Maori lost large swathes of land in the Bay of Islands - including islands now used as millionaires' hideaways - as recently as the 1970s, the Waitangi Tribunal has been told.

Claimants, Crown representatives and Tribunal members spent Monday touring the eastern Bay of Islands to see first-hand the places being discussed in the current Northland Inquiry hearings at Waitangi. This week it is Ngati Kuta, Patukeha, Te Kapotai and Ngati Manu's turn to air their grievances.

The 150-strong group boarded Fuller's Dolphin Seeker at Opua for a three-hour cruise which took in pollution issues in the Waikare Inlet, a pa razed by the British in 1845 despite the chief's neutral stance in the Northern Wars, islands lost in ''rating sales'' in the 1960s and '70s, and land taken under the Public Works Act but never returned.

After the vessel docked at Waipiro Bay the tour continued by bus on the dusty roads of the Rawhiti Peninsula with a full, formal welcome at the area's three marae. Each staged a powhiri with a triple challenge issued by young men of the marae - accompanied, in the case of Te Rawhiti, by shotgun blasts - and accepted by the Tribunal's presiding judge Craig Coxhead. Also visited were marae at Waikare and Karetu. All three welcomed the guests with speeches, song and mountains of kai.


Despite the tour's serious theme, with kaumatua and kuia pointing out the sites of losses and grievances, the atmosphere on board was almost festive. The sun was blazing, the vessel was greeted by a pod of dolphins, and passage through Motukokako Island (Hole in the Rock) was met with squeals of delight. The site tour's name, Kia papa pounamu te moana (May the sea glisten like greenstone), proved a perfect fit.

Matutaera Clendon (Ngati Kuta) pointed out his old family land on Moturua Island, lost to the then Bay of Islands County Council and government agencies in a 1968 rating sale when the owners could not keep up with rates demands. Most of the island is now owned by millionaires.

''It's now a rich man's paradise. Both Patukeha and Ngati Kuta feel very aggrieved over the loss of Moturua,'' he said.

Similar issues were highlighted in Manawaora Bay, where some of New Zealand's most expensive holiday homes coexist with Maori settlements whose residents struggle to pay their rates.

Arapeta Hamilton (Ngati Manu) recounted the events of May 13, 1845 - 168 years earlier to the day - when British troops seeking retribution for the sacking of Kororareka attacked Te Kapotai's settlement at Waikare, burning it to the ground, killing its livestock and driving its inhabitants into the winter bush.

A month earlier British forces arrested chief Pomare and razed his pa, Otuihu, opposite modern-day Opua, even though Pomare was flying a truce flag and played no part in the Battle of Kororareka. Pomare's pa was a large settlement at the time, whose 500-1000 inhabitants included 131 Pakeha.

Mr Hamilton said his own hapu, Ngati Manu, was the most destitute of all Bay of Islands hapu, with just 2500ha of its original 55,000ha of land left.

His more contemporary concerns include sewage discharged directly into the Bay by thousands of boats, some of which were lived on year-round. A pumping station at Opua for emptying wastewater tanks was used by the big commercial operators but rarely by smaller vessels.

Richard ''Blandy'' Witehira (Patukeha) said land for the lighthouse and keeper's dwellings at Cape Brett was taken under the Public Works Act but never returned, as required by law when no longer needed for the original purpose.

The hapu also had a long-running dispute with tourism companies taking boats through the Hole in the Rock (Motukokako) but hiding behind maritime laws to avoid paying a share of the takings to the island's owners.

Hearings continue

Week two of the Northland Inquiry continues at the Copthorne Hotel in Waitangi today [May 15] with Rawhiti Peninsula hapu Patukeha and Ngati Kuta delivering more evidence of land losses as recent as the 1970s.

The inquiry, also known as Te Paparahi o Te Raki, is examining more than 350 Ngapuhi land claims in what could prove to the biggest Treaty settlement to date.

The first week of general evidence was heard at Te Tii Marae in March; from now on the hearings will be held by taiwhenua (sub-region). Next up, on July 8-12, Whangaroa hapu have their turn, followed by the Waimate-Taiamai hapu on September 2-6.

The first speakers due up today are Richard ''Blandy'' Witehira and Natasha Clarke; they will be followed by the claimants of Motukokako (Hole in the Rock) and Arapeta Hamilton's opening submissions for Ngati Manu. On Thursday Ngati Manu will continue with land, environmental, reo and education grievances, and an outline of the redress sought. The hapu Te Kapotai will wrap up the week's evidence on Friday.

Waitangi Tribunal hearings are normally funded by the Crown Forestry Rental Trust, but with that organisation in disarray the Office of Treaty Settlements has stumped up so far, including for Monday's site visits. There is still no word on how July's Whangaroa hearings will be funded.

The first phase of hearings, which ended in February 2011, concentrated on broader issues of sovereignty. The group Te Kotahitanga o Nga Hapu Ngapuhi is organising the hearings.