A 38ha secluded Northland island is up for sale for $12 million but questions around whether or not the current owners bought it legally remain unanswered.

Motukawaiti Island, which lies off Matauri Bay, is advertised for $12 million by international brokers Vladi Private Islands but after it was bought in 2010 by its current owners, Chinese investors - St Morris NZ Limited, the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) launched an investigation to find out whether the sale was in compliance with the Overseas Investment Act 2005.

Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis said yesterday the lengthy investigation was unacceptable.

"This has taken five years. How hard can it be to find out who owns the land. If they are still seeking information they need to release what information they're seeking," he said.

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Mr Davis has since submitted questions to the minister in charge of the OIO.

"[We need] to find out whether the sale of the island followed the correct process so that we know whether that was legal."

Dover Samuels, former Te Tai Tokerau MP, said the island was extremely significant to the Matauri Bay-based hapu Ngati Kura.

"All the islands in the Cavalli group are important. Our interest is in the pa and burial grounds that are on those islands. Our hapu lived their in the 1800s," he said.

Mr Samuels said that in the early 1990s his hapu [Ngati Kura] formed a Maori trust, MahiMahi E5 Trust, and managed to buy the island but had to sell it soon after.

"When that came up to the Maori Land Court they advised we were not permitted to buy the land as it was not the purpose of the trust and said it was illegal. They said we weren't allowed the land and told us to sell it, and we did reluctantly. Why we listened to the judge when we had the chance to buy back a taonga, I don't know."

Mr Samuels said knowing the island was for sale again, despite the fact the sale to the current owners was still under investigation, was frustrating.

"Motukawaiti has been under questions for nearly five years - we've asked time and time again about the investigation and now it's on the market on an international site for $12 million."

Annelies McClure, manager of the Overseas Investment Office, Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) said the investigation was complex and involved a number of individuals.

"The OIO has sought, and continues to seek, specific information and documentation from various parties. We are unable to provide further detail or information, as this could impede the OIO's ongoing investigation."

Ms McClure also said it was legal to sell the property while the previous investigation was underway.

Mr Davis said he was committed to assisting Ngati Kura in the return of the island, while Mr Samuels said he hoped one day that return would happen.

"We would be absolutely appreciative [if the island was returned to Ngati Kura] but I'm not holding my breath," Mr Samuels said.