As young as New Zealand is, conflicts about land and its uses have been fought about multiple values, only a few of which are tangible and locatable on a map. Land conflicts have arisen over sovereignty, cultural identity, and control of a resource located in, on or under land. Resources under contention have changed over time, from hectarage, to timber, to pasturage, to hard-rock and energy-producing minerals, to water. Recently, conflicts have started to feature a resource with new-found value in the New Zealand real estate market: beauty.
This article describes a contemporary and continuing conflict over the reform of land ownership in the beautiful South Island high country. I attempt to make sense of the outcomes of this land reform, suggesting that the source of the conflict lies more in ideas about ownership – especially John Locke-infused ideas of political economy – than in the raw economic value of the natural resources at stake. It concludes with some Locke-inspired recommendations for land reform implementation which might avoid the current pitfalls.