The collision between perceptions about Waiheke Island and its social reality causes tensions which may have informed Sir Peter Leitch's interaction with a local Maori woman this week.

Sir Peter has come under fire after a video showing a local woman, 23-year-old Lara Bridger, crying after feeling racially harassed by the well-known public figure went viral.

Many people thought Waiheke was full of wealthy people, but the reality was that many families were struggling to pay rent or their mortgages due to gentrification, said Waiheke board chairman Paul Walden.

"There's been some tension which has come out of a very real situation that has seen a Waiheke community gentrified, with many long-standing Waiheke families no longer able to afford to live or own or rent a house on Waiheke," Walden told the Herald.


"It's not a desirable situation and I think it's an indicator that tourism and the Waiheke community are not sustainable at this point and time."

Walden said people thought Waiheke was only populated with wealthy people, but the reality was that despite a few very wealthy individuals living there, a lot of families were doing it tough.

Wealthy visitors also gave the impression the island was a playground for the rich but this was not the case, he said.

Walden made it clear he did not want to make assumptions about what had gone on between Sir Peter and Bridger, but said the larger social context invariably came with tensions.

"Perceptions and reality don't align and I think that's what was colliding the other day."

He said a serious conversation about affordable housing on Waiheke needed to be had.

Sir Peter's comment that Waiheke was "a white man's island now" upset Bridger, who later told media she had never felt like she didn't belong there until that moment.

According to the latest census data, nearly 91 per cent of Waiheke's 8340 residents identified as European.

That number dropped to 59 per cent across Auckland as a whole.

Just over 11 per cent identified as Maori on the island, slightly lower than in 2006 when slightly more than 12 per cent of residents did.

The median age of Waiheke residents was 45.3 years, the second-highest of all local board areas.