Matt Lauer is making headlines — again — but this time for an unlikely reason: the former Today host is embattled with the government of New Zealand over access to a nearby park.
Let’s back up.
In February 2017, Lauer bought a 16,000-acre ranch, Hunter Valley Station, from a New Zealand-based real estate company. The $9 million acquisition is located on New Zealand’s South Island, and it is the only access point to Hawea Conservation Park, a popular hunting, fishing and hiking ground. (According to The New York Times, the park is “one of the jewels of the New Zealand landscape.”) Unfortunately, since Lauer’s purchase, the area has become nearly inaccessible because, as Eric Pyle — chief executive of the government’s Walking Access Commission — explained, Lauer has only “allowed the minimum amount of public [park] access required by his lease.”
Lauer told The New York Times he had allowed 100 people access to his property over the course of the last year.
Pyle noted this isn’t a new problem; the area has been contested for years, and passage to the park has always been difficult. However, Pyle, the New Zealand Department of Conservation and the Walking Access Commission are hoping to change that and to make the area more accessible.
The Walking Access Commission has asked New Zealand’s Commissioner of Crown Lands to allow increased public access to (and through) Lauer’s ranch.
But Lauer’s lawyer, Graeme Todd, stated that he and his client would appeal any public access ruling through the New Zealand courts and/or fight for financial compensation — compensation which Todd told Stuff, a New Zealand online media publication, would “be considerable — most likely running into, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.” However, Winston Peters, New Zealand’s acting prime minister, told Radio New Zealand Lauer will not receive any public funds, as access should have been a condition of the lease.
Lauer is not the first individual in New Zealand to receive this request. Pyle noted that similar access had been granted by other nearby owners, including two properties owned by record producer Mutt Lange. And while things may seem tense, Pyle is optimistic an agreement can be reached, telling The New York Times he’d “be very pleased” to have a conversation with Lauer.