26 Jul 2018

Access through Lake Hāwea 'always deliberately difficult'

12:16 pm on 26 July 2018

The Hunter Valley has been dogged with access issues for decades, long before former American television host Matt Lauer bought the lease to the land, says the Federated Mountain Clubs group.

Hāwea Conservation Park

Access to the Hāwea Conservation Park is at the heart of the issue surrounding the sale of the land. Photo: DOC / John Robinson

The former anchor of NBC's Today show purchased the lease to the land at Lake Hāwea for $13 million last year, but trampers and mountaineers say it has been nearly impossible to get permission to go through the land to get to the Hāwea Conservation Park for years.

Federated Mountain Clubs president Peter Wilson told Morning Report today the New Zealand couple that used to own the property - and now manage it - have been very selective over who got access.

"The Hunter Valley has had an access dispute now going back probably 40 years or more. And the best opportunity to fix that up was under the previous government, when the land was sold.

"That was the opportunity to put an easement over the station to provide public access, and that didn't happen."

He said the process to get access had been made "deliberately difficult", with people wanting access having to leave a message on an answerphone, but "next to no-one" got a reply.

Mr Wilson said there was a possibility that Mr Lauer did not know how seriously Kiwis took the access issue.

"He's in a good position right now to come out to the New Zealand public and sort the access system out over his property. But to be honest, we've lost confidence in that, and the best way forward is to keep supporting the government's application for an easement over the property, which will fix this up once and for all, and take it out of the hands of the farm management."

Meanwhile, the government is not ruling out paying compensation to Mr Lauer if an easement is put in place through the Hunter Valley Station.

Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage told Morning Report negotiations were underway and may include compensation.

"At the moment, Land Information NZ, the Department of Conservation and the OIO are working with the Walking Access Commission, Orange Lakes and Mr Lauer to legalise that access."

She said it was unclear what the amount would be for compensation, but it would not be millions.

Ms Sage said responsibility for the lack of access to the Hunter Valley lay with the previous government.

But Louise Upston, who was National's associate minister responsible for the Walking Access Commission, said it had already been signed off by the Overseas Investment Office when she met with commission members.

"I was aware that they wanted to pursue greater access on that particular property, I said to them 'I'm not sure it's a good use of your resources'. What they do is up to them and the decisions they made are theirs to make, but I just wasn't sure it was the best use of their time and resources."

Ms Upston said she told the Walking Access Commission it needed to negotiate access before such deals get signed.

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