Auckland's holiday playground has a troubled colonial past. Geoff Cumming reports on an attempt to fix old injustices
Three Maori men clamber up a hillside past curious cows to enjoy the sweeping views - from the bushclad Hunuas, across the Hauraki Plains to the Coromandel Ranges. In the foreground the languid Firth of Thames drifts into the Hauraki Gulf.
The middle-aged men pause at a trench and imagine their tupuna (ancestors) crouched here, defending the Rangipo pa from invasion. "Not me," says one. "I'd be heading for the hills."
Which is what most of their tupuna did in 1863 when 850 British Bluejackets landed on the western Firth of Thames, after Governor Grey ordered the invasion of the Waikato. They came in warships, shelled pas and villages and swept ashore. Then the Crown took the land and gave some to the soldiers. The Ngati Whanaunga village of Pukorokoro was renamed Miranda after one of the warships.
They built redoubts from Pukorokoro to Mangatawhiri across the base of the Hunuas and extended a naval blockade across the Hauraki Gulf to prevent sympathetic Maori joining or supplying the Waikato "rebels". Its effect was to cut off the maritime tribes of Hauraki from lifeblood trade with Auckland.
On top of the pa, the Maori men show no bitterness. Their eyes drift across the water to the Coromandel Peninsula. At one end is the mighty Moehau range, the stern of the symbolic waka. At the other is the prow, Mt Te Aroha. They are maunga of huge spiritual and cultural significance and these Maori want them back.
The view from Rangipo only hints at the extent of the rohe (domain) once enjoyed exclusively by the many tribes of Hauraki for whom Tikapa Moana (the Gulf) was both a foodbowl and "waka highway" - their means of mobility. In Treaty of Waitangi settlement talks covering the 12 Hauraki iwi, the rohe is accepted as stretching "from Matakana to Matakana" - from the northern village on the Mahurangi Peninsula to the tip of Matakana Island in Tauranga Harbour.
The area is today home, economic base and playground to two million people, from Auckland's northern lifestyle belt to the dairy farms of the Hauraki Plains to the beaches and holiday homes of the Coromandel. It covers conservation estate, old gold deposits, forests, farms, cities and the gulf and its islands.
The talks are groundbreaking - a deal for 12 iwi covering a region is a turnaround for the Crown which for years insisted on negotiating with "large natural groupings" on a one-at-a-time basis. That approach worked against the widely dispersed iwi of Hauraki whose claims to customary use often overlapped. "Our people moved with the seasons to utilise our traditional food sources," says Paul Majurey, who chairs the Hauraki collective in the negotiations. "That was taken to say that we didn't belong because our areas or residence were not permanent."
Before the Europeans came, these iwi made customary use of land covering about 750,000ha. Today they retain just 2.6 per cent of their land,says the Waitangi Tribunal, which completed an inquiry in 2006.
Collectively, they lost more land per head of population than just about any other iwi, historians who advised the inquiry believe. The tribunal found Hauraki Maori were among the most impoverished people in New Zealand. Of an estimated 20,000-plus Hauraki Maori today, only about one in five live in the district. Their drift away from their rohe after World War I was largely down to their loss of land, the tribunal concluded.
Economic indicators show Hauraki Maori still in the region continue to fare poorly in employment, incomes, housing and health.
Their own historic rivalries didn't help when the Crown first began to address the wrongs. The turning point came in 2007 when a deal with Ngati Whatua in Tamaki Makaurau was scuttled after other iwi with legitimate interests took a case to the tribunal.
Leading the charge was Majurey, who also chairs the Tamaki iwi collective. Five Hauraki iwi are represented in the Tamaki Makaurau deal and in another multi-iwi settlement covering the Mahurangi region.
This year looms as a watershed with all three scheduled for completion. For 12 tribes hamstrung for decades by marginalisation and division, it is quite a revival.
The men on the hill are three of 30 iwi representatives in the Hauraki settlement talks which began in 2010, 23 years after claims were first lodged. Tipa Compain is Ngati Whanaunga; Morehu Wilson and Hauauru Rawiri are Ngati Paoa.
To appreciate how much Hauraki have to gain, it's necessary to understand how much was lost, and why. That details of this history - spelled out in the Waitangi Tribunal's 2006 report - are unfamiliar to most of us reflects the extent of the marginalisation of these iwi.
Geography, a nomadic lifestyle and shifting tribal allegiances all combined to leave Hauraki especially vulnerable to colonisation. Cultivable land was limited on the rugged Coromandel Peninsula and the vast wetlands that later became the Hauraki Plains. But the gulf and rivers made it easy to move around for food.
Relations were not always harmonious. Centuries of migration, warfare and shifting alliances produced "a complex web of customary land rights" complicated by inter-marriage and gifts of land to visiting iwi, the Hauraki report noted.
In the 1820s, devastating musket raids by Ngapuhi drove the maritime iwi inland. Some customary areas were only just being reoccupied when European settlement began in earnest. The iwi were ill-equipped for what followed and were let down by the Crown after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
What Hauraki tribes endured from the 1830s was a more prolonged and relentless process of marginalisation than occurred just about anywhere else. What unfolded - unfortunate early transactions, war and confiscation, shonky land sales and "legal" land alienation, gold and timber extraction, degradation of waterways, health inequalities - was not unique to Hauraki, says historian Michael Belgrave. "It's just that in Hauraki everything happened."
It continued for more than a century. "Hauraki really gets whacked throughout the whole period of Crown policy."
Vast blocks were lost through misunderstanding and misfortune, including deals with missionaries such as the Fairburn purchase of southeast Auckland - a huge block from the Tamaki River to Clevedon - which the Crown later seized and sold off. Auckland's northern coast and the Kohimarama block were other big losses.
Proximity to Auckland meant Hauraki lands and timber were in demand for settlement and agriculture; the discovery of gold in the 1850s further increased tension. The Crown became a systematic and monopoly purchaser.
Land laws which favoured the creation of individual titles followed by piecemeal sale drove a wedge between iwi on blocks in multiple ownership. Sometimes unwittingly, the Crown would conclude purchases with one iwi only to learn that others laid claim to the land. The approach of the Native Land Court and successive law changes accelerated the process of land alienation.
"It was not only that Hauraki Maori lost nearly all their land, it was the manner of losing it that divided and pauperised them," said the tribunal.
Huge blocks, including the Hunuas and at Maramarua, were confiscated after war, even though Hauraki were largely caught in the middle when Governor Grey sent troops into the Waikato.
It wasn't that clear cut, Compain concedes. His ancestors waged guerrilla warfare from the hills, disrupting construction of Great South Rd "through our land to Pokeno".
"My tupuna would rush across the Hunuas, kill soldiers then come back home and smoke a pipe ... They sent mounted rangers with broadswords into the bush after us."
But, as Majurey says, the hurt still runs deep. "The name Miranda is reprehensible to our people. Every day it remains on the map is a reminder of the murders of our people."
Gold discoveries on the Coromandel and demand for timber ramped up the Crown's programme of freehold purchase, particularly when Maori challenged the notion that minerals belonged to the Queen. Licence fees and royalties, when negotiated, were often a pittance. At Te Aroha, goldfields were opened without the landowners' consent.
The Crown's monopoly right to purchase land denied Maori access to market rates. Its principal agent on the Coromandel, James Mackay, boasted in the 1850s: "I know that nearly all the land ... will become valuable for gold mining. ... I have got land for 2s 6d per acre for which private individuals would give 5s."
Mining and timber extraction damaged wahi tapu sites and streams used for food and transport.
As Maori resistance to mining access grew, the Crown introduced the system of raihana - lending money for food and other purchases to Maori landholders in anticipation of future mining revenue. In practice, many iwi and individuals built up huge debts and were forced to sell their land. Through raihana, the Crown gained footholds in large blocks including Ohinemuri, the Moehau, Waikawau, Te Aroha and Piako.
Dubious land deals dotted the Coromandel - at Kennedy Bay, Whangamata, Tairua, Whitianga and Whangapoua; modern havens for the well-off.
By the 1880s, Hauraki Maori were virtually resigned to losing their land. "They became increasingly divided, demoralised and pauperised by land law and the land purchase system," said the tribunal.
But the Crown continued to make predatory purchases well into the 20th century, long after it was clear Hauraki Maori had too little land left to sustain future generations. These included compulsory purchases for the Hauraki Plains drainage scheme, roads and schools.
The loss of land contributed to economic stagnation, poor housing and infant deaths. It denied Hauraki iwi the ability to participate in the modern European economy, in industries such as dairy farming or to benefit from soaring coastal land values.
The uneconomic fragments that resulted haunt progress today. Research for the inquiry found the 13,000ha of land still in Hauraki Maori freehold was in 627 blocks - with 23,934 ownership interests.
In the negotiations, Hauraki are collectively seeking financial redress, the return of extensive areas of Crown land and forests, the return of taonga, co-governance of the gulf, rivers and DoC lands and a say in fisheries management.
Individual iwi will also negotiate redress.
"The priority is the return of land," says Majurey, whose downtown Auckland office overlooks much of Hauraki's rohe. "Of course, the money is important because we have to have the financial platforms to restore the things that have been taken from us.
"We are trying to broker a settlement which gives us a fair chance to grow and make a difference in this country."
On the phone from Wellington, Ngati Tamatera negotiator John McEnteer says significant public policy issues still need to be resolved. A major sticking point is the return of Crown land under DoC administration. Much DoC estate on the Coromandel is far from pristine, says McEnteer.
"The single-minded focus of some officials that they are not going to negotiate any DoC land is patently ridiculous."
Other stumbling blocks include the Crown's current policy position on minerals and the foreshore and seabed.
"We've got to get those elements right but it requires the Government end to change their way of doing business.
"But there's a great deal of positivity ... "
McEnteer says the wheel has turned full circle, after 20 years of pushing for redress. "I spent my 40s and 50s working on this claim - my youngest son was born at the start of this journey.
"Initial unity crumbled over time. Now the tribes are a lot closer. It's like the strands of a rope - if we go individually we won't get very far but if we bind together we have strength."
Standing on Te Kapu Pa, overlooking the Ngati Paoa ancestral stronghold of Whakatiwai where the Bluejackets landed in 1863, Hauauru Rawiri also looks forward rather than back.
"I view it as a spiritual healing of the people. The physical will follow that - and if we have a few million dollars, people will want to do business with us," says Rawiri.
"But the spiritual aspect is important because that's the closure. There's this history of death and murder and bombing and marginalisation.
"It's not only with the Crown - it's inter-tribal as well. Working together with other tribes and pulling our resources together - there's a bit of a phenomenon happening."
The Hauraki iwi...
* Ngai Tai ki Tamaki
* Ngati Hako
* Ngati Hei
* Ngati Maru
* Ngati Paoa
* Ngati Porou ki Hauraki
* Ngati Pukenga
* Ngati Rahiri Tumutumu
* Ngati Tamatera
* Ngati Tara Tokanui
* Ngati Whanaunga
* Te Patukirikiri
... what they want
* Crown acknowledgments and apology.
* Return of Moehau, Te Aroha and other cultural lands.
* Return of taonga.
* Financial redress.
* Purchase rights for some Crown farms and forests and other commercial opportunities.
* Rights to minerals.
* Co-governance roles in DoC lands, Hauraki Gulf, Piako and Waihou rivers and Coromandel east coast.
* Roles in fisheries management.
* Geographic name changes.
* Individual iwi are seeking additional redress.
For a summary of the Waitangi Tribunal report go to: http://tiny.cc/bk4my
For the full report: http://tinyurl.com/6qm4l5g