12,109ha of Great Barrier Island is to be set aside in a new Aotea Conservation Park.
Conservation Minister Nick Smith & Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye announced the park decision at a community function in Claris yesterday.
It will be the Department of Conservation’s largest park in Auckland, similar in size to Auckland Council’s Hunua & Waitakere Ranges parks, but will be broken into 18 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. Ms Kaye proposed the new park in September, the minister initiated a formal investigation in October and a discussion paper was issued in December.
Dr Smith said: “This new park will bring significant conservation, recreational & tourism benefits to Auckland. My ambition is that, with improved facilities & stronger protection, we will see more Aucklanders choosing to visit & getting to know the natural wonders of their own city on Great Barrier Island,
“The treasure of this new island park is its spectacular coastal & bluffed landscapes, rich forests & unique species. The park includes New Zealand’s largest area of possum-free forest, including impressive stands of kauri, pohutukawa, kanuka & Great Barrier tree daisy. It has healthy bird populations of kaka, pateke (brown teal), puweto (spotless crake) and matata (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 & niho taniwha (chevron skink).
“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.”
Dr Smith said extensive storm damage in the last 2 months would delay setting up og the new park: “The immediate priority is the restoration of tracks, bridges, repair of huts, signage, campgrounds & 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 & gazetted in coming months. It is my intention to also appoint a park advisory committee with iwi & island representation. The plan is to have this work & the repairs completed to enable a formal opening over summer.”
Attribution: Ministerial release.