Crowd-funding campaign buys Awaroa

5:11 pm on 24 February 2016

The public has bought itself a beach.

Awaroa Heads from the site for sale.

Awaroa Heads from the site for sale. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

It was announced this morning that a public campaign to buy a beachfront property in the Abel Tasman National Park had succeeded.

A Givealittle campaign which started on 22 January reached its $2 million benchmark thanks to pledges from 39,249 people.

Organiser Duane Major, confirming the appeal had succeeded, said it was a satisfying feeling.

"I always thought we could do it. I did not anticipate the crazy, freakish nature of this campaign," he told the Paul Henry Show.

"Now there's a deep down sense of satisfaction. We've done something pretty special.

"It's a privilege to be part of it.

"My heart is beating, I've got goosebumps," he said.

The public pledged $2,278,171.09 and the government topped that figure up by $350,000 to confirm the deal after four days of negotiations with owner Michael Spackman, a Wellington businessman.

Mr Major said all New Zealanders who made pledges, including himself, needed to make sure they had their money ready to pay.

The government funding will come from the Nature Heritage Fund, which enables land to be bought for the conservation estate.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said the campaigners would set up a trust or holding company to hold the land until it could be gazetted as part of the national park.

She said the generosity and engagement of the New Zealand public was "inspirational".

"It's the great Kiwi spirit come alive," she told TV3.

The government made a modest contribution to the campaign and topped it up last night to make a difference at the 11th hour, she said.

Ms Barry said the contract would be finalised in about 10 days and the process of putting the land into the national park would be fast tracked.

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

Darryl Wilson says he is lost for words. Photo: RNZ/Tracy Neal

Long-time Abel Tasman National Park tourism operator Darryl Wilson said the successful bid was great news for New Zealand.

"Obviously just hearing the news, a wee bit lost for words, but a fantastic outcome.

"[It's] the place to be, isn't it - well done New Zealand."

Awaroa sits at the northern head of Abel Tasman National Park. On a good day it glitters but its location exposes it to ocean storms which crash 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 bought by the public is elevated above the Awaroa lagoon and has three rough dwellings, including one fashioned from an old boat.

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

Wellington-based Awaroa property owner Stephen Franks said it was great news for New Zealand, and people who contributed would be feeling a special sense of ownership.

"It's going to mean, of course, a whole lot of people feel a special sense of ownership or interest there and that area is going to be known for what it has always been - it's one of the most beautiful places in the world but it's going to really mean that people feel a special link to it."

A trust had been established and would reveal the details of how it was to be run, he said.

Canterbury student Sephrah Rayner, the granddaughter of the family who once owned the land, was lost for words when she heard it now belonged to the public.

Ms Rayner's grandparents sold the Awaroa property to Mr Spackman.

Sephrah Rayner, the granddaughter of the former owners of Awaroa property, is thrilled the land will be returned to the people of New Zealand.

Sephrah Rayner, the granddaughter of the former owners of Awaroa property, is thrilled the land will be returned to the people of New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

She said making the land available for the nation was the best thing that could happen to it, and she could not wait to go back.

One of the last pledges to the crowdfunding campaign, of $20, came from Room 10 at Pahiatua School.

Teacher Kirsten McCabe told Nine to Noon her class thought the land should be for everyone to use, not just one person, and they were very excited that the tender has been won.

Wakatū Incorporation chairman Paul Morgan said Abel Tasman iwi were happy the public campaign had been successful.

It was good the land was back in public hands, where it was and should be after it was taken by the Crown a long time ago and sold, Mr Morgan said.

The title of the land had been dubious because of land issues in that part of Tasman Bay not being resolved properly in the beginning, he said.

He wanted an education programme to help people understand the history of Awaroa Beach and the surrounding area so they understood who walked on the land before them.

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