Bay of Island locals 'shut out' from beaches due to developments, private property

Bay of Island locals are fighting for better beach access, claiming the coastline is turning into a private reserve for billionaires and developers.

A petition asking the Department of Conservation to improve access to Taronui Bay, one of the remaining public beaches left, has gained 7000 signatures.

Those who sweat through 3.7 kilometres of road, mud and farmland will be rewarded at Taronui Bay, the long walk ending with a picturesque slice of paradise.

"This stretch of coastline is very diverse, it is a national treasure," local Keri Molloy told Newshub.

Molloy has lived in Kerikeri for more than 30 years. She says a lot has changed when it comes to accessing the coastline.

"All of our most beautiful beaches we could access, even though it was through private land, but over time due to high developments, we've been shut out," she explained.

These days, the Purerua Peninsula is bordered by electronic gates as well as 'Keep Out' and 'Private Property' signs, the lure of beautiful beaches behind them.

"It's very sad and it makes us quite angry," Molloy said.

Taronui Bay is one of the only remaining spots accessible to the public - but only on foot.  The road briefly veers off conservation land and onto private property in three places. 

"It ends up being a private reserve for these landowners whose land adjoins it," Molloy explained.

The current walk takes at least an hour. If vehicle access was permitted, it would be a quick drive followed by an easy 15-minute amble, meaning the bay would be far more accessible for families, the elderly and surfers. 

The Department of Conservation (DOC) says it's not that simple. 

"Increased public access comes with increased issues... obviously more people, [the] potential for dogs [in] a Kiwi zone, fires, resource considerations such as rubbish and toilets," DOC acting operations manager for the Bay of Islands, Hamish Eglinton, told Newshub.

The cost is also a factor, as re-aligning the road to be on DOC land comes with an estimated million dollar price tag.

Molloy says access to the coastline is priceless - and 7000 people agree with her, showing their support by signing a petition.

The Department of Conservation says it's not going to happen. 

"The message from the Department is take only pictures, leave only footsteps - and that is very apt for this particular spot," Eglinton said.

Yet locals are refusing to give up on the spot, as they fight to shorten the long walk home.