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Nelson could use crowdfunding to buy $16m Pepin Island

The mayor of Nelson wants the public to buy back Pepin Island, just as it bought a beach in the Abel Tasman National Park.

The view of Cable Bay from Pepin Island. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The island is on the market for $16 million, and it has also been suggested by a former iwi trust chair, that Ngāti Tama buy it back.

Agent John Bampfylde of Sotheby's in Nelson said interest in the 1200-acre island, 15 minutes north of Nelson City has gathered pace since the recent media attention.

"We're getting regular inquiries, from Kiwis and from overseas people - also Kiwis living overseas who are thinking maybe this is their route home."

Mayor Rachel Reese wants to see it locally owned.

"Pepin Island's a very, very special part of the Nelson region and in fact, I think it's quite significant in a New Zealand context. So I'm very interested in what the next steps could be in terms of the ownership of Pepin."

Questions have been raised over how Pepin Island - named after the wife of early French explorer Dumont d'Urville - can be sold being it is surrounded by sites sacred to local iwi.

Nelson-based iwi historian and former chair of the Ngāti Tama Trust John Mitchell said the iwi was one of several tribes which from the 1820s came down from the north to Te Tau Ihu (the top of the South Island) and captured Wakapuaka in north Nelson.

"Pepin Island was originally … was taken over, if you like, forcibly by Ngāti Tama."

The island is joined to the mainland by a naturally formed road of boulders that have tumbled down nearby hillsides. They have then been shaped into a causeway by the sea - Cable Bay on one side and a tidal estuary on the other.

Mr Mitchell said part of the island was once the pa of the paramount chief of Tama, Te Pūoho ki te Rangi.

He said Ngāti Tama retained its link to the island, up to the point Huria Matenga gained ownership by decree of the Native Land Court.

"Once it got into the hands of Huria Matenga and her husband Hemi, who became the dominant force in that partnership, eventually the island along with a lot of parts of Wakapuaka were sold off."

Mr Mitchell said the island slipped out of iwi hands in about 1880s.

It was turned into a working farm and bought by a German businesswoman in 1996 for $2 million.

Viola von Hohenzollern died in 2012 and the island was inherited by her daughter, who has put it on the market for $16 million.

Mr Mitchell said he and the several hundred other surviving members of Ngāti Tama found it hard to fathom such a price tag.

Ms Reese is planning talks with the Department of Conservation about how it might be retained for New Zealanders.

"Not so long ago of course, we went through the crowdfunding process for part of Abel Tasman National Park.

"Well, Pepin Island kind of sits in that same level of significance, so I will be having some discussions with the Department of Conservation and really thinking about, 'Is there an opportunity here to provide ongoing public access to Pepin Island?"

Mr Mitchell suggested the Ngāti Tama Trust buy it back by selling assets, such as forestry, obtained through treaty settlement which did not have the same historical significance.

But $16m was possibly too much, he said.

"I could hear it now around the board table: 'Why should we put money in to buy back something our ancestors were deprived of, and who were helpless to stop it?' "

Ngāti Tama refused to comment. Mr Bamfylde would not say if any offers had been made on the island.


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