Port Waikato Holiday Park returns to ancestral owners Ngati Karewa and Ngati Tahinga
The acquisition of a much-loved Port Waikato camp site has been 177 years in the making for descendants of Ngati Karewa and Ngati Tahinga.
Early Monday morning, the return of ancestral land to Ngati Karewa and Ngati Tahinga will be symbolised with a dawn ceremony at the Port Waikato Holiday Park.
The Ngati Karewa and Ngati Tahinga Trust has purchased the property which went up for sale earlier this year, and it will be the first time the tribes have owned the land since 1839.
The 5.9375 hectare property features self-contained units, cabins, kitchen, lounge and bathroom facilities, 85 powered sites, 63 tent sites and a three-bedroom residential home.
The holiday park was part of 50 hectares around the Maraetai Creek in Port Waikato sold by 17 Ngati Tahinga chiefs on July 3, 1839 to reverend Robert Maunsell and Benjamin Ashwell for the purpose of establishing a mission station and school for the benefit of the tribe.
The New Zealand Mission Trust Board (Port Waikato Maraetai) Empowering Act 1986 enabled the return of certain lands and monies from the New Zealand Mission Trust Board to the trust.
However, the holiday park still came under the ownership of council and was then privatised in 2002 by the Franklin District Council.
For Ngati Karewa and Ngati Tahinga Trust chairman Richard Tiki o Te Rangi Thompson, it would be a special occasion for the tribe to once again own their ancestral land.
"Our own people look at the whenua first before the buildings."
Thompson grew up in Port Waikato and fondly remembers the campground teaming with holiday-makers around Christmas and New Year's time.
He said kids would climb to the top of Karoro Umunui, the mountain ridge the park sits beneath, to watch campers.
Despite some of the kids playing pranks on holiday-makers such as cutting tent ropes, Thompson said the campers were friendly.
"They'd come and borrow horses from us Maoris and we'd get to inter-mingle with them."
The holiday park will be run by the commercial branch of the trust, and options explored for the site Thompson said, include housing for kaumatua and business amenities for locals.
"You can do a lot when you're commercial - anything to try and help our community here."
He also looks at the work Te Puea Marae has been able to achieve in regards to homelessness as another option.
"I'm sure those people who are homeless and especially the ones with kids, it'll be a good thing for them out here for six months - they may be able to save up out here."
Thompson said there's also a long-term plan to maximise tourism potential in Port Waikato.
Fishing trips, scenic tours, and the development of walking tracks are some of the areas the trust would like to develop.
"It depends on the campers themselves, what we can give them and I think they want a lot out here," he said.
"I think what they need is something else along from the camp and the beach."
Thompson said the commercial enterprise provided an exciting new challenge for the trust, which was the biggest land owner in Port Waikato.
More importantly, he said it layed the foundation for the tribes' future.
"Only time can tell, I'm getting on and we want to see what it will bring for the next generation."