Minister sought iwi blessing of $13m investment in Taranaki trek

The regional development minister says iwi support was crucial to towards the creation of a ‘maunga to moana‘ trek on Mt Taranaki.

The 41km Taranaki Crossing Experience will include a series of one-day walks. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Shane Jones announced a $20 million provincial growth package for Taranaki at the launch of a regional economic strategy in New Plymouth on Friday.

The 41 kilometre Taranaki Crossing Experience will include a series of one-day walks which will traverse Egmont National Park from Dawson Falls via the North Egmont Visitor‘s Centre, Pouākai Ranges and Pukeiti Gardens before descending to the Tasman Sea at Oakura.

Mr Jones said the crossing would increase the time visitors spend in the region and unlock Taranaki‘s tourism potential.

But he said would not have backed the idea if Taranaki‘s eight iwi had not been given it their blessing.

“I didn‘t feel confident about advancing the kaupapa of Taranaki crossing unless the tangata whenua were integrally involved because if they‘re not I can just see a big bloody headache, to be honest with you.

“And they promised me this morning that their involvement is credible and their involvement is not forced and it‘s voluntary.”

Shane Jones said iwi support was crucial to his commitment of $13.3m towards the ‘maunga to moana‘ trek. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The next largest investment announced was $5m towards the $15m restoration and development of the earthquake prone Taranaki Cathedral.

Mr Jones said the cathedral built in 1846 had the potential to become a tourism attraction that would showcase the sometimes turbulent story of European settlement in Taranaki and the relationship between Pākehā and Māori over 175 years.

Tapuae Roa – Make Way for Taranaki strategy is heavy on rhetoric about transitioning from an oil and gas and dairy led economy to one dominated by technology, clean energy and future foods businesses.

Mr Jones acknowledged that despite this, the bulk of direct investment had gone into tourism.

He said those decisions were influenced by the local leaders who had created the strategy.

“Taranaki has had a primrose path with black gold and white gold. All Kiwis know this. Now all the government is doing here is putting some money into enabling infrastructure that over time will boost the prospects of tourism.

“The challenge for tourism in Aotearoa is not to create a situation that‘s overwhelmed with positions that have grotty pay.”

Te Runanga o Ngāti Maru Trust chairman Jamie Tuuta said Taranaki iwi recognised there was huge potential for tourism in Taranaki and they supported the strategy.

“What today does is provide a catalyst, if you like the beginnings of the investment that needs to be made and I think fundamentally it requires a shift in mindset in terms of some focus on tourism and on how we can really get the visitor economy moving here in Taranaki.”

Te Runanga o Ngāti Maru Trust chair, Jamie Tuuta. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mr Tuuta said Taranaki iwi were confident they could leverage off the maunga to create high-value businesses and jobs.

But not everybody was thrilled with the investments announced on Friday.

Plant and platforms consultant Steve Blackman walked out when the funding for the cathedral was announced.

Mr Blackman said funding the cathedral‘s restoration did not fit in the strategy and the church should pay for the work.

He described the strategy as “a lot of hot air”.

Massey University business development officer for Taranaki, Eve Kawana-Brown, said she was disappointed at the $175,000 earmarked for future foods opportunities.

“I can only imagine that is about initial feasibility and then there‘s an application made for actual tranches of funding for new enterprise, new initiatives because, yeah, that‘s a tiny drop in the bucket of what would be needed to actually do anything.”

Other investments announced at the launch included $400,000 to investigate upgrading State Highway 43, or the Forgotten Highway, which links Taranaki to the central North Island.

Seed funding was also being made available for clean energy and forestry projects and a stock-take of Māori enterprises.

Central government funding announced:

  • $13.34 million for the Taranaki Crossing Experience
  • $5m for the Taranaki Cathedral restoration and upgrades
  • $100,000 towards a business case for a New Energy Development Centre in Taranaki
  • $100,000 to undertake a stock-take of Māori enterprise and education in Taranaki, with a focus on STEAMID (the broad areas of science, technology, engineering, arts/design, mathematics, innovation, and digital)
  • $100,000 towards an initial feasibility study to establish innovation precincts across Taranaki
  • $50,000 towards the establishment of ‘H2 Taranaki‘
  • $50,000 towards a business case for developing a Taranaki Future Foods Accelerator
  • $250,000 for the development of a business guide to tree planting on Taranaki hill country farms
  • $400,000 for a SH43 business case
  • $175,000 towards future food – major regional food opportunities