Scenery preservation 1903-1953

Page 7 – Maori and scenic reserves

Maori and scenic reserves

Maori had mixed feelings about the Scenery Preservation Act 1903. Politician Hōne Heke Ngāpua welcomed it as a way to protect tōtara and prevent the loss of more kauri forest, but he objected to the way compensation was made available to Māori. The value of Māori lands, he argued, should be assessed not by the Native Land Court but by the same courts that assessed general lands.

In Parliament in 1906, Apirana Ngata objected to the compulsory taking of Māori land for scenic reserves. He criticised the Scenery Preservation Commission's reluctance to meet with Te Arawa over proposed compulsory acquisition of land around Rotorua. Government policy wobbled. Provision for the acquisition of Māori lands was removed in 1906, then reinstated in 1910 with even greater powers.

A decade of intense acquisition of Māori freehold lands began. To counter Māori reluctance to relinquish customary resource use of lands earmarked for scenic reserves, the legislation allowed them right of access to reserves over former ancestral lands in order to take birds and bury the dead in urupā (burial places).

There was little evidence of these provisions being exercised. Officials generally treated reserves as places where hunting and fishing were prohibited. In 1920, for example, notices posted in English and Māori stated that unauthorised use of customary resources in reserves would be prosecuted.

How to cite this page

'Maori and scenic reserves', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 1-May-2020