27 Jul 2018

DOC plans to meet Matt Lauer in person over easement debate

From Checkpoint, 5:09 pm on 27 July 2018

The Department of Conservation wants an application for an easement to allow public access to part of Lake Hāwea's Hunter Valley Station to be put on hold for now.

Hāwea Conservation Park

Hāwea Conservation Park Photo: DOC / John Robinson

DOC has been supporting the Walking Access Commission's application for the easement to allow vehicle access to land leased by American broadcaster Matt Lauer, near the Hāwea Conservation Park.

The former anchor of NBC's Today show purchased the lease to the land at Lake Hāwea for $13 million last year, the Overseas Investment Office approved it after he passed a good character test and agreed to conditions, which included allowing the public some access and increasing farming operations.

But the Walking Access Commission is now seeking an easement to a 40 kilometre road that winds through the Hunter Valley Station, which Mr Lauer says passes just 30 metres from his homestead. Mr Lauer has said an easement was not necessary as only a handful of people had ever been denied access to his property and that was because farming operations meant it was not feasible at that time.

Digby Cochrane's family sold the pastoral lease to Mr Lauer last year. Mr Cochrane now manages the station for Mr Lauer and told Morning Report that it was untrue DOC's office in Wanaka had been told to withhold the station's contact details. 

Mr Cochrane said his family had allowed people to drive through the property for the past four decades but the public had to have a valid reason to visit, have a suitable vehicle and be aware conditions could be tough, especially in winter.

DoC director-general, Lou Sanson, Department of Conservation.

Lou Sanson Photo: RNZ/Ian Telfer

DOC's director-general Lou Sanson is now saying Mr Lauer has been open and encouraging about public access to the area.

Mr Sanson said following a discussion with the chief executive of Land Information New Zealand Andrew Chrisp and Mr Lauer's lawyer Graeme Todd, an easement may not be necessary.

He said he along with Mr Chrisp planned to meet Mr Lauer when he visits in September.

"I would like to put everything on hold until I've had a face to face with Matt Lauer, given he's been so open in encouraging access, I would like to have that face to face and that's what I intend to do."

But Mr Sanson said now that Mr Lauer has said the public is welcome there may be a problem restricting demand from locals and tourists wanting to visit.

Land Information New Zealand has not responded to Checkpoint's request for comment.