Tāwhaki – a unique partnership focused on aerospace and environmental outcomes

Origins of Tāwhaki

Among the rich pūrākau (stories) of Ngāi Tahu is the story of Tāwhaki — a demi-god who sought the knowledge of the gods. By building strong relationships and adapting to changing circumstances, Tāwhaki successfully navigated his way to the stars. Tāwhaki is also credited with the creation story of the Tuna (eel) found in Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere). The pūrākau of Tāwhaki resonates strongly with the Joint Venture, which is built on a foundation of partnership and innovation.

Tāwhaki Joint Venture

Rejuvenating the environment, honouring deep cultural and historical links and building sustainable economic opportunities are the goals of the Tāwhaki Joint Venture (Tāwhaki), a unique commercial partnership between Te Taumutu Rūnanga and Wairewa Rūnanga and the Crown.

Tāwhaki owns 1,000 hectares of the land at Kaitorete, and has a dual kaupapa to:

  1. Heal and rejuvenate the unique whenua at Kaitorete — an area of significant cultural importance renowned for its mahinga kai, taonga species and history. Home to numerous threatened and locally endemic plant, invertebrate, bird and reptile species, with internationally-recognised ecological value.
  2. Advance Aotearoa’s aerospace industry — through the development of aerospace activities and research and development (R&D) facilities on the whenua, there is the potential to generate significant and regenerative economic outcomes through job creation, capital investment and ancillary opportunities.

More information is on the Tāwhaki website(external link)

Mana whenua of Kaitorete

Kaitorete is a significant Ngāi Tahu cultural landscape renowned for its mahinga kai, taonga species and history. Te Taumutu Rūnanga and Wairewa Rūnanga are mana whenua and rangatira of Kaitorete. Historically, the area was a major highway and trade route for ancestors, and the site of important battlegrounds. It has among the largest concentrations of middens, mahinga kai and pre-historic archaeological sites nationally.

The flora and fauna on Kaitorete are of significant cultural importance for the Rūnanga, and are a living representation of the story and history of the area.

Kaitorete Spit has internationally-recognised ecological value. It is home to rare and threatened flora and fauna species of international importance. It is a key part of the largest and most ecologically outstanding area remaining in lower Canterbury.

The area is also a critical gateway to Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere), home to tuna, pātiki, piharau, inānga and other fish species that have been gathered here for over 60 generations.

Advancing our aerospace sector

Aerospace is an exciting and growing industry in Aotearoa, contributing more than $1.7 billion a year to New Zealand’s economy.

The New Zealand Government is accelerating the growth of the aerospace sector through early space programme investments such as the establishment of a mission operations control centre for the MethaneSAT mission and space technology partnerships with NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Leveraging New Zealand’s geographic and innovation advantages, the Government is also supporting R&D partnerships with global space firms such as LeoLabs and Maxar Technologies.

This work complements other activities to attract and develop the sector, including the Airspace Integration Trials Programme.

Aerospace is one of Christchurch’s ‘supernodes’, and Canterbury is the first region to develop an aerospace sector plan to grow and nurture the industry, with the goal of being New Zealand’s aerospace testbed by 2025. Tāwhaki will help to accelerate the sector’s development, with benefits to Christchurch, wider Canterbury and New Zealand as a whole.

Tāwhaki will provide an exciting boost to the post-earthquake recovery of Canterbury by growing New Zealand’s emerging aerospace sector.

There are transformational economic opportunities in the use of space as a whole, not just in a launch industry — space research, materials development and testing, tourism, weather and atmospheric research.

Kaitorete ticks all the boxes for key technical launch site criteria, along with other key advantages. For example, being well-placed to provide access to desirable orbits, its proximity to an internationally connected city and world class universities and a highly skilled local workforce as a result of the fast-developing aerospace sector in Canterbury.

Healing and rejuvenating the environment

Kaitorete has rare and threatened flora and fauna species of international importance including the banded dotterel, South Island pied oystercatcher, and the New Zealand pipit. Many of the ecosystems and species existing on the sections of land are not represented or protected elsewhere.

While the land and the waters of Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) are degraded, it retains the largest and most natural intact indigenous vegetation in the Canterbury Plains Ecological Region, including the last wild population of 'Muehlenbeckia astonii' (Shrubby Tororaro), and numerous other threatened and locally endemic plants. It is also home to a number of at-risk or threatened lizard species, including the southern grass skink, the Waitaha/Canterbury gecko, and central Canterbury spotted skink, as well as threatened or notable invertebrates such as two Kaitorete endemic moth species and the katipō spider.

The Department of Conservation has identified some of the land at Kaitorete as a national priority for conservation purposes.

Environmental rehabilitation work at Kaitorete is under way. The income generated from use of the land is intended to provide the resources to help restoration work on Kaitorete, Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) and the surrounding wetlands.

Partnership between the Rūnanga and the Crown

The partners have entered a commercial joint venture and agreed the terms for governing, protecting, and using the land in the foreseeable future. The Crown is represented by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and the Department of Conservation. Kaitorete Limited is the joint venture partner, representing Te Taumutu Rūnanga and Wairewa Rūnanga.

To purchase the land, ensure its protection and enable the development of aerospace R&D facilities, the Crown has invested $16 million in the commercial partnership to purchase the land. The Rūnanga own land at either end of Kaitorete, and as mana whenua, and rangatira, are providing strategic direction and intellectual property. They also have a deep connection with the history of the site that needs to be preserved.

The Rūnanga have an enduring interest in healing and rejuvenating the land, and they have shared aspirations to create sustainable education pathways and employment opportunities by generating new business and high-skilled jobs, and attract international investment.

Summary of the Joint Venture Agreement

The Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) is the formal contractual arrangement between the Crown and Kaitorete Limited to purchase the land on Kaitorete and establish the Tāwhaki Joint Venture.

The signatories to the JVA are the Minister of Research, Science and Investment, Kaitorete Limited and Te Taumutu Charitable Trust. The Trust owns parcels of land at each end of Kaitorete and provides agreement for consenting on the future land use under the joint venture.

The JVA commits the parties to realising the purpose of joint venture, which is purchasing critical parcels of land on Kaitorete to enable the:

  • preservation and advancement of the option to establish space launch and R&D facilities at Kaitorete
  • protection and rejuvenation of the Kaitorete environment.

The Crown and Kaitorete Limited each have 50 percent decision making and 50 percent profit sharing within this partnership. The JVA outlines the formal structure for the partnership, including providing details on decision-making processes, accounting and processes for reaching agreement.

Next steps – aerospace and environmental outcomes

Tāwhaki is working with whānau members, local Christchurch organisations, universities and the aerospace sector on the development of aerospace activities and R&D facilities.

Work to heal and rejuvenate the land is already under way.

More information is on the Tāwhaki website(external link)

Last updated: 05 December 2022