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Home arrow Articles by Topic arrow Public Ownership arrow In safe hands
In safe hands PDF Print
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Articles - Public Ownership
Written by Beth Neill. Scene Magazine, December 2010   
Thursday, 31 March 2011

Reprinted with the permission of Scene magazine

Original layout (PDF, 2.75MB) or here .

In April 2008, Minister of Conservation Steve Chadwick visited Ngunguru. After discussions with Ngunguru Sandspit Protection Society (NSaPS) and the landowner (Landco), the government agreed to negotiate to secure the sandspit as a conservation area.

The present Key government has renewed that 2008 commitment, and several landswap proposals have been mooted. the government has now tasked Todd Property (formerly Landco), to find a new proposal.

Ngunguru Sandspit is one of only a few unmodified sandspits remaining in New Zealand and the only sandspit, north of Auckland, which is unmodified by housing, forestry or agriculture.

Ngunguru Sandspit ofers a sharp contrast to many sandspits which have been built upon to the detriment of local ecology, biodiversity, and natural character.

The village of Ngunguru is protected from river floods, ocean storm waves and tsunami by the sandspit. Its key values include:


Tourism in Northland is now the region’s second-biggest money earner. A recent edition of the renowned National Geographic Traveller rated Tutukaka Coast 2nd equal in global rankings of the 100 best coastal locations for tourists.

The survey emphasised the natural environment, cultural aspects, and the potential dangers of degradation by inappropriate coastal developments.

Protecting the natural environment of the Northland coast will protect and grow the economic value of the tourism industry.

Amenity values:

When visitors see the Ngunguru estuary and sandspit they often comment on the ‘human’ scale of the activity – sitting and looking, walking on the beaches, seafood gathering, kayaking and swimming.

In recent research, Damian Collins and Robin Kearns noted that this ‘human’ viewpoint is embedded in some special characteristics which arise from Whakairiora mountain and the sandspit being visible but difficult to access. This lack of access makes
the ‘safe hands’ idea bigger — it becomes about protecting a de facto ‘mainland island’.

Its ecological, heritage and landscape values would be compromised by greater access.

Waahi Tapu: culture and heritage

The local community acknowledges a deep (and for some, spiritual) reverence for the mountain and the sandspit. For local Maori, the reverence is informed by the history and archaeological significance of the sandspit as a battle site — blood and bones make it sacred.

The Ngunguru sandspit was the site of an historic battle in the 1830s, which ended a sustained campaign by southern Maori against Ngapuhi.

Ngunguru Sandspit and Whakairiora have great significance to tangata whenua who have a long history of living on and from this land. Culturally sensitive sites include those related to gardening and cultivation, pa sites, middens, terraces, house sites, storage pits, and urupa.

Ngunguru Sandspit was the site of early European/Maori commerce. Kauri logging along Ngunguru River saw the establishment of one of New Zealand’s earliest sawmills in 1840. Ngunguru harbour was charted in 1836 by the Captain of HMS Buffalo; and Ngunguru river was a vital conduit for the transport of coal from the Kiripaka coalmines and for the export of kauri logs.


The Department of Conservation has identified Ngunguru Sandspit as a priority for protection because it is as an example of a surviving habitat which is rare in Northland, and in New Zealand.

Note: Walkers may swim or boat across to the sandspit for a beautiful walk (below mean high tide mark) along the estuary or the ocean. Anyone interested in the ‘safe hands’ approach can find out more online.

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