Ponui Island farmers want to stay put, with help
The Chamberlain family has been farming on Ponui Island in the Hauraki Gulf for five generations — since 1853 — but it’s no longer an economic proposition, say present-day farmers Peter, son David and cousin Richard.
Ponui divides the waters of Auckland and the Firth of Thames, with the small dots of Rotoroa and Pakatoa between it and the eastern tip of Waiheke. Pakatoa is a better-known market proposition since its 1980s sale for $8.5 million by Pacer Kerridge to a German businessman, Ralf Simon, fell through. Bought in 1994 for about $3.5 million by a Waikato couple, it is again up for sale, this time as a going concern which includes a ferry.
The Chamberlains confess they don’t even have a jetty. Plenty of boaties turn up there — Peter Chamberlain said, after making suggestions for future use to the Auckland City Council’s planning and regulatory committee on Friday, that up to 500 boats would anchor on a good weekend off the farm of millionaire John Spencer, who is the 1800ha island’s third farm owner, and plenty of them wander over the island.
Auckland Regional Council has been the main buyer of significant areas around the region for public parks, paying large sums to put some prominent peninsulas into public ownership. But the Chamberlains think that’s a waste of money. They want to stay on their two island farms, but with some recompense for public access.
Peter Chamberlain said it was “an unspoilt and well farmed island with many acres of native bush, including stands of kauri. Ponui is already designated a wildlife refuge and is home to many native birds, including kiwis,” and the island has a youth camp.
But farming? That’s out as an economic proposition, unless it’s some form of show-farming or costs such as rates are discounted. “Returns from hill-country farming are marginal at best, more so when applied to island farming. Subdivision has ben an option put forward, but is not one we like to seriously consider, due mainly to the adverse impact it would have on Ponui’s unspoilt beauty.”
Peter Chamberlain said the family, Auckland City, the regional council and Conservation Department looked a couple of years ago at ways of preserving the island for public use and they want to return to the idea.
“There is an opportunity here for a partnership between landowners and the local and regional bodies. It would seem to make sense for land to be retained by farming families while at the same time allowing controlled public access. A rental could be paid to landowners for providing land and services in this way. A system such as this should be considerably cheaper to administer than the purchase and maintenance of new parkland.”
The Chamberlains said they faced the possibility of a 40% rate rise last year, but Cllr Kay McKelvie said imminent reclassification of the island as rural 3 land meant the rates would be minimal.
They say one of the farms has a farming-based valuation of about $1.5 million, but valuation in the near future is likely to be determined by a much higher price tag on Pakatoa.
Peter Chamberlain said he was prompted to approach local bodies after learning Duder Pt, on the mainland, was sold for $5 million to become a park. “It probably costs them $5-700,000 a year just to run the place. If they’d paid Ian Duder, say $250,000 a year and he went on farming it, the farm would have improved and you’d still have the public access.”
That’s the kind of deal the Chamberlains want, and it got a good reception from the mayor, Christine Fletcher and committee chairman Juliet Yates. Said Cllr Yates: “This is a stunning offer to let the public enjoy the island. I’m sure there are ways in which we can pursue your offer. The opportunity for partnership is one I’m recommending to my committee to take up.”
The committee resolved to let the Hauraki Gulf Committee look at the proposal and to examine it with the other local bodies.
The alternative would be sale “to speculators,” though Peter Chamberlain said the price would need to be well above the farm valuation.