Nelson Forests: Golden Downs – Partnership in action

NML staff planting totara. L to R David Hill, Andrew Karalus, Marion Hughes, Jasmine Snowsill, Craig Brown and Mark Forward
NML staff planting totara. Left to Right: David Hill, Andrew Karalus, Marion Hughes, Jasmine Snowsill, Craig Brown and Mark Forward



True partnership is something to which many companies and organisations aspire. Iwi landowner Ngāti Toa Rangatira and local forest company Nelson Management Ltd (NML*—the management company for the Nelson Forests estate) are working together to embody the ethos of partnership in the Golden Downs forest.

Golden Downs is a 33,000ha area of forest estate that most people are only familiar with because they pass through it, either heading south from Nelson towards Murchison or on their way to the West Coast. Many people are unaware of the rich history of forest planting and harvesting in the area—and the rich cultural signi cance of the whenua itself.

Two years ago Ngāti Toa reached settlement of its claims under the Treaty of Waitangi. Part of that settlement was that Ngāti Toa would receive 50 percent of the Crown Forest licence area in the top of the South Island. That in turn meant that it then owned 83 percent of the land in the area that is known as Golden Downs.

The Ngāti Toa iwi’s management is based in Wellington; NML, as the company that plants, grows and harvests the trees in Golden Downs, knew that it needed to reach out to the new landowner and establish a constructive working relationship from the outset.

“Under the Crown Forest licence structure forestry companies have 35 years to harvest all the trees on the land that iwi owners have had returned to them as part of the settlement process,” says Managing Director of NML Lees Seymour.“

As the company harvests, it must offer the land back to the iwi, and the iwi then decides whether it will be used for something else, or if the forest owner can continue to plant and harvest on the land, paying a rental for the licence to do that. Ngāti Toa were very clear from the outset that they wanted us to continue, and that clarity has helped us a great deal.”

Lees says that shared values between Ngāti Toa and NML, and clarity of purpose for both parties meant that the relationship got o to a good start.

“We have a long-term view when it comes to our use of the land, and we are very environmentally conscious. For us this was the beginning of at least a thirty-year relationship and we worked to develop trust and establish common ground from the start,” says Lees.

Ngāti Toa Rangatira Executive Director Sir Matiu Te Rei shares this view. “We are very pleased and happy to be working with NML. They are a very good company, with a strategic plan that complements our outlook for the future,” says Sir Matiu.

Part of NML’s role was educational, in the sense of helping Ngāti Toa to understand the forestry business. Inviting Ngāti Toa representatives to be honoured guests at the 60th anniversary of the 1st tree planting by local children in Coronation Forest within Golden Downs was significant, says Lees.“

Ngāti Toa Executive Director Sir Matiu Te Rei and others from Ngāti Toa could see our values and beliefs in action and see how we interact with our community.”

NML also worked with Ngāti Toa on another significant community initiative, providing access for Tasman’s Great Taste Trail to pass across land owned by the iwi. “Ngāti Toa were very happy to help and easy to deal with,” says Lees.

The Great Taste Trail is an initiative of Tasman District Council and the Nelson Tasman Cycle Trail Trust. It is providing a community recreational facility and, alongside the region’s mountain biking trails, positioning Nelson-Tasman as a leading cycle tourism and recreational destination. When complete, the Great Taste Trail will be a 174km loop passing through some of the region’s stunning coastal and inland areas.

With the recent opening of the Spooners Tunnel section there is now more than 100km of predominantly off-road trail open to the public. Gillian Wratt, Chair of the Nelson Tasman Cycle Trail Trust says that “the support from NML in having their contractor, Taylors Construction, work on the access route to Spooners Tunnel, was instrumental in matching Council funds to get this section of the Trail open. The support of NML and Ngāti Toa were key in achieving a common goal that is good for the community and an attraction to the region.”

NML also received a deeply significant and poignant request from Ngāti Toa when the iwi asked if NML would plant tōtara in the forest estate for future generations to use as pou for marae wharenui or in other ceremonial ways. “We were very happy to do this,” says Lees. “We have sourced the seedlings, planted them and will care for them on behalf the iwi. We hope to take Ngāti Toa representatives out to see the tōtara during an upcoming visit.”

Lees himself has connections to common ancestors of Ngāti Toa several generations back and believes that being Māori himself has been helpful in establishing a very positive working relationship. “Having said that, our NML team is very aligned with Ngāti Toa’s perspective. Their values are very much our company’s values.”


[*Nelson Management Ltd is the management company for Nelson Forests’ 78,000 hectares of forest in the Nelson, Tasman, and Marlborough regions. More than 600 people are employed across the Nelson business, and the company harvests 1.1 million m3 of timber sales annually. 70% of the logs harvested are processed by local mills into products for the domestic and export markets.]

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Left to Right: Ngati Toa Rangatira Executive Director Sir Matiu Rei and NML Managing Director Lees Seymour


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The newly-opened Spooners Tunnel section of the Great Taste Trail. Photo: Chocolate Dog Studio

1975 – Waitangi Tribunal established to be a permanent commission of inquiry empowered to make recommendations on claims brought by Māori, relating to actions or omissions of the Crown that breach the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi.

1987 – NZ Forest Service (NZFS) disestablished and state forest assets sold by the Labour Government.

1990 – Crown Forestry Rental Trust (CFRT) was established under the Crown Forest Assets Act 1989 after the New Zealand Māori Council and Federation of Māori Authorities took court action to protect Māori interests in the Crown’s commercial forests. Under the act, the Crown could sell licences for forestry (rental from these licences wentto the CFRT and could be accessed by iwi to help them cover the costs associated with preparing their claims under the Treaty of Waitangi). The land itself could not be sold until the Waitangi Tribunal recommended who would take ownership of the land.

1990 – NZFS forests in Nelson region sold.1990 to 2014 – Private forest companies operating in Nelson region paid rental to CFRT.

2014 – Ngāti Toa settlement.

Mr Matiu Te Rei was named a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori, in the Queen’s 90th birthday honours list in June 2016. For almost 30 years, Sir Matiu Te Rei, KNZM, has been the Executive Director of Te Rūnanga O Toa Rangatira, the development organisation for Ngāti Toa Rangatira. During this time he has been responsible for Ngāti Toa’s Treaty of Waitangi claim as well as serving the Māori community in matters of health, education, economic development and culture.

A recently planted totara seedling
A recently planted totara seedling



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