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Bay of Islands beach bought to save public access
Geoff Ricketts set up and now chairs the Ipipiri Nature Conservancy Trust, which just bought Elliot Bay Farm in the Bay of Islands. The trust is going to preserve public access to the beach and also hopes to build a Great Walk standard multi-day walk on the bush-covered land. In this podcast, we asked Geoff to tell us about the area.
The property is 700 hectares of which 200 hectares is farmland and rest is bush. It sits between the Whangamumu Harbour south of the Cape Brett Peninsula, and the Russell State Forest.
Elliot Bay itself is also a wonderful surf beach.
"If you don't have Elliot Bay you can't create a continuous similar to the great walks of the South Island from out to Cape Brett and then to Whangamumu and to Pahi Bay and Elliot Bay and up to join the Russell Forest. You have the potential to make a good 3-night 4-day walk," says Geoff.
There is a campground at Elliot Bay that has been there for decades. The Elliot family have operated it over the summers. It is very popular, and many families have camped there for three generations. one end of the beach is also home to fledgling NZ dotterels.
The Elliot family rules of access to the beach are simple, says Geoff Ricketts, and they should stay - no dogs and no vehicles.
The Elliot family, which had owned the farm and allowed public access for decades had decided to sell. Locals were concerned that it could be split up and developed, and public access could be lost.
Geoff kept an eye on the tender process. When the tender closed in 2018 he contacted the land agent who said it was likely to be broken up into 4 blocks.
He thought that would be a tragedy because the opportunity to create a great walk would be lost.
Geoff went to see John Elliot and asked what legacy he wanted for his land. John liked the idea of what Geoff and the local people in the region were trying to do.
Geoff set up the Ipipiri Nature Conservancy Trust to buy the property and protect it in perpetuity. This week the trust was able to buy the property. It received significant financial support from the Next Foundation, which was looking to support programmes of regional significance.
The Walking Access Commission's Northland regional field advisor John Gardiner had previously tried to secure public access to the beach. He was a keen supporter of Ipipiri Trust's fundraising work.
"Linking this property with the track network administered by the Department of Conservation, including Te Araroa Trail, opens up enormous recreational and tourism potential. It will also provide for exciting employment opportunities for local hapū within the recreational and tourism field," says John.
The trust has raised $6 million of the $8 million it needed for the purchase. All the money has come from locals rather than the government.
The Ipipiri Nature Conservancy Trust now has until 2023 to raise the last $2 million of Elliot Farm’s $8 million price tag.
Geoff’s working hard with local iwi and other Bay of Islands residents to secure the last of the money and to plan how best to use the land in the public interest.
"If we can get a world-class track of great walk standard it will create employment and opportunities for local people," he says.
This will require some upgrading of the track. There are no formal walks from Whangamumu to Russell Forest yet. But there are informal walks.
"It's a great 4-day walk. I've done all those walks in bits and pieces over the years. It's also rich in early Māori migration history. And then Cook and du Fresne came there as well."
Photo credits: Shellie Evans