Te Urewera Act

Te Urewera Act 2014

Te Urewera is an area of mostly forested, sparsely populated rugged hill country in the North Island of New Zealand, much of it in the northern Hawke's Bay Region, and some in the eastern Bay of Plenty Region. Much of it is in the Huiarau, Ikawhenua, and Maungapohatu ranges, and there are also lowland areas in the north.  The Waikaremoana and Waikareiti lakes lie in the south-eastern part.

The Te Urewera Act

The Te Urewera Act (“the Act”) replaces the National Parks Act 1980 for the governance and management of Te Urewera. The key principles of the new Act are:

  • Te Urewera ceases to be a national park and is vested in itself as its own legal entity; and
  • Te Urewera will own itself in perpetuity with the Board to speak as its voice to provide governance and management in accordance with the principles of the Act

The purpose of the Act is to establish and preserve in perpetuity a legal entity and protected status for Te Urewera for its intrinsic worth, its distinctive natural and cultural values, the integrity of those values, and for its national importance, and in particular to:

  • strengthen and maintain the connection between Tūhoe and Te Urewera; and
  • preserve as far as possible the natural features and beauty of Te Urewera, the integrity of its indigenous ecological systems and biodiversity, and its historical and cultural heritage; and
  • provide for Te Urewera as a place for public use and enjoyment, for recreation, learning, and spiritual reflection, and as an inspiration for all.

Background to the Act

Section 3 states Te Urewera is ancient and enduring, a fortress of nature, alive with history; its scenery is abundant with mystery, adventure, and remote beauty. Te Urewera is a place of spiritual value, with its own mana and mauri. Te Urewera has an identity in and of itself, inspiring people to commit to its care.

Te Urewera and Tūhoe

For Tūhoe, Te Urewera is Te Manawa o te Ika a Māui; it is the heart of the great fish of Maui, its name being derived from Murakareke, the son of the ancestor Tūhoe. For Tūhoe, Te Urewera is their ewe whenua, their place of origin and return, their homeland. Te Urewera expresses and gives meaning to Tūhoe culture, language, customs, and identity. There Tūhoe hold mana by ahikāroa; they are tangata whenua and kaitiaki of Te Urewera.

Te Urewera and all New Zealanders

Te Urewera is prized by other iwi and hapū who have acknowledged special associations with, and customary interests in, parts of Te Urewera. Te Urewera is also prized by all New Zealanders as a place of outstanding national value and intrinsic worth; it is treasured by all for the distinctive natural values of its vast and rugged primeval forest, and for the integrity of those values; for its indigenous ecological systems and biodiversity, its historical and cultural heritage, its scientific importance, and as a place for outdoor recreation and spiritual reflection


Section 4 states in achieving the purpose of the Act, all persons performing functions and exercising powers under this Act must act so that, as far as possible:

  • Te Urewera is preserved in its natural state
  • The indigenous and ecological systems and biodiversity of Te Urewera are preserved, and introduced plants and animals are exterminated
  • Tūhoetanga, which gives expression to Te Urewera, is valued and respected
  •  the relationship of other iwi and hapū with parts of Te Urewera is recognised, valued, and respected
  • the historical and cultural heritage of Te Urewera is preserved
  • the value of Te Urewera for soil, water, and forest conservation is maintained
  • the contribution that Te Urewera can make to conservation nationally is recognised

Legal entity of Te Urewera

Section 11 establishes Te Urewera as a legal entity, with all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person. Te Urewera Board exercises the rights, powers and duties of Te Urewera. Liabilities are also the responsibility of Te Urewera Board except for rates, fire authority levies and contamination of land (see s 96).

Vesting of Te Urewera establishment land

Te Urewera Act makes clear that Te Urewera ceases to be vested in the Crown, ceases to be Crown land, and ceases to be a national park (s 12).  Te Urewera is now freehold land (albeit inalienable except in accordance with Te Urewera Act, see s 13).

Governance and management of Te Urewera

Section 16 establishes Te Urewera Board. The purposes of the Board are to act on behalf of and in the name of, Te Urewera, and to provide governance in accordance with the Act.

The functions of the Board are (s 17):

  • to prepare and approve Te Urewera management plan
  • to advise the persons managing Te Urewera on the implementation of the management plan
  • to initiate proposals and make recommendations for adding to or removing land from Te Urewera, acquiring interests in land and establishing specially protected areas, wilderness areas and amenity areas within Te Urewera
  • to make bylaws for Te Urewera
  • to authorise activities that must not otherwise be undertaken in Te Urewera without an authorisation under Part 2
    • to prepare or commission reports, advice or recommendations on matters relevant to the purposes of the Board
    • to promote or advocate for the interests of Te Urewera in any statutory process or at any public forum and to liaise with, advise, or seek advice from any agency, local authority, or other entity on matters relevant to the purposes of the Board
    • to perform any other function of the Board specified in this Act or in any other enactment
    • to take any other action that the Board considers to be relevant and appropriate in achieving its purposes.


Te Urewera will be governed by a Board of 4 Crown and 4 Tūhoe representatives, changing after 3 years to 3 Crown and 6 Tūhoe members. The Ministers of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations and the Minister of Conservation appoints the Crown representatives, as agreed to by Tūhoe. The inaugural Tūhoe representatives are chosen by the Te Uru Taumatua Board, in future all Tūhoe representatives will be appointed by the Tūhoe Tribals. The chair position of the Board will be a Tūhoe person, in perpetuity. Following the three year rotation, the next Crown representatives will be selected by the Minister of Conservation solely.

The Board is directed to reflect customary values and law. Section 18(2) states that the Board may “consider and give expression to “Tūhoetanga” and “Tūhoe concepts of management such as rāhui, tapu me noa, mana me mauri, and tohu”.

The concepts of management are given the following definitions in accordance with the understanding with Tūhoe (s 18(3)):

  • mana me mauri - conveys a sense of the sensitive perception of a living and spiritual force in a place
  • rāhui conveys the sense of the prohibition or limitation of a use for an appropriate reason
  • tapu means a state or condition that requires certain respectful human conduct, including raising awareness or knowledge of the spiritual qualities requiring respect
  • tapu me noa conveys, in tapu, the concept of sanctity, a state that requires respectful human behaviour in a place; and in noa, the sense that when the tapu is lifted from the place, the place returns to a normal state
  • tohu connotes the metaphysical or symbolic depiction of things.

Section 20 makes it clear that the Board “must consider and provide appropriately for the relationship of iwi and hapū and their culture and traditions with Te Urewera when making decisions” and that the purpose of this is to “recognise and reflect” Tūhoetanga and the Crown’s responsibility under the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi).

The Act mandates that the Board must strive to make some decisions by unanimous agreement (such as the approval of Te Urewera management plan) and some decisions by consensus (see sections 33 and 34).

The Board must work with the chief executive of Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua and the Director-General of Conservation to develop an annual budget.  Section 38(2) states that the chief executive and the Director-General “must contribute equally to the costs provided for in the budget, unless both agree to a different contribution”.

All revenue received by the Board must be paid into a bank account of the Board and used for achieving the purpose of the Act (s 39(1)).

For taxation purposes, Te Urewera and the Board are deemed to be the same person (s 40(1)).

Similarly to national parks, work undertaken in Te Urewera does not require a resource consent under the Resource Management Act 1991 if that work is for the purpose of managing Te Urewera, is consistent with Te Urewera Act and its management plan, and does not have a significant adverse effect on the environment beyond the boundary of Te Urewera (s 43).

The chief executive of Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua and the Director-General of Conservation are responsible for the operational management of Te Urewera (s 50) and must prepare an annual operational plan (s 53).

The Director-General and every other person who performs functions and exercises powers and duties under the Conservation Act 1987 has the powers that are necessary or expedient for the performance of the functions and exercise of the powers and duties under Te Urewera Act (s 52).

Te Urewera Act stipulates what activities are permitted in Te Urewera and what activities require authorisation and in what form (see s 55).  The National Parks Act does something similar for national parks.

Section 58 of Te Urewera Act lists activities that require an activity permit.  These include: taking any plant; disturbing or hunting any animal (other than sports fish); possessing dead protected wildlife for any cultural or other purpose; entering specially protected areas; making a road; establishing accommodation; farming; and recreational hunting.  This is a comprehensive list and demonstrates that the tight rules for preserving national park land have been transported to Te Urewera.

Throughout Te Urewera Act the legislation is clear that Te Urewera may still be mined.  Section 64(1) is one example of this where it states: “Despite anything in this Act, Te Urewera land is to be treated as if it were Crown land described in Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act 1991” (see also s 56(b) where a mining activity authorised by the Crown Minerals Act can be undertaken without authorisation from the Board).


The Act both facilitates management of Te Urewera by a new Te Urewera Board and declares that Te Urewera is a legal entity. Te Urewera ceases to be a national park as a result of the Act. Te Urewera Act is undoubtedly legally revolutionary here in Aotearoa New Zealand and on a world scale.


For further analysis see the article Tūhoe – Crown settlement – Te Urewera Act 2014 in October 2014 Māori Law Review here.

Last updated at 2:39PM on November 17, 2017