Caves money buried under writs

16:00, Apr 04 2014

The restoration of the iconic King Country hotel where the Queen and Prince Philip spent the last night of 1953 has slowed to a near standstill while a long-running dispute between descendants of the Maori explorer who helped chart the Waitomo Caves plays out in court.

Waitomo Caves Hotel, where the royal couple stayed during their tour of the Commonwealth, was due for a $3.5 million restoration in 2012.

But the Tanetinorau Opatai Trust, which owns the 1908 hotel, has not received any money from the Waitomo Caves tourism operation for seven years, thanks to a Maori Land Court case referred to the Maori Appellate Court.

Retired postmaster Norman Tane is questioning who should benefit from the proceeds of the Waitomo Caves tourism operation.

The descendants of Tanetinorau Opatai, who explored the caves with European Fred Mace in 1887, are awaiting the ruling.

Tourism Holdings Ltd, which runs the operation at Waitomo Caves, pays between $700,000 and $800,000 a year to the Ruapuha Uekaha Hapu Trust (RUHT) which, until Tane's challenge, distributed the money to four Maori trusts.


Tane, who did not return a call from the Times, claims funds should be distributed among individual descendants of Opatai rather than trusts.

If the court rules in Tane's favour, it will mean more and more descendants of Opatai will get less from the tourism operation down the generations, providing income remains consistent.

If things don't change, the trusts can continue with projects which better the community.

Several residents of the tight-knit community, who asked not to be named, told the Times they were concerned regarding the effect the unresolved case was having on the village.

Around 20 of the hotel's 45 rooms are not up to occupancy standard, and won't be until the restoration can get under way.

Former Otorohanga mayor Eric Tait said he had resigned as chairman of the board of Waitomo Caves Hotel 2010 in November 2013, partly over frustrations about the lack of funding. He also had other business interests he wanted to focus on.

"It's disappointing, because the Tanetinorau Opatai Trust trustees had planned to spend a significant portion of their annual funding from the RUHT on the upgrade of the hotel, " Tait said.

A small amount had been spent on remedial work, he said.

Tanetinorau Opatai Trust chairman Angela Pope declined an interview, and Waitomo Caves Hotel general manager Pat Scanlon did not return a call.

Tanetinorau Opatai Trust property manager Vance Winiata said it would be nice if the RUHT money was unfrozen, but the hotel's restoration was not entirely dependant on it.

Waitomo Adventures founder Nick Andreef, also spokesman for tourism organisation Destination Waitomo, said he wanted the hotel restored because tourists were staying in hotels in Rotorua because there were not enough beds in Waitomo.

"My estimate is that we could make $25 million extra per year if we could get them to stay longer."

RUHT chairman Peter Te Matakahere Douglas was careful not to criticise the court, which had suspended payments until the case is resolved.

Distributing any of the money would go against a court order, he said.

‘It is not known when the court will resolve the case. 


Caves operators Tourism Holdings Ltd pays between $700,000 and $800,000 a year to the Ruapuha Uekaha Hapu Trust.

The trust distributes 51 per cent to hotel owner Tanetinorau Opatai Trust and 24 per cent to Haami Haereiti Trust and 12.5 per cent to the Te Riutoto and Te Whatakaraka trusts.

No money has been paid for seven years due to a Maori Land Court case.

In the meantime, the 1908 hotel needs a multi-million dollar renovation. 

Waikato Times