12,109 hectares of Great Barrier Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf is to be set aside in a new Aotea Conservation Park, Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith announced today at a community function in Claris with Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye.
"This new park will bring significant conservation, recreational and tourism benefits to Auckland. My ambition is that with improved facilities and stronger protection, we will see more Aucklanders choosing to visit and getting to know the natural wonders of their own city on Great Barrier Island," Dr Smith says.
"The treasure of this new island park is its spectacular coastal and bluffed landscapes, rich forests and unique species. The park includes New Zealand's largest area of possum-free forest including impressive stands of kauri, pōhutukawa, kānuka and Great Barrier tree daisy. It has healthy bird populations of kaka, pāteke (brown teal), pūweto (spotless crake) and mātātā (fernbird). It has the most diverse range of native freshwater species of any offshore island in New Zealand, and populations of very rare frogs, native paua slugs and niho taniwha (chevron skink).
"This new park is well-justified with it containing Auckland's richest area for native plant and birdlife. It will be the Department of Conservation's largest park in Auckland and will be similar in size to the Auckland Council's Hunua and Waitakere Ranges parks. "
The new Aotea Conservation Park includes 18 different blocks of general stewardship land. The proposal follows the report of the Parliament Commissioner for the Environment in August 2013 which recommended a review of the legal status of higher value stewardship land. The new park was proposed by local MP Ms Kaye in September. The Minister initiated a formal investigation in October and a discussion paper was issued in December.
"This new park was very strongly supported with 2754 submissions. Many non-Island submitters wanted it to be further upgraded to national park status but this was not supported by most Islanders. I am advised that as much of the forest was previously logged, it is unlikely to meet the stricter criteria of the National Parks Act at this time. I have decided to confirm conservation park status. One change to the boundaries is an exclusion from the park of a small area of the Whangaparapara Cemetery that is to be transferred to Auckland Council. The Geographic Board has confirmed the proposed name of the new park as the Aotea Conservation Park," Dr Smith says.
"There will be some delay in implementing this new park with the extensive storm damage to Great Barrier Island these last two months. The immediate priority is the restoration of tracks, bridges, repair of huts, signage, campgrounds and the Department's office, for which the Government has committed $2.5 million. This timely decision on the new park enables this repair work to be done to the higher standard expected of a conservation park.
"The final steps are for the new Aotea Conservation Park to be surveyed and gazetted in coming months. It is my intention to also appoint a park advisory committee with iwi and Island representation. The plan is to have this work and the repairs completed to enable a formal opening over summer," Dr Smith concluded.