Investigations

Instagrammers invade private ‘infinity’ pools

WATCH: The owners of an idyllic west coast property are at their wits' end trying to stop hundreds of young instagrammers caught on motion sensor cameras trampling their land, bathing in their clifftop pools and taking photos on a dangerous cliff edge. Melanie Reid reports

Anawhata is a beautiful, remote beach nestled between its more famous cousins, Piha and Bethells, 50 kilometres west of Auckland’s centre. There is no vehicle access directly to the sand, instead you have to take a narrow gravel road that descends through forest, eventually arriving at a carpark overlooking the sheltered beach below. From here, it is a steep 20 minute walk down to the coastal inlet for a swim.

The usual summer crowds prefer the easier access at neighbouring beaches, so Anawhata tends to attract day trippers and tourists looking for a more unique experience; younger people who don’t mind sweating it out on the hike back up the hill.

Since 1926, one family has been kaitiaki of this area covering more than 100 hectares of rugged terrain bordering the Waitakere Regional Park. The family members have enjoyed a quiet existence in a couple of modest, isolated, homes. They work hard on maintaining the property’s natural state. In the past, visitors respected their land, and the owners have been happy to share parts of it with trampers and beachgoers.

“There has only ever been three rules, light no fires, no camping and stay away from the water supply (the pools),” Buzz Kronfeld, the fourth generation owner of this dense stretch of native bush, told Newsroom.

Then, five years ago, it all changed. Photos, posted online, showing the property's beautiful freshwater pools went viral on social media.

A beer and a shot for Instagram from the pool

Now, Kronfeld is at his wits end trying to keep an endless stream of people from coming onto his property, illegally. He says the trespassers are polluting his water supply, leaving rubbish, setting fires and even putting themselves in harm’s way – all to get the perfect Instagram shot.

The Instagram crowds ignore the numerous ‘Private property – keep out’ signs, climb over the broken fences and barbed wire, as they hunt out a stunning set of natural infinity pools and waterfalls positioned between the rugged V of the headland and boasting grandstand views of the ocean. It has been described as “catnip to social media influencers.”

“This is not only household water, it’s the water we use for drinking, and sometimes we have dozens of people a day swimming in it and doing God knows what else in it.

“There seems to be a sense of entitlement that everyone thinks they should be able to go to the pools even though they are on private land and it is our drinking water.

"I wonder how those people would feel if we arrived in their back yard, or onto their deck or swimming pool with cameras and believed it was okay to be there because there’s a great view?”

Buzz Kronfeld, at the pools, with Melanie Reid

Kronfeld says he’s tried everything to keep trespassers out but to no avail. One of the baches on the property has had to be boarded up with thick plywood after vandals broke the windows and defecated on the carpet.

In December last year, Newsroom installed a number of motion sensor cameras near the pools and filmed for five months. The footage revealed a steady stream of visitors and their dogs traipsing through the property and onto the fragile site.

Information on the pools, and the location, is easy to find online and it’s splashed all over youth travel websites, blogs, and videos – STA travel, the YHA and even Bachcare all have links on their sites promoting the infinity pools as ‘the west coast’s best kept secret’ or ‘one of the most Instagrammable spots in Auckland’.

Instagram posts from all nationalities promise the pilgrimage to the pools is worth it.

“A few cuts, bruises, wrong turns and a wasp sting later… we finally found the infinity pool.”

“I’ve seen this famous hidden rock pools all over Instagram and I knew I had to see it myself when I get to New Zealand!”

“No doubt, it was a struggle to get there but who can complain when the view is that gorgeous!”

“Finally found the hidden Anawhata pools and only had to trespass to get there.”

It's all about the pose. Photo: Newsroom

Kronfeld estimates hundreds journey to the pools every month, and despite a break over lockdown, the adventurers have now returned.

Kronfeld’s fears that the Instagrammers’ pursuit of the perfect photo will turn from simple trespass to tragedy are shared by local park ranger Dan Real.

Just a few weeks ago he had to retrieve a body from a nearby waterfall and says he’s shocked at the risks people are taking.

“There are huge safety risks when going there. You’re off track. There’s a sheer cliff in front of it. It’s steep and slippery going down there. But we’ve seen it evolve as a really popular selfie spot, the top of all the waterfalls. Cliff edges are generally places we don’t want to encourage anyone to be, but they’re the prime targets for selfie places. I guess the closer to the edge you get, the more stunning the shot probably. So, people push it. And I assume that if you’ve seen someone else’s shot, you’re wanting to trump it somewhat and get closer, but there’s a good 50m drop behind it.

He is also worried about the impact the hordes are having on the fragile ecosystem of the landscape, including native flora.

“We’re trying to not encourage any off-track activity, with kauri dieback (disease) and rare plants down there. They’re really quite rare that we don’t advertise it but there are probably only in a very few sites around here like that. The time when it’s really busy is the most vulnerable time when they flower, so that's not great. It’s pristine, but people are just happy to trash it.”

University of Auckland PhD candidate Anna Vasilyeva-Bycroft says the disregard for private property rights is fuelled by the desire to get more ‘likes’ on social media. She is researching mass media’s influence on young women’s perception of personal beauty and is not surprised by the lengths people will go to for the “right” photo of themselves in a stunning location.

“If you are an influencer and you have a very big audience, it’s getting more and more difficult to impress them, so you’re always trying to be better than yesterday. It’s just this desire to have the perfect pictures, but the audience doesn’t know what happens behind the scenes – and now we know what happens behind the scenes, thanks to your hidden cameras.”

Those behind the scenes activities caught on the hidden cameras range from couples having sex in the water, to men taking dozens of photos of women looking for the right light and angle on their bottoms, to people standing right at the very edge of the sheer and unforgiving cliff.

When approached by Newsroom, many of the trespassers were angry at being filmed, unbothered by any sense of irony claiming privacy when their own videos and photos are shared with the world. None seemed to have a problem with what they were doing. Newsroom witnessed one instance where a tour guide emerged from the bush with a group of tourists, and simply brushed past Kronfeld and ignored his pleas for an explanation.

Park ranger Dan Real 

Park ranger Dan Real feels for the landowners and says they have been more than tolerant over the years, often allowing people to camp and always providing access to the beach through the walking track. But times have changed.

“Most people feel it’s their right and when you try and say, ‘hey it’s not park land, this is private land’ people just don’t want to hear it. I really feel for the family. It used to be trampers, now it’s a totally different user group. It’s a young user group who are looking for a different experience than tramping. Now you very rarely see people in tramping boots down here. It’s people in board shorts and jandals and cell phones. Always the cell phone.”

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A Brief History

The Anawhata block is owned by the descendants of the Forgie, Kronfeld and Le Quesne families.

The land was bequeathed to the three daughters of Harriet Swanson, whose father was William Swanson (founder of Swanson and Member of Parliament).

Swanson had three Māori wives, the third was Ani Rangitunoa (Ngati Kahungunu).

Together they had five children one of whom was Harriet who purchased the large block of land at Anawhata.

This photo taken in the 1930s shows Princess Te Puia ,centre front, Harriet Colwill, right front, and at the centre back is Harriet's eldest daughter Ruby Forgie 

Harriet married Frank Best and they had a daughter, Ruby Best, born in 1888 and who married Wriah Alexander Forgie in 1915.

Harriet married a second time to John Henry Colwill and had another two daughters. One was Joyce who married Leo Kronfeld in 1930.

The third daughter was Betty who married Laddy Le Quesne.

There are three rocks at the north end of Anawhata Beach known by the family as 'The Three Sisters'. 

The Three Sisters, Anawhata

* Made with the support of NZ on Air * 

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