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Okarito Crown land to be retained

30 July 2002

Okarito Crown land to be retained in public ownership

The government has announced today that most of the remaining unsold Crown land at Okarito is to be retained in public ownership as reserve and public conservation land because of its outstanding ecological values.

Some residual sections adjacent to the backpacker's hostel in Okarito will be sold.

The decision was announced jointly by Land Information Minister Matt Robson and Conservation Minister Sandra Lee. The Ministers said the conservation value of the land outweighed its development potential.

"A Department of Conservation assessment showed that the land has high-to-exceptional conservation values which warrant permanent protection," said Mr Robson. "The land has only limited development potential under the Resource Management Act."

Mr Robson said there was strong support from within the local community for the retention of the land in public ownership.

"I acknowledge that there is a view that development could occur without affecting the environment. However, allocating the land to the Department of Conservation will make certain that natural values are protected."

Ms Lee said the area bordered the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and had outstanding natural values.

"The land provides a scenic backdrop to the historic Okarito village and has a cover of native forest, shrubland and wetlands. One of New Zealand's rarest Kiwi, the Okarito Brown Kiwi, locally known as Rowi, is known to have territories within the area.

"As a result of this decision, the area will now be recognised as part of the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary, which is intensively managed by the Department of Conservation to protect this special bird.

"The land also provides an important link between Westland National Park, and
New Zealand's largest unmodified coastal wetland.

"The Okarito Lagoon area is known as a habitat for over 80 indigenous bird species and attracts interest both nationally and internationally.
"The land itself contains a significant and fragile estuarine/rushland system which feeds directly into the Okarito Lagoon."

The Ministers said the decision ended several years of uncertainty about the block, which comprised land to the east of Victoria Street and a coastal strip of land leading to a nearby river and lagoon.

They said the coastal strip, which provides valuable open space and access to the river and lagoon, will be transferred to the Department of Conservation as a reserve under the Reserves Act. Opportunities will be explored for this reserve to be vested in and managed by Westland District Council. The reserve status will also preserve a nohoanga site that was set aside under the Ngai Tahu settlement.

Ms Lee said that the Okarito township and its natural surrounds were one of New Zealand’s most precious places.

“There is strong public interest nationally and locally in retaining those values of Okarito that make it such a well-loved coastal attraction.”

She said Okarito township was originally surveyed in the 1860s when residential sections and roadways were laid out over tidal estuaries and wetland that were clearly not suitable for development.

Ends

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