An agreement clarifying how public access will be allowed through Hunter Valley Station has been signed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the controversial American owner of the high-country farm.
US TV host Matt Lauer purchased the lease to Hunter Valley Station, on the shores of Lake Hāwea for $13 million in 2017. He partly opened the station to the public, complying with Overseas Investment Office conditions.
The millionaire has since been dismissed from his job hosting NBC's Today Show over sexual misconduct allegations.
Public access to the station has been an issue of debate for many years, even before Lauer's ownership.
It is hoped the new agreement, thrashed out by DOC, Land Information NZ (LINZ) and the station owner, with advice from the Walking Access Commission, will resolve issues that made national headlines earlier this year around public access through the farm to get to the Hunter River Valley in the Hunter River Conservation Area and Hāwea Conservation Park.
The Walking Access Commission has agreed to place on hold its application for an easement on Hunter Valley Station farm track, which had previously been lodged with the Commissioner for Crown Lands, to give the agreement time to work.
Under the new agreement, up to six 4WD vehicles per day may be granted access to Hunter Valley Station farm track between December and April, a Doc
Winter conditions from 1 May to 30 November mean public access for 4WD vehicles during that time was generally unavailable
Mountain bike, foot and horse access will be available year-round, outside of a closure for lambing 1 October to 1 December.
Conditions include a $35 fee charged by Hunter Valley Station for each vehicle to contribute to the maintenance of the private farm track.
The arrangements and all necessary contact details to arrange access would be available on both the Hunter Valley Station and DOC websites.
The agreement describes the public use of Hunter Valley Station farm track and outlines how access can be obtained.
"It ensures the public will know how and when they can use the farm track, while respecting the ability of Hunter Valley Station to operate as a working farm. Hunter Valley is Crown pastoral lease and the lessee has exclusive rights of possession. Without this agreement the public have no rights to access the property, " a Doc spokeswoman said.
DOC Central Otago operations manager Mike Tubbs said Doc welcomed the agreement.
"Improving public access to conservation areas is important to us. With this agreement the public now have a clear outline of the access to Hunter River Valley and Hāwea Conservation Park."
On behalf of Lauer, Orange Lakes director and lawyer Graeme Todd said while no one could point to any person having been unreasonably denied access over the farm track since Orange Lakes took over the Hunter Valley Station in 2017, it agreed "it wouldn't hurt for there to be more clarity around what access had been given since Orange Lakes took ownership, how access could be arranged and the terms upon which it would be granted".
Prior to this agreement access through Hunter Valley Station was not always well understood.
This agreement will enable the public to have a better understanding of how to obtain consent to travel over the working farm to the public conservation land.
Formal public access for walking, horse riding and biking to the Hunter River Valley continues to be available via a 32-kilometre track from the Dingle Burn car park via Turihuka Conservation Area on the eastern side of Lake Hāwea.
In order to give time and space for the agreement to succeed, The Walking Access Commission is placing on hold its application for an easement on Hunter Valley Station farm track, which had previously been lodged with the Commissioner for Crown Lands.
The terms of the agreement will be regularly reviewed by Doc, Linz, Orange Lakes and NZWAC.
Public seeking access must contact the farm manager prior to using the track. At least 24 hours' notice will normally be required.
- Additional reporting NZ Herald