Row over US TV personality Matt Lauer's land: 'He's holding the country to ransom'
Access to the Hāwea Conservation Park could be cut off completely due to a stoush between the government and the American television personality Matt Lauer.
Former US television host Matt Lauer has been at the centre of a dispute on public access to a park after he purchased the lease to Hunter Valley Station. Photo: David Shankbone / via Wikimedia
The former anchor of NBC's Today show, purchased the lease to Hunter Valley Station on the shores of Lake Hāwea for $13 million last year.
This followed a trip here in 2016 which he raved about to The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon on his return home.
"I went for fun. I went with a buddy of mine, we went fishing. Have you ever been to New Zealand? It's the most sensational country on the planet, in my opinion. It's beautiful," Mr Lauer told the show host.
"So I went fishing with a friend, and we stayed in a hut - no electricity, no running water, no facilities if you will."
His purchase of the lease on the sheep station which sits on government-owned land was bitterly opposed at the time by the Federated Mountain Clubs president Peter Wilson.
"What we've effectively got, is we have a large land-locked area of conservation estate that the public can't get access to and this was the only opportunity to provide for that access. This is the largest lakefront property in New Zealand, we can't afford for this to be shut off to the public."
Matt Lauer, who was dumped by NBC over sexual misconduct allegations, managed to survive a good character test by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).
Now the Walking Access Commission wants to negotiate use of an unsealed road for trampers and hunters but has reportedly been told by Mr Lauer's lawyer that it will need to pay him potentially millions of dollars in compensation.
Public access advocate and Central Otago resident Bruce Mason told Morning Report ongoing negotiations between the commission and his representatives to and try and get access easement along the track have come to naught.
"In effect, he's holding the country to ransom over this issue," Mr Mason said.
"I think they're not going to get anywhere unless they sort of dumb down the proposal to suit all his demands which will mean this access will not be suitable for the public."
The OIO decision from February 2017 had highlighted the issue of access for the public, which he has had to provide in other areas on the land, but the commission was asking for another access point.
Read the OIO decision
Mr Mason said the area in question went from the vicinity of the homestead around the western shore of Lake Hāwea and into Hunter Valley.
"It's a very long way to go, it's too far to walk," he said.
Mr Mason said he was urging the government to step in and put an end to the problem.
"I think the solution which would be a quick fix for this ... is for the government to give up on trying to negotiate with this character and the government uses powers as the landlord to resume the lengths of this road, could be a 20-metre strip, back into direct Crown ownership and then immediately gazette it as a public road," he said.
"I think it's the only way there's going to be progress. Voluntary negotiations have got nowhere, result is they could get an easement but it could be a very insecure one. The public could be shut out at any time and there'd be no certainty."