to Awaroa from Kaiteriteri, or Marahau costs about $40, or $25 for the short boat ride from Totaranui at the northern end of the park. 

Visitors disembark a Wilson's tour boat at Midlands Beach during a journey to Awaroa Bay.
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

Visitors disembark a Wilson's tour boat at Midlands Beach during a journey to Awaroa Bay.

It costs nothing for a walk in the park but fees are charged to camp, or stay in the huts along the way and must be booked in advance. 

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Leaving the claustrophobic summer setting of Kaiteriteri Beach, our boat arrives mid-morning at Awaroa and on arrival nearly everyone gets off, leaving just a handful of people to continue the voyage to Totaranui.

After the 90 minute voyage along the Abel Tasman coastline, most passengers take a left turn for the comforts of Awaroa Lodge, leaving the beach suddenly deserted, aside from a few industrious oystercatchers patrolling the shore. 

Visitors clockwise from left, Ben Dowers, Katie Lord, John Dowers, Sharon Van Kampen, Mark Dowers, Rose Dowers, and ...
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

Visitors clockwise from left, Ben Dowers, Katie Lord, John Dowers, Sharon Van Kampen, Mark Dowers, Rose Dowers, and Laura Dowers.

However, one group breaks right and heads straight for the newly acquired piece of land.

With the high tide waters fizzing through the golden sands and a light breeze blowing through nearby native bush, it is a serene affirmation that any contribution to the campaign was money well spent.  

The Dowers family hail from Christchurch but have holidayed in Golden Bay for the last 22 years.

Visitors Maggie Ivarsson and Gerry Engstrom enjoy the beach.
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

Visitors Maggie Ivarsson and Gerry Engstrom enjoy the beach.

Today, they have come to check in on their investment while hunting down a friend's old bach on the other side of the inlet. 

"We've been to Totaranui but never to Awaroa, so we thought we'd come and look at our slice of beach," says matriarch of the family, Rose.

"We thought, we don't want it to be spoiled - it's such a lovely beach."

Tourists and visitors soak up the sun at Awaroa Bay.
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

Tourists and visitors soak up the sun at Awaroa Bay.

Rose's husband John draws a square in the sand and proudly steps inside it as if to indicate his share of the beach.

For New Zealanders who visit in the future, this may become one of those iconic photo opportunities that fill Facebook profiles or take pride of place on a family mantelpiece.    

"It is a slice of paradise," he says.

Awaroa Bay almost feels like a private beach.
BRADEN FASTIER/FAIRFAX NZ

Awaroa Bay almost feels like a private beach.

For the seven-strong group, the visit has been a worthwhile experience.

"When you come here and look at this beautiful sand and sea – it's pretty surreal after seeing the pictures on TV," says family member Sharon Van Kampen.

Rose is full of praise for the team effort by Duane Major and Adam Gard'ner that drove the initiative and was only too happy to contribute to the cause.

"It was about $50 – they were pretty close to the target by the time I donated. If they'd been $100,000 short I probably would have put a bit more in," she adds.

"I think it's awesome, the guys that did it, they really stuck their neck out for the rest of New Zealand." 

Interestingly, Rose's brother Ken Lord was one of the lawyers who helped with the sale documentation. His daughter Katie is here today.

Further down the beach, Swedish couple Gerry Engström and Maggie Ivarsson are making the most of the morning solitude and 24 degree warmth.

Ivarsson read that some parts of Scandanavia have plummeted to minus 30 degrees celsius while they have been away.

While they have been to the Abel Tasman National Park previously, this is the first time they've made it to Awaroa and they were made aware of the crowd funding initiative after booking their trip.

They were both taken by the fact the public had mobilised to prevent the beach going under private ownership.

"It's fascinating because in our country you cannot close a beach," Engström says.

"I think it's awesome and especially today when you have all the digital opportunities through internet and crowdfunding, it is interesting," says Ivarsson.

Ivarsson recalled a situation in Sweden where journalists resorted to crowdfunding their articles from interesting places where mainstream newspapers would not send correspondents.

"There was that, and then I read about this buying of a beach over here – it's almost a new economy."

British couple Mark and Sarah Baines were unaware of the crowdfunding campaign but were in awe of what was on offer.

They rate the beach a "9 and a half out of 10".

"Can I say one thing about this place? No rubbish – in fact we found a piece of orange peel and were like 'oh my god'," Sarah says.

"It's amazing that you care so much."

"You don't see anything man-made at all – normally you expect one bottle washing up or a piece of paper, but nothing – I wish we could say the same for England," Mark says.

By early afternoon, numbers on the beach have risen as the tide goes out.

Several beach umbrellas have sprung up and  the sight of two stingrays has pulled several families to the edge of the turquoise waters.

In a sense, this feels like a private beach, away from the busy holiday hotspots in other centres. 

Thanks to people like the Dowers'. This small piece of land remains open to all. 

THE MAJOR-GARD'NER FACTOR

Six months on from the beach's official handover, life has almost returned to normal for the brains behind the Awaroa buy a beach campaign.

While Duane Major took his family on a week-long vacation to the West Coast over the New Year period, his brother-in-law Adam Gard'ner is continuing a long family tradition of holidaying in Kaiteriteri.

He hopes to get to the beach in the coming days.

After a Christmas Day discussion in 2015 prompted the two men to begin their $2.2 million quest, the 2016 festive season provided a chance for the two men to reflect on what had been achieved.

"To go all the way, it's a life experience that you can't predict or just replicate, so we just take it for what it was," Major says. 

Though mindful of letting sentiment consume the occasion, the pair put up a video on their Gift Abel Tasman Facebook page to commemorate the full circle moment.

"It always is a special day for us anyway, but with the beach idea hatching on Christmas Day it'll always hold another special place in our hearts," Gardner says.

Major says the successful campaign created "a non-sporting proud moment" for the country, anchored by people power and the generous side of the national psyche.

Stopping short of anti-climatic, Gard'ner admitted to "a different energy" since the end of the campaign.

"We loved every minute of it, it was so much fun. It wasn't terribly stressful but it was incredibly busy."

Although their involvement has tapered off since July, the pair worked throughout last year with Iwi and DOC to discuss the ongoing future of the beach.

A number of groups had approached the pair seeking help with their own projects.

While the pair were happy to lend a hand where possible, Gard'ner would prefer to see the baton passed to the next big Kiwi dreamer.

"We've kind of said 'look, it's your turn now' – we'll definitely look to help out where we can, but you give it a go and we'll get behind you."

"These little sparks of activities around the community are what it's all about- people with a really positive attitude that inspire others to get behind them."

Both men were still amazed by the international media interest in the campaign, Major has heard people have done PhDs on the campaign phenomenon.

"A lot of people said it might not have happened in another country and that's a good conversation point - there's a whole lot of circumstances that conspired together but one of them would be the nature of New Zealanders and the things we love and are prepared to work together on," he says. 

As well as being on the front page of a Turkish newspaper, the pair fielded interviews from Russia, China, South Africa, USA and Australia.

"It really did kind of reach far and wide and captured a lot of people's imagination and maybe take a look at the landscape of their own country and how that operates," Gard'ner adds.

"It was always about the beach, but it actually ended up being something bigger than that, didn't it? About what people can do when they join together for a positive cause."

 

 - Stuff

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