Abel Tasman National Park on the northern tip of New Zealand’s south island is an area of historical importance—it’s near the site where Europeans first spotted the country and it's a biological hotspot. It’s also prime real estate. That’s why in 2008, Wellington businessman Michael Spackman bought a stretch of beach in Awaroa Inlet adjacent to the park for a tune of approximately $1.4 million (NZ$1.9 million), reports Laura Walters at Stuff.co.nz. Facing financial difficulty, Spackman put the pristine beach on the market last year. After an intense crowdfunding campaign, the people of New Zealand purchased the beach, and last week officially handed it over to the National Park.
At first it sounded like a pipe dream. On Christmas Day of last year church pastor Duane Major and his brother-in-law Adam Gard’ner started talking about the beach, deciding it shouldn’t be in private hands. The Canterbury residents said they should raise enough money to buy the property and gift it to the people of New Zealand.
The idea started to fizzle out, but a few week later, Walters reports Major saw a post about Awaroa on Facebook and decided to give it a go. He started a page on the crowdfunding site Givealittle on January 22 with a goal of raising around $1.5 million (NZ$2 million) by February 15.
Things were slow, but the next week the New Zealand media picked up the story, then the BBC ran a piece. By February 12, almost 40,000 people had pledged approximately $1.5 million to the campaign, though Major kept the final tally secret to keep from driving up the cost of the beach.
The crowdfunders weren’t the only bidders for the 17-acre site, however. So Major and Gard'ner continued to ask for additional donations to make sure their bid was competitive. Eventually, the government decided to join in and made an approximately $250,000 donation and the Joyce Fisher Charitable Trust also added $180,000. In the end, the approximately $1.7 million (NZ$2.28 million) public offer won the bid.
In celebration, Major, Gard’ner and their supporters met at the beach that night for celebratory meal of fish and chips. “I'm going to tell my great grandchildren, ‘Do you know what your great great granddad did? He bought a beach,’” Gard’ner’s 11-year-old son told Jack Fletch and Emily Spink at Stuff.co.nz.
“It seems strange, but we were confident,” Duane Major tells Paul Henry at NewsHub. “Intuitively we knew the community spirit levels of New Zealand, and you times that by the population—the mathematics of it made perfect sense. But I suppose it was actually going out on a limb and actually you know, embracing failure. We just gave it a shot.”
Awaroa was officially transferred to the New Zealand Department of Conservation last Sunday during a ceremony at the beach, the New Zealand Herald reports. It plans to restore the sand dunes, improve coastal bird habitat, and restore native species along the beach.
“We're in an age with various forms of technology that can pull people apart,” Major tells the BBC. “But in this case it brought people together.”