High Court says iwi can charge businesses operating on Lake Taupō

By Will Trafford

A High Court ruling has upheld the property rights of Ngāti Tūwharetoa to license and charge users for operating commercial activities on lake Taupō.

Ownership of the lake was transferred to Ngāti Tūwharetoa in its Waitangi settlement deed in 1992. That was reaffirmed in 2007 but some commercial operators challenged Ngāti Tūwharetoa's rights as kaitiaki, refusing to pay levies to the iwi.

In 2017 the Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board launched legal proceedings to clarify its commercial right to charge operators.

Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board chairman John Bishara welcomed the High Court’s ruling.

“The trust board is pleased that the High Court has upheld the property rights of Ngāti Tūwharetoa in our taonga, Taupō moana." 

"The trust board was successful on all grounds,” he said.

No charges during Covid-19

Trust chief executive Shane Heremaia says while several entities have been operating commercial activities without charges for some time, he's conscious of the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on their operations.

“We know it has been a tough time for our community and local business – to express our understanding and support we choose to forgo any commercial fees when the pandemic broke out last year,” he said.

Heremaia stressed the ruling has no effect on recreational users of the roto. 

“As kaitiaki of Lake Taupō, Ngāti Tūwharetoa have always welcomed the general public to enjoy our beautiful lake and rivers – that will continue to be the case.”