NZ's biggest tourist resort planned in Far North

By Peter de Graaf

Some of the existing villas at Carrington Estate on the Karikari Peninsula. PHOTO / SUPPLIED
Some of the existing villas at Carrington Estate on the Karikari Peninsula. PHOTO / SUPPLIED

A Chinese real estate company is planning to spend close to $1 billion building a huge tourist resort on Northland's Karikari Peninsula.

If the project goes ahead it will be one of the single biggest investments in New Zealand tourism infrastructure, with former prime minister John Key saying the resort would cost $700-800 million and be the biggest in the country.

The development is expected to bring jobs to the Far North - particularly during construction, then in hospitality - but the numbers are not known at this stage.

A resort consent application for the development has yet to be lodged with the Far North District Council. The application was originally expected in October or November last year, but has been delayed until next month at the earliest. Residents who have seen the plans say it includes 750 units scattered around Carrington Estate's existing 18-hole golf course.

Chinese real-estate giant Shanghai Cred bought Peppers Carrington Estate from US banker Paul Kelly for $28.7 million in 2013. As well as the golf course the existing resort includes a 10-room lodge, 14 three-bedroom villas, a winery and restaurant on 1000ha bordering a pristine white-sand beach.

Mr Kelly also had large-scale plans to develop the land and fought a long-running legal battle with local iwi Ngati Kahu. The runanga challenged the council's decision to grant a non-notified consent, with some members mortgaging their homes to pay the legal bills, and won.

Te Runanga-a-iwi o Ngati Kahu chief executive Anahera Herbert-Graves said Shanghai Cred inherited litigation started when Mr Kelly was the owner but had signed an out-of-court settlement satisfying the runanga's requirements.

Terms of the settlement included a 999-year caveat barring any construction on top of burial caves and an undertaking to treat all wastewater onsite.

The treatment plant at Whatuwhiwhi could not cope with current volumes, let alone wastewater from an expanded resort, she said.

The runanga's relationship with Shanghai Cred was "way better" than with Mr Kelly.

"What we're seeing is that they are being very slow and careful, and making sure the local marae in particular is happy," Mrs Herbert-Graves said.

The Advocate understands one of the hold-ups is a cultural impact assessment which has to be signed off by local marae.

If the resort goes ahead as planned it will target wealthy Chinese tourists.

On his last visit to Northland as prime minister, Mr Key spoke of the sheer scale of the development.

It would have a positive impact on Northland's economy, particularly around Kaitaia and Karikari Peninsula, because a large workforce would be needed to build the resort, then staff it when it was operating. It would also require ongoing services from local businesses.

Critics of the development have questioned how many locals would be employed given that most guests will be Chinese-speaking.

A spokeswoman for Mr Key said his understanding was that Chinese language skills would be necessary for some jobs at the resort, but the company intended to hire locals to fill most positions.

Officials were working with the company to identify how the Government could support the development of a local workforce, she said.

Some of that workforce is likely to come from Paihia's Tai Tokerau Resort College, set up last year by Queenstown Resort College in partnership with Shanghai Cred.

Up to a quarter of places at the college, which provides training in hospitality management, will be set aside for overseas students supplied by Shanghai Cred. The intention is that most of the remaining places are filled by young Northland Maori.

However, not everyone on the peninsula is happy at the prospect of living next to New Zealand's biggest tourist resort.

Caroline Snowden, a long-time Whatuwhiwhi resident, said she was concerned by the sheer scale of the development.

When fully built she understood the resort hoped to attract 1500 to 2000 people a week. That would mean more traffic and increased environmental pressures, such as wastewater, and would "absolutely change" the character of the peninsula.

She said the development would bring benefits but most of those would be for New Zealand or Northland as a whole, not local residents.

Ms Snowden also worried about the effect of so many extra visitors on the area's kai moana, on which many locals depended for food, and on Karikari Beach, which borders the resort.

Shanghai Cred's Karikari manager, Jackson Su, did not return calls.

Former Northland MP Mike Sabin was appointed chief executive of Carrington Estate in April last year. He is no longer at the resort.

- Northern Advocate

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