The Department of Conservation is looking at buying the iconic Ngunguru Sandspit - a move that is likely to satisfy Maori and Pakeha alike who fear the 115-hectare site could fall into foreign ownership.
Issues of development on Ngunguru sandspit have caused contention for about 40 years and the site is for sale again, with a multi-million-dollar price tag.
The sandspit is an established habitat for a number of endangered or significant bird, insect, and plant species, and is of cultural significance to Ngati Taka, Ngatiwai and Te Waiariki, containing a pa site and historic burial grounds.
Bayleys Real Estate agent Rod Macfarlane, who is selling the site on behalf of the New Zealand owner, said Doc had already expressed a keenness in the sandspit and talks with the Government department were underway.
Doc spokeswoman Angelika Cawte confirmed the Government department was interested in the site.
"We are aware that the area rates very highly in terms of conservation values and also has very high archeological values," Ms Cawte said.
"We also acknowledge that the community out there has a deep respect and feeling for the sandspit. There's a lot of public interest and we are definitely investigating things."
A spokesman for Conservation Minister Chris Carter said the minister was aware of the sale and the sandspit's significance, although he had yet to hear from the Natural Heritage Trust on whether the sale should be looked at more closely.
Ngunguru resident Pat Heffey, who has been fighting to retain the sandspit in public ownership for the last 20 years, said "enough is enough".
Local people were now writing to Mr Carter calling upon the government to set up a designated fund to purchase and protect precious coastal land, Mrs Heffey said.
"The multiple values - historic, cultural, recreational and landscape - of the sandspit make it a unique place in New Zealand which warrants a significant degree of protection," she said.
"It's got beyond ordinary people being able to do anything about it because of the high land values."
She believed the land had been last sold for as much as $18 million. Mrs Heffey said she doubts the sandspit is viable real estate at all, with its shifting sand banks, and parts of the spit designated as either Coastal Hazard One, Coastal Hazard Two, or Flood Zones.
Ngatiwai's Hori Parata said the iwi's concerns for the wahi tapu and maintaining the integrity of the land had not changed over 20 years of negotiations over the sandspit and it remained against development on the site.
"I think they've got it up for sale for about $20 million.
"Something which is meant to be significant to us like the land just becomes a commodity.
"They all talk about protecting the environment but at the end of the day five or six years later there's an application for a subdivision or development," Mr Parata said.
"I think (the government buying it) is a better option than a private person buying it. Who else could afford it?
"We are treaty partners with the government so there's a better chance of us being able to maintain some dialogue with them about what ends up happening."
The sandspit is advertised for sale in the glossy 2004/2005 Bayleys Real Estate booklet Waterfront - stunning waterfront properties.
Among Gold Coast, Fiji and other New Zealand coastal properties, the sandspit is listed as "Ngunguru Peninsula" which "comprises four titles totalling 115 hectares of beautiful coastal Northland".
"This rare site has unlimited potential to develop exclusive and enviable lifestyle retreats by maximising the multiple building sites," the booklet says.
International tenders close on Wednesday February 28, unless the property is sold first.
Mr Macfarlane said there had been interest from overseas for the property, but no firm tenders at this stage.
However he would not expect any until closer to the tender cut-off date.
He said any development of the site would likely be at the southern end.
Brief history of the sandspit:
1917 - Huge storm waves deposit tonnes of sand over trees and ferns.
1964 - Ngunguru Seaside Estates buys the sandspit from Maori. About 100 people form the Ngunguru Sandpit Preservation Society opposed to a holiday resort plan.
1962-1968 - The New Zealand Archaeological Association assists police and Maori elders to remove the remains of six people from the spit. Evidence indicates a long period of Maori occupation.
1968 _ Auckland company director Bob Green buys the sandspit for an estimated $150,000.
1993 - The peninsula is put up for sale by Mr Green in four titles. Suggested uses include tourist accommodation, a golf course, and marina development.
1994 - Ngati Taka hapu request a plan change to rezone Ngunguru Sandspit as a ``Protection Zone''. 200 people including the Department of Conservation, Whangarei District Council, Northland Regional Council, tangata whenua and the Forest and Bird society meet to ensure protection of the area.
More than 1500 Tutukaka Coast residents sign a petition to save the sandspit from development and ask the Crown to buy the land. Doc attempts to buy the sandspit for $605,000 but the asking price is $3-$5million.
1995 - The Historic Places Trust agrees to the destruction of seven middens on the sandspit to allow Mr Green to alter his boundaries. Ngatiwai Trust Board appeals. A study is commissioned by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.
1996 - The report criticises local authority and Doc handling and said more should have been done to buy and protect the sandspit. Ngatiwai loses its appeal against destruction of the middens.
2001 - Auckland developer Ocean Pines applies to the WDC to subdivide 90 hectares of the sandspit into 21 lots with no road access. An informal petition of 1000 signatures opposes development of the spit.
2004 - "Ngunguru Peninsula" is up for sale again.
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