You have to hand it to New Zealanders — they know how to get things done.
When a pristine, privately owned 2,600-foot strip of sand known as Awaroa Beach hit the real estate market late last year, residents of New Zealand's South Island banded together to claim it as their own with the ultimate goal of opening up the previously inaccessible beach to the public as a newly incorporated section of Abel Tasman National Park. Nestled between Golden Bay and Tasman Bay within the stunning, sparsely populated Tasman District, Abel Tasman National Park has enjoyed several expansions since its foundation in 1942 yet, at a mere 87 square miles, remains the smallest of New Zealand's 13 national parks.
While the act of scooping up a prime piece of coastal real estate would have presented itself as an impossible feat for most (read: the non-ridiculously wealthy), self-described "ordinary bloke" Duane Major along with his brother-in-law, Adam Gard'ner, were undeterred. The men, both residents of Christchurch, wanted the 17-acre site, and they wanted it bad.
However, they didn't want the remote beach in the same manner that its previous owner, North Island businessman Michael Spackman, wanted it when he purchased the land for $1.9 million NZD (roughly $1.4 million U.S.) back in 2008: for himself. Major and Gardner wanted to insure that the beach, put up for sale by Spackman at the end of 2015 and marketed as "the best beach on the planet," wasn't transferred from wealthy private owner to wealthy private owner. They sought to see it go public as part of adjacent Abel Tasman National Park.
And so, Major and Gardner turned to crowdfunding platform Givealittle. While the campaign to save Awaroa Beach from continued private ownership was slow to start, eventually New Zealanders started to pitch in and give a little ... and some gave a lot. By February of this year, nearly 40,000 individuals, businesses and organizations had rallied behind Major and Gard'ner and donated to the cause.
Along the way, there was a bit of good, old-fashioned drama when Gareth Morgan — noted Kiwi economist, motorcycle-riding philanthropist and cat antagonist — stepped forward to make a contribution of $1 million NZD to the grassroots campaign that would put it over the edge.
But there was a catch.
Morgan would only donate the sum on the condition that he and his family would be granted private access to a small section of the beach and an existing beach hut for 15 years. His offer was rejected after supporters of the campaign threatened to withdraw their support. Major described Morgan's strings-attached offer as not being "in the spirit of the campaign." In response, Morgan called the crowdfunding effort a "nice, innocent but naive bid that will lose."
In the end, thanks in part to sizable donations from the government and from the Joyce Fisher National Trust, Major and Gardner beat out other bidders and claimed the beach as their own — well, claimed the beach as everybody's own.
The total bid? $2.28 million NZD — or $1.7 million.
Not surprisingly, the campaign, which New Zealand's Associate Conservation Minister Nicky Wagner heralded as "a victory for positive people power and for preserving our environment," was the largest crowdfunding effort held on Givealittle to date.
"Sometimes you can feel powerless, so for us, it's been a marvellous experience of empowerment," Major explained to the BBC during a traditional Maori ceremony held earlier this month during which Awaroa Beach was officially made part of Abel Tasman National Park. While dainty compared to New Zealand's sprawling mountain parks (mountainous terrain defines Tasman's District's two other national parks including the huge Kahurangi National Park), Abel Tasman National Park's massive appeal lies in its unblemished coastal locale. The park's hiking and walking trails including the famed Coast Track are top draws as are opportunities for sea kayaking.
As noted by the Smithsonian, Awaroa Beach will operate under the auspices of the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The department plans to embark on a series of restoration projects, including rebuilding sand dunes, removing weeds and making the site more hospitable to coastal birds.
"There's been a real feeling of coming together. People in other countries have recognised what it's been all about too," Major said to the BBC. "We're in an age with various forms of technology that can pull people apart. But in this case it brought people together."