The Rakiura Maori Lands Trust (RMLT) is welcoming a $2.15 million funding boost from the Provincial Growth Fund for its Rakiura Oneki and Southern Wilderness Experience project (ROSWE).

RMLT Chairman Simon Gomez said the funding will allow the first phase of a 20-year project to get underway in the very near future.

“It seeks to celebrate and highlight our nation’s unique whakapapa and heritage, and at the same time establish a best practice and low environmental impact tourism model based on our Kaupapa of returning our land back to what it was when our tupuna first set foot on Rakiura.”

Oneki/The Neck had the potential to become a high-profile environmental restoration project within New Zealand but also a World-Class heritage experience showcasing conservation/restoration and Māori cultural and historical activities, while allowing visitors to be part of the project, he said.

The phase one funding would be used to develop infrastructure on Oneki/The Neck, including an all-weather, biosecurity protected border-wharf at Lowry’s Beach, extension of tracks, a predator-proof fence, and building of shelters. Employment opportunities will be created through the project.

RMLT have a partnership with Real Journeys to grow world-class visitor experiences on Rakiura by developing joint commercial tourism opportunities. ROSWE is an expansion of the popular Wild Kiwi Encounter - their first joint venture with Real Journeys, that has been running since late 2016.

Real Journeys General Manager Paul Norris views it as a long-term partnership.

“Where we can bring our marketing reach and 65 years’ of tourism experience to host guests and help tell the stories of the Rakiura Maori who own the land and have a long history in the area.”       

Gomez said the new funding would assist the development of half-day/whole-day guided walks, with 360degree panoramic sea views - giving visitors a real-time experience of biodiversity restoration in action.

A range of other visitor opportunities were also being investigated, Gomez said.

The funding comprises a $950,000 PGF grant and $1.2m PGF loan, plus approximately $500,000 of RMLT’s own funds to meet the $2.65m phase one budget.

The project had strong community and key stakeholder endorsement and trust in the way it was being developed. It has been given full support by Southland Rūnanga, Te Rūnanga O Ngāi Tahu and the Department of Conservation, Gomez said.

Financial modelling undertaken as part of the business case indicated the proposed activities were commercially viable,” he said.

“The Covid-19 situation is likely to restrict international visitors in the short term but there is also a relatively firm consensus for an expected increase in domestic tourism in the short term that should help offset this.”

Gomez said initial profits from any visitor operations would be put back into continued restoration efforts on its lands.

RMLT have undertaken and continue to work on pest eradication and the regeneration of the coastal podocarp and inland forests on Trust lands, and have a proven track record of success.

Gomez said they were also keen to develop a sponsorship programme whereby people could buy/sponsor a trap or camera to assist in pest eradication efforts.