A movement founded by a South Korean spiritual leader which aims to recruit 100 million members is planning to build its global training hub on the outskirts of Kerikeri.

Seung Heun Lee, known as Ilchi Lee to his followers, has bought a large number of properties in the Bay of Islands, where he wants to build a base for his Earth Citizen Organisation (ECO) plus a meditation and martial arts centre for South Korean gap-year students.

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Who is Ilchi Lee?

The 66-year-old made his name and fortune as the founder of Dahn Yoga or Dahn Hak, described as "a blend of yoga, tai chi and martial arts exercises". In 2005 its name was changed to Brain and Body.

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Mr Lee has bought at least five high-end residential properties around Kerikeri, on Riverstone Lane, Access Rd and Reinga Rd, while a company of which he is the sole shareholder, Double Pine Investments, has bought 156ha of pine forest and bush on Pungaere Rd, west of Kerikeri on the edge of Puketi Forest.

Double Pine has also bought Haruru Falls Panorama Resort and a 25ha waterfront property on Whangaroa Harbour.

The Pungaere Rd property is to become an "Earth Village" which, according to the group's literature, "could soon become the headquarters of a global not-for-profit organisation dedicated to developing leaders who create healthier communities for a more sustainable world".

It will be modelled on an existing ECO centre in Arizona, USA, but Lee hopes the Kerikeri site will become the movement's principal training hub.

Clearance work is under way and cabins are being built in Kerikeri for later placement on the site.

Cabins under construction in Kerikeri for Ilchi Lee's Earth Village. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Cabins under construction in Kerikeri for Ilchi Lee's Earth Village. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Once the Earth Village is built another of Mr Lee's companies, Meditation Tours, will bring trainees for stays ranging from one to three months.

Meditation Tours manager ManGyu Choi said the village would include accommodation, communal areas, and facilities for catering, dining, sports, leisure and teaching.

He was not sure when construction would start because a lot depended on how long it took to get the required consents.

The company was working with architects on plans for the Earth Village. Once they were complete resource consent applications would be lodged.

Mr Choi said Meditation Tours brought 3000 visitors to Northland in 2016 and hoped to double that this year.

One of Mr Lee's companies, Double Pine Investments, has bought Haruru Falls Panorama Resort near Paihia.
One of Mr Lee's companies, Double Pine Investments, has bought Haruru Falls Panorama Resort near Paihia.

Meanwhile, the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) - a government agency which regulates the sale of "sensitive" land, including waterfront properties, to foreign citizens - said it was aware Mr Lee, or companies associated with him, had bought a number of Northland properties.

In response to an Official Information Act request, the office said it was investigating the purchases but would not elaborate further.

Mr Choi said, however, that Mr Lee did not require OIO permission to buy land, even if it was deemed sensitive, because he had been granted permanent residency in New Zealand.

Permanent residents are exempt from OIO restrictions as long as they live in New Zealand more than half the year.

Ilchi Lee's Earth Village will be built on a Pungaere Rd property overlooking this valley next to Puketi Forest.
Ilchi Lee's Earth Village will be built on a Pungaere Rd property overlooking this valley next to Puketi Forest.

Meditation Tours has also bought Woodlands Motel in Kerikeri and Marty's Cafe and Golf Driving Range off State Highway 10.

Marty's Cafe neighbours have been told the company plans to build a two-storey dormitory, a dining hall for 50 people and sports facilities for the Benjamin School for Character Education.

The cafe will remain open to the public. It is understood a resource consent will be lodged shortly.

According to Meditation Tours literature, the Benjamin School targets South Korean gap-year students, giving them a break of three to six months from their high-pressure education system.

A dormitory, dining hall and sports facilities will be built at Marty's Cafe and Golf Driving Range north of Kerikeri, if consent is granted.
A dormitory, dining hall and sports facilities will be built at Marty's Cafe and Golf Driving Range north of Kerikeri, if consent is granted.

Mr Lee's Earth Citizen Movement held its first global get-together in Kerikeri on January 27-28 with a multicultural show on the domain and a series of seminars at the Turner Centre.

More than 1000 people travelled to New Zealand, mostly from South Korea, to take part in the Earth Citizen Peace Festival.

Full-page advertisements taken out in Far North newspapers stated the Earth Citizen Movement aimed to build a community of 100 million Earth Citizens, and that Mr Lee's vision was that young people from around the world would stay in the Bay of Islands for gap-year self-development and leadership programmes.

Mr Choi said Mr Lee's ventures would inject millions of dollars into the Northland economy through construction and the use of services such as cruises, bus tours, cultural activities, hospitality and accommodation.

Local people would be employed to build and maintain the company's facilities, he said.