15 Feb 2016

Pledges still rolling in for beach crowd-funding campaign

11:07 am on 15 February 2016

The campaign to crowd-fund the purchase of land and a beach in the Abel Tasman National Park is still attracting pledges, despite the $2 million target being met on Friday.

Awaroa Heads from the site for sale.

Awaroa Heads seen from the site for sale. The campaign ends at 3pm today and tenders close at 4pm tomorrow. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Campaign organisers Duane Major and Adam Gard'ner are now focused on today's 3pm deadline when final pledges could be made, but they were staying silent on the tally. Mr Major said they had taken advice and decided to keep the details private about the potential amount they would tender for the site at Awaroa, at the head of the national park.

More than 38,000 people from around New Zealand and the world had pledged to support the campaign by this morning.

John Key told Morning Report the government could use a nature heritage fund to help with the purchase, if needed, but any contribution would be modest.

"The fund can be used for a variety of different things, this is potentially one that might fit within it. And It certainly would be nowhere near what would be required to purchase it. It would be a very modest, but it is not impossible if there was a small shortfall it could meet that."

The green and gold of Awaroa had been a magnet since Maori first came to the area more than 800 years ago, according to archaeological evidence and traditional oral history. The lagoon and the rich soils that drew them were still there, although depleted of their abundance. Those who know the environment said it had few comparisons.

Mr Major, a pastor at South West Baptist Church in Christchurch, said the public had been captivated by the wave of escapism the campaign had created, which had caught him off guard. He said his connection with the area was through his role as a youth worker when he brought groups of young people to the Abel Tasman. Mr Major was also a key player in the small family company Communitas, which was set up to help house people in need.

He said a "connection to place" was key to helping young people forge a sense of the identity.

One of three dwellings on the beachfront property for sale at Awaroa is a re-fashioned boat. A crowd funding campaign has raised millions to purchase the land.15 February 2016.

One of three dwellings on the beachfront property for sale at Awaroa is a re-fashioned boat. 15 February 2016. Photo: RNZ/Tracy Neal

Awaroa sits at the northern head of the national park. On a good day it glitteres, but its location exposed it to ocean storms that crashed in from the Tasman Sea. People arrive by boat, aircraft, or by their own two feet on the well-worn trail through the national park. The site for sale were elevated above the Awaroa lagoon and were distinguished by three rough dwellings, including one fashioned from an old boat. The buildings were nestled in dense kanuka on land which nearby property owner Cathy Franks said would make an ideal kayak park.

Franks jetty: Cathy Franks and the pet pooches on the jetty below the family's Awaroa home.

Franks jetty: Cathy Franks and the pet pooches on the jetty below the family's Awaroa home. Photo: RNZ/Tracy Neal

The Franks had been there for 30 years, and described the area as "intensely beautiful".

Long-timers Ian and Sue Jones remembered when the area was more farm than tourist enclave.

"I can remember it when the cattle were in the swamp as well and the sheep were roaming around. Mum and Dad built a bach about 1966-67," Mrs Jones said.

The land was later divided among family, and part of it sold, including the portion where the Awaroa Lodge now sits. The previous backpacker style accommodation was now a luxury eco-lodge.

Mrs Jones said growth in tourism and increased commercialisation were inevitable consequences for the area of great natural beauty.

Mr Jones said it was anyone's guess how much the land was really worth, but "the rates charged by the Tasman District Council" for property in the area were a fair indication.

Canterbury student Sephrah Rayner's grandparents sold the Awaroa property to the current owners, whose financial situation hit headlines last week after it was revealed they owed about $6 million to BNZ. Ms Rayner, who grew up on the land, said turning it over to public ownership would be the best thing that could happen.

"Making it available for the nation is, in my view, the best thing that could happen to that piece of land. It's such a beautiful place and to be able to share that with everyone would be amazing."

Descendant of one of the earliest European families to tread ground at Awaroa, Darryl Wilson, said the site had some rare features.

Wilsons' Abel Tasman chief executive Darryl Wilson on the beach at Awaroa, where his family had been since the 1860s.

Wilsons' Abel Tasman chief executive Darryl Wilson on the beach at Awaroa, where his family have been since the 1860s. Photo: RNZ/Tracy Neal

"What people are buying here is land which will regenerate and the seahore/beach/sandspit area will come and go as the wind, tides and various other factors choose it to. They always has done and always will do."

The campaign ends at 3pm today and tenders close at 4pm tomorrow.

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