Auckland university academic Margaret Mutu has hailed a partnership between Chinese investors Shanghai Cred and far north iwi Ngati Kahu as a role model for other tourist operators in New Zealand.
Mutu who chairs the Ngati Kahu iwi board says she has been deeply impressed by the attitude of the investors who took over the Carrington Resort from American owners in 2013 and now has plans for a large scale expansion.
Chinese real-estate giant Shanghai Cred bought Peppers Carrington Estate from US banker Paul Kelly for $28.7 million in 2013.
The previous relationship with the American owners had not been good, Mutu said.
Kelly also had large-scale plans to develop the land and fought a long-running legal battle which was in the Supreme Court when the sale was made
"The Karikari peninsula is very remote and the Maori community were there by themselves up until about 20 years ago. Then when the American developer came in we had a huge influx of visitors," Mutu said.
"We've lived there for at least 1000 years and we do not want the area disturbed. There are lot of Wahi Tapu, sacred areas and burial grounds that must be protected. So if people are going to come I we want them to first of all sit down with us and talk about what they are doing and we'll work on it together."
To their credit Shanghai Cred had done exactly that, she said.
"It was like a breath of fresh air. When I explained to them that you can not build on a burial cave, they just stopped me and said: you don't have to tell us that, we know."
Shanghai Cred's New Zealand chief executive Jack Hu said the Northland investment was his companies first outside of China and they were determined to understand the local culture and work with the locals.
Upper management had travelled to the US, Europe and many other parts of the world to find the right place for a major investment, he said.
"We could see that, if you look at our history, we have a lot shared cultural values. Our goal was always to establish a long term sustainable relationship. We want to say this is our second home and the local tribe are our neighbours."
Shanghai Cred was now working with iwi to employ locals. Hu said they also hoped to include an arts and crafts centre as part of development plans, which would allow locals to work on site and sell their art directly to visitors.
The cultural experience that iwi could offer visitors was unique in the world and a fundamental part of the appeal for tourists, he said.