A Maori trust embroiled in a dispute with boat operators passing through Hole in the Rock is this week marking the first anniversary of a helicopter venture to the top of the island.
The Motu Kokako Ahu Whenua Trust started the joint venture with Paihia firm Salt Air on January 20 last year, with chairman Rau Hoskins saying the aim was to generate revenue and prove the trust could work with "progressive" tourism companies.
Under the arrangement, Salt Air flies tourists to a landing pad on top of Motu Kokako, or Hole in the Rock, usually staying 10 minutes at most. It includes an undertaking to share the island's history and ownership with every flight.
Mr Hoskins said the trust had provided Salt Air with a pre-recorded korero (talk) telling passengers about the motu (island) from a Maori perspective and could also provide a Maori guide for longer visits. Salt Air paid a fee for each passenger.
"Motu Kokako is a place of great spiritual significance to the owners and local Maori, and the opportunity to tell our stories, our way, is highly valued by the trust," Mr Hoskins said.
Tourists who landed on the motu found it a deeply moving experience, he added.
The venture has been criticised by conservationists who say the ecologically and culturally precious island should be left alone, but Mr Hoskins said the trust spent more than two years planning the venture, including environmental impact assessments, before deciding to go ahead.
The helipad was on a rocky outcrop and had been designed for durability and minimal impact. Kaumatua and kuia gave advice on processes to respect the motu's significance.
Building the pad was "hard, sweaty work" but showed what could be achieved when Maori and business worked together.
"The people of Salt Air have been fantastic to work with and we're learning all the time from the process.
"The helicopter access also provides the trust with the ability to take our kaumatua and kuia out to the motu, and makes it a lot easier to conduct our environmental work and thus meet our kaitiaki (guardianship) responsibilities," he said.
On Auckland Anniversary weekend, the trust would be flying two Massey University scientists and a trustee to the motu to conduct a baseline bio-diversity survey, which would be followed up annually.
The trust is currently locked in a dispute with cruise operators Fullers, Explore NZ and Mack Attack over paying a fee to pass through the Hole in the Rock.
Private boaties are welcome to traverse the hole.