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NZ’s four largest private landowners are foreign companies

An investigation by Radio New Zealand (RNZ) has found that the four largest private landowners in New Zealand are all foreign-owned forestry companies. The report says that this has occurred despite a clampdown on overseas investment. Sources: Timberbiz, Radio New Zealand

According to RNZ since the government was formed, the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) has approved more than $2.3 billion of forestry related land sales. ‘

About half has been sold via a streamlined ‘special forestry test’ introduced by the government a year ago.

Overall, nearly NZ$5b of sensitive land has changed hands through the OIO since the government was formed. The information comes from an RNZ investigation into land ownership in New Zealand. Using Land Information New Zealand data, Companies Office searches and other research, RNZ has compiled a list of what we believe are the 100 biggest private landowners in New Zealand by area, not including the Crown and public entities (which control at least 28% of the land) or iwi.

Together, these landowners have freehold ownership of 1.42m ha of land, more than 10% of all privately-owned land and about 5% of New Zealand’s total land area of 26.8m ha. That comes close to the 6.7% of total land RNZ could conclusively identify as Māori-owned.

The analysis found at least 3.3% of New Zealand’s land is foreign-owned. RNZ has only counted freehold land, that is, land owned outright.

A separate analysis of lease titles found that many of the largest landowners were also large leaseholders. That includes forestry companies, who often buy surface rights – known as ‘cutting rights’ – to plant and harvest trees, but not the land itself.

Overseas forestry companies dominate the top of the freehold landowners list, taking the first four places, and account for six of the top 10 land-holders overall. One of the companies, New Forests Asset Management, amassed its entire land portfolio of more than 77,000 ha in less than four years – bumping it from owning nothing in 2015, to being the country’s third biggest private landowner today.

The company was allowed to go ahead with an application to buy more land – which was ultimately approved – while some of its earlier purchases were still under investigation by the Overseas Investment Office.

English researcher and author Guy Shrubsole, who conducted a years-long analysis of land ownership in the UK (, said that was in stark contrast to the situation there, where only about 8.5% of land was in some kind of public ownership.

The 10 largest freehold landowners in New Zealand are:

  1. Taumata Plantations Limited (101,854 hectares
  2. Tiong family (77,686 hectares
  3. New Forests Asset Management (77,465 hectares
  4. Matariki Forests (73,509 hectares
  5. Roberts and Apatu families (41,296 hectares combined
  6. Michael Spencer (35,942 hectares
  7. Port Blakely Limited (35,889 hectares)
  8. Global Forest Partners LLC (33,706 hectares)
  9. New Zealand Carbon Farming (28,365 hectares)
  10. Wairakei Pastoral Limited (27,634 hectares)

The figures in the list above have been compiled using Land Information New Zealand data and may not account for some land transfers that have not been documented in LINZ’s database.

The full story is at