14 May 2013

Waitangi Tribunal visits islands prized as taonga

8:18 am on 14 May 2013

The Waitangi Tribunal has taken to the water to see for itself the lands lost to Maori in the Bay of Islands.

The site visit on Monday launched the second week of hearings into the massive Ngapuhi land claim.

The Tribunal is based at Waitangi this week to hear the hapu's historic grievances.

A hapu spokesman, Pita Tipene, says this week is the most significant for the Bay of Islands whanau since its ancestors signed the Treaty.

He says the stories of the ancestors are not easy to tell or hear, and hapu have been waiting a long time to share them.

Tribunal members party set sail from Opua on Monday morning with hapu hosts from Ngati Manu, Te Kapotai, Ngati Kuta and Patukeha.

They were spending most of the day on board the boat voyaging around the Bay of Islands, out to Rawhiti and Cape Brett.

Radio New Zealand's reporter said elders have been pointing out to Tribunal members the islands and farms where they grew up but were forced to sell because they couldn't pay the rates.

The islands and fishing grounds that are now a jewel in the crown of tourism were from the earliest days populated and prized by Maori as taonga.

The sacred mountain Rakaumangamanga on Motukokako / Piercey Island is the southern point of the Polynesian triangle, a crucial marker for the early navigators.

Islands like Moturua and Urupukapuka were fertile market gardens, supplying food for locals and later, ships and settlers.

These days the islands are either millionaires' playgrounds or part of the DOC estate and Mr Tipene says getting any of them returned will be a tough ask.

Some of the islands in the bay were lost to the hapu as recently as the 1970s, when upmarket subdivisions pushed up valuations and Maori owners were either forced to sell to pay soaring rate bills or had their land seized by the Bay of Islands Council for rates arrears.