Native Affairs Summer Series – Tourism Headache for Coromandel Iwi

By Renee Kahukura-Iosefa
  • Waikato/Bay of Plenty

The growing number of tourists visiting Coromandel’s Cathedral Cove is worrying local iwi concerned about protecting their significant sites.

Cathedral Cove or Mautohe, as it is known to iwi Ngāti Hei, is Tourism New Zealand's ‘Cover Girl’. Up to 200,000 tourists visit the area each year, mainly during the summer.

“During peak time you might be standing at the top waiting to get to the bottom for 5, 10, minutes while a constant stream of people are heading up. It’s almost like a nightclub, says Ngāti Hei spokesperson Peter Matai Johnson. “You need a bouncer on that’s going to let people in as other people leave. It’s really getting to that point,” he says.

While Ngāti Hei welcomes the visitors, they are concerned about the impact tourism is having on sites of importance to the iwi, like Mautohe which was a fortified pā site in pre-European times.

During the busy summer season, the historic site attracts almost 3,000 people each day. 

“We’re concerned with sustainability from a conservation aspect,” says Mr Johnson. “From [a] kaitiakitanga [aspect] it’s how do we maintain balance. How much is too much, how much is enough, how much is not enough? These are questions we are struggling with, other agencies are struggling with,” he says.

With Ngāti Hei about to settle its Treaty claim, and various landmarks in the district to be co-managed between iwi, DoC and local authorities as part of the deal, any solution to these concerns will inevitably be a collaborative effort.

The importance of partnership with Māori is not lost on the local council.

“I know councils are often struggling with how they work with Māori and projects,” says Thames Coromandel District Council area manager Garry Towler. “It’s just a matter of getting together, sitting down and talking it through because I know Māori want to progress with these things too. It’s not just a one-way street. So, partnerships, honest transparent partnerships, they work,” he says.

With tourists flocking to the Coromandel again this summer, Ngāti Hei will be keen to find a solution to the environmental pressures on Mautohe.