Bay of Islands hapu have told the Waitangi Tribunal that the Crown colluded with the local council to take Maori land in the 1960s and 70s.
The Tribunal, sitting at Waitangi, is hearing more than 300 northern land claims under the Ngapuhi umbrella.
Ngati Kuta elder Matutaera Clendon told the hearing that the Bay of Islands County Council worked with the Ministry of Lands and Survey to force Maori off the most scenic islands and bays and take the land for public reserves or sale.
Mr Clendon says his whanau had to leave Moturoa Island when the Crown came up with a new valuation, just as he and his brother were about to buy out their elders and take over their farm.
He says the new valuation took into account a recent offer from an American to buy land in the bay for £12,000 and the value of his family's island shot up from £3000 to £30,000. That dashed all his whanau's hopes of keeping the island in hapu ownership, he says, and other islands and bays were lost in the same way.
Mr Clendon says researchers have found letters of the time from the council to the Commissioner of Lands.
The letters advise there would never be a better time for the Crown to buy the islands from the Maori owners, because new valuations were about to make the rates unaffordable.
Moturua, or Roberton Island, is now mostly public reserve managed by DOC but there are also several luxury properties on its beaches.
Mr Clendon also told the Tribunal that the Lands and Survey Department had forced his hapu to swap land on the scenic Hauai peninsula by threatening to take all the land up to Cape Brett under the Public Works Act.
He says the hapu was given land in Kamo that was subsidence-prone because of coal-mining and some low value sections at Bucklands Beach.
He says after years of battling, the hapu had that deal reversed in 1995 by the Waitangi Tribunal.
The Bay of Islands land claims continue until Friday.