James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Boaties free to enter disputed gap, trust says

More protests possible as trust tries to get tourist vessels to pay for access to Hole in the Rock.

Local Maori say Motu Kokako has great significance. Ancestors provided food to Captain Cook when he anchored nearby in 1769.
Local Maori say Motu Kokako has great significance. Ancestors provided food to Captain Cook when he anchored nearby in 1769.

A Maori trust in dispute with Bay of Islands tourism operators over access through Motu Kokako says further protests are possible but it won't stop everyday boaties going there by barricading the entrances to the scenic attraction.

Rau Hoskins, who chairs the Motu Kokako Ahuwhenua Trust, says the island also known as the Hole in the Rock has great cultural significance to the trust, local hapu and Ngapuhi.

Maori collected kokako feathers there for their clothing and Captain James Cook anchored nearby in 1769 when Mr Hoskins' tupuna (ancestor) Tapua threw a haul of fish to the British crew before leading them to an inlet where his people hosted them.

But any co-operation that existed then has gone, and the trust is in dispute with tourism operators who they say are taking thousands of tourists to and through the site without paying the trust a cent.

"The history of the Bay of Islands and our engagements with Pakeha have been about manaakitanga [caring] and it's kind of galling coming up 250 years later where we find ourselves with these tour operators who are essentially not recognising our deep connection to the land and to the water and to the spirit of partnership," said Mr Hoskins.

The trust previously had an agreement with Fullers from 1988 to 1992 that paid a portion of each fare to the trust.

But this ended after another operator started running trips to the rock and a High Court decision ruled that under Maritime Law everyone had access to the narrow channel through the island.

Mr Hoskins said the tourist operators marketed the island heavily but were not respecting the trust's mana whenua and mana moana (territorial and maritime authority) by entering the cavity without their consent.

It is considering an on-the-water protest but Mr Hoskins said that was "probably at the far end of the protest spectrum".

Blocking the entrances to the island was also unlikely as it would interfere with its mauri (ethos) and alienate non-commercial boaties who are free to go there.

The trust, which has its own co-operative tourism venture with Salt Air and is doing its due diligence on a boat tour, is optimistic there will be legislation arising from its Waitangi Tribunal claim lodged last year.

Fullers GreatSights general manager Charles Parker said the company had entered into numerous discussions with the trust and offered to work with it, but the company offer was declined and the talks stalled.

Explore NZ managing director William Goodfellow said there was no legal basis for charging, but the company had put alternative proposals to Maori.

For full coverage of this issue, click here.

- NZ Herald

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