Conservation minister backs Tūhoe over Lake Waikaremoana closure, at odds over reopening date

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF
Lake Waikaremoana, along with its its Great Walk, has been closed since the Delta outbreak in August.

Conservation Minister Kiri Allan says the Government will provide the resources needed by Tūhoe to reopen Lake Waikaremoana to the public, though she is at odds with Te Urewera’s trust board over when that will happen.

The Te Urewera board, which manages the former Te Urewera national park, has closed the park and its popular destination, Lake Waikaremoana, to the public since August, when the country was locked down because of an outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19.

The relationship between Tūhoe, which has six of the seats on the board, and the Crown, which has three seats, appears to have run into difficulty. Board chairman Tamati Kruger has complained of inadequate resourcing for Te Urewera’s operations, though Tūhoe has denied Department of Conservation staff entry to do maintenance in favour of training their own people for the work.

Allan said on Tuesday that the Government expected “things will begin to open and operate” and that the Department of Conservation (DOC) was ready to resource the board for this.

Conservation Minister Kiri Allan: “Discussions that we've had to date ... have been that they are working towards opening up the Te Urewera park by December.” (File photo)
BRYA INGRAM/STUFF
Conservation Minister Kiri Allan: “Discussions that we've had to date ... have been that they are working towards opening up the Te Urewera park by December.” (File photo)

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“Discussions that we've had to date, and I have met with the chairperson of the Te Urewera board, have been that they are working towards opening up the Te Urewera park by December,” Allan said.

“There have been some claims around resourcing in my tenure. I've said, 'Look, all the resources are available to ensure that any New Zealander that goes into their park can be hosted in the way that's appropriate.’

“I know for Ngāi Tūhoe that's a very important value. They want to host their manuhiri appropriately, we want to see them be able to do that, and so from my end all options are on the table.”

Allan said she had encouraged the board to seek advice from public health agencies.

“There are no powers under the action which would enable the board to be able to make, for example, a permanent closure. You can make temporary closures on the basis of health and safety grounds ... My expectation, and from the conversations that I've had with the chairperson of Te Urewera board, is there will be an opening in December.”

However, in a statement issued on Tuesday, Kruger said the board was aiming to reopen Te Urewera in late January.

Tūhoe and DOC would “work together on necessary maintenance and repair of infrastructure” before Te Urewera was opened, the statement said.

“Our regional health professionals are doing the best they can with limited resources, and Tūhoe are working round the clock to prepare local communicates for the country opening up.”

The 2014 Te Urewera Act, which established Te Urewera as its own legal entity, not owned by anyone but managed by the board, had three purposes: to reconnect Tūhoe with Te Urewera, to protect biodiversity, and to ensure public access.

The DOC campground at Mokau, Lake Waikaremoana, cannot be accessed.
Christel Yardley/Stuff
The DOC campground at Mokau, Lake Waikaremoana, cannot be accessed.

Concerns about management were raised in a Stuff story, published on Sunday. Kruger, in the story, said the relationship with the Crown after settlement had failed, and Tūhoe and the board wanted a reset, dealing directly with Māori Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis.

On Tuesday, Davis said he recently had breakfast with Kruger.

“He expressed their thoughts in regard to Lake Waikaremoana. They have a point that with the passing of that bill, there is no national park there, and Tūhoe – I think it's appropriate that they are allowed to run their affairs as they see fit.”

Allan said she had not been advised on whether the facilities were being degraded, and she had no opinion on whether Te Urewera was being well managed.

“There are going to be challenges inevitably with all types of new constructs when it comes to these types of ways of managing ... There has been a real undertaking that parties want this settlement to see its full potential coming to its fruition and, with that, a clear part of that is enabling public access,” Allan said.