The Ngawha Geothermal Resource Report 1993 was the first Tribunal report concerned with a geothermal resource. The claim, by the trustees of the Parahirahi C1 Maori reservation and the hapu of Ngawha, was filed in response to a joint-venture application by the Bay of Islands Electric Power Board and the Taitokerau Maori Trust Board to use the Ngawha geothermal resource for electricity generation. The claimants feared such development may harm their taonga, the hot springs and pools at Ngawha.
The Springs, indeed the entire underground geothermal resource is a taonga to us. You have heard of its miraculous healing powers and I can confirm in my long experience as Kaitiaki of that taonga that everything that these Kaumatua have told you is the truth. I believe that its healing powers, God-given, are sourced deep within in our Mother Earth. Any interference in that spiritual source is a desecration of our taonga.
Our ancestors [knew] that the heart of Ngawha is underground. They are channels of hot water flowing underground. They knew and believed that it was one taonga, underground and up on the surface of the ground. It has been said the hot pools represent the eye of the taonga. But its heart is in, is within the depths of Mother Earth. If we abuse the very heart the pain will affect the heart, the eyes. It is all one treasure.
The two main components of the grievance were the acquisition by the Crown of the land and hot springs and the provisions of the Geothermal Act 1953 and the Resource Management Act 1991, which were claimed to be inconsistent with the rights of the claimants under the Treaty of Waitangi.
The Tribunal constituted to hear the claim comprised Professor Gordon Orr (presiding), Sir Hugh Kawharu, Joanne Morris, and William Taylor. The first hearing of the claim took place at Kotahitanga Marae, Kaikohe, in October 1992. The second hearing was held in December, and in January 1993 the Tribunal heard final submissions.
The Tribunal found that the claimants retained ownership and rangatiratanga over the Ngawha hot springs on the one acre vested in the trustees of the Parahirahi C1 Māori reservation. They were also entitled to the return of four acres vested in the Crown as a recreation reserve, since they were an integral part of the springs and were acquired in breach of article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi.
After a full inquiry, there was no doubt in the Tribunal’s mind that the Ngawha springs had always been a highly valued taonga of the Ngapuhi people, and the Treaty guaranteed to Māori the Crown’s protection of their taonga. The Tribunal recommended that the Crown amend the Resource Management Act 1991 to provide that ‘all persons exercising functions and powers under it, in relation to management the use, development and protection of natural and physical resources, shall act in a manner that is consistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi’.