Declaratory Judgment – High Court


Lake Taupō is a taonga (treasure) of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and is central to our identity. Ngāti Tūwharetoa are the kaitiaki (guardians) of Lake Taupō.

In 1992, the Crown signed a deed with the Trust Board that conferred ownership of the Taupō Waters on behalf of the people of Ngati Tuwharetoa. This includes the beds and space occupied by the water of Lake Taupō, tributaries flowing into Lake Taupō and the Waikato River from the outlet of Lake Taupō to the Rock of Tia (inclusive of Huka Falls).

In 2007 a new deed was signed that replaced the 1992 deed. This reaffirmed that the Trust Board has full ownership rights of Taupō Waters, including the ability to impose licence fees for commercial activities within and operating upon Taupō Waters.

View deed here.

The Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board has been seeking to license commercial businesses operating on Lake Taupō and the rivers flowing into Lake Taupo for a number of years, and several agreements have been achieved. However, we have been unable to reach agreement with all businesses. This is primarily due to these businesses being unclear and confused about the extent of our property rights.

To help move this matter forward, the Trust Board is seeking a Declaratory Judgment in the High Court. The aim is to have the Court clarify and confirm our property rights as outlined in the 2007 Deed we have with the Crown.

It is our duty to ensure our rights can be upheld, and these proceedings will be an important step towards clarifying this for all parties.

This matter relates only to commercial activities on Lake Taupō, and we can assure recreational users and members of the public that they are still guaranteed free and continued access, and this will not change.

As the matter is now before the Court, we will need to let that process run its course.

For further information, please find some FAQs below.

Topia Rameka

Frequently Asked Questions

1 How can Lake Taupo be owned by anyone?
The Trust Board has a deed with the Crown that confirms the Trust Board as the legal owner of Taupō Waters, which includes the bed of Lake Taupō. The rights as legal owner of Taupō Waters includes the ability to set licence fees for commercial activities within and operating upon Taupō Waters. This deed was first provided by a National Government in 1992 and reconfirmed and updated by a Labour Government in 2007.
2 What is meant by Taupo Waters?
Taupo Waters is the term given in 1926, referring to the beds and space occupied by the water of Lake Taupō, tributaries flowing into Lake Taupō and the Waikato River from the outlet of Lake Taupō to the Rock of Tia (inclusive of Huka Falls).
3 How much are businesses being charged?
The licences are effectively commercial leases. The terms of these agreements are confidential to the parties.
4 Do all businesses need to be licenced?
Yes, it is important that all commercial operators that are using Taupō Waters have an appropriate licence, for the benefit and protection of all parties. Some operators do not believe they require a licence, so seeking clarity is important for all parties.
5 What if businesses refuse to obtain a licence?
The first step is seeking clarity from the Court. That’s our primary concern at this time. The Trust Board has a duty to ensure that they are able to properly exercise our property rights.
6 Is the Government involved?
The Crown is a party to the Deed in relation to Lake Taupō and the Attorney General has been named in the proceedings.
7 Will this stop businesses being able to operate on the Lake?
To the contrary, we believe seeking and providing clarity and certainty to all operators on Taupō Waters is an important first step. Currently there are a number of businesses operating upon Taupo Waters without a licence. Having a licence in place will provide certainty. We do not believe licences or fees for commercial use will have a major impact on the economic benefits to the community, however, we acknowledge that with any new regime, there may be new overhead costs and we have considered this issue carefully and responsibly.
8 Is this aimed at stopping Kiwis being able to use the Lake?
No. Recreational access to Lake Taupō is provided and guaranteed. Not once, has public access to the lake and rivers been stopped since ownership of Lake Taupo was returned in 1992. The Declaratory Judgment proceedings are simply seeking clarity on whether the Trust Board has the right and responsibility to issue licences to commercial users. The Trust Board wants to protect and enhance the quality of Taupō Waters for many generations to come. Lake Taupō is a taonga that we want all New Zealanders and visitors to be able to enjoy, safely and responsibly. A licencing regime is an important step to ensuring this outcome.
9 Why don’t businesses have to pay to operate on other lakes?
The extent of our property rights are outlined in accordance with the 2007 Deed. Our property rights are the same as with general property (i.e. a farm or residential property), so our rights extend from the lakebed, to the water column and the airspace. Other lakes or rivers may not enjoy the same level of property right for example, their ownership rights may have been specifically legislated on or have encumbrances placed against the title.
10 What is being done to look after the Lake?
As a responsible owner of Taupō Waters, the Trust Board ensures that any action taken in relation to Taupō Waters is in accordance with environmental, social and cultural considerations. Ngati Tuwharetoa has a long and distinguished record of environmental stewardship and leadership of Lake Taupō, its catchment and environs.
11 What is Trust Board planning for Lake Taupō?
Lake Taupō is an internationally recognised destination and iconic landscape. Ngati Tuwharetoa are tangata-whenua of the Taupo District and take a long-term outlook to our kaitiakitanga responsibilities to ensure that Lake Taupō and its waters are properly cared for and maintained for the benefit of current and future generations.
12 Doesn’t the Trust Board just own the lake bed? These businesses aren’t on the lake bed?
Holding legal title to the beds of the Lake and rivers includes having legal ownership of the water column (meaning the space in which the water sits) and the airspace above the water to a reasonable height. Any businesses that operate within those areas therefore operate on or within our property.
13 Is this about the ownership of water?
No, this issue is about making clear for all parties the extent of control and authority that the Trust Board has insofar as commercial activities is concerned on Taupo Waters. It is important not to confuse the issue of water ownership with land ownership. This process is simply seeking declarations as to the property rights associated with our land.
14 Are there any existing commercial licences in place for Lake Taupo?
Yes. There are approximately 40 licences in place with various businesses ranging in size, scale and activity. However, there are approximately a further 50 businesses that are operating on Taupo Waters without an appropriate licence in place.