An ahu whenua trust is used to manage the land itself for the benefit of the owners. This is often the preferred vehicle used by Māori land owners to use land for activities such as beef and sheep farming, dairy farming and horticulture.

Whānau, putea and kaitiaki trusts can all exist under an ahu whenua trust which acts as an umbrella for the block of land.

To form an ahu whenua trust, the landowners first need to hold a meeting to nominate the people they want to be the trustees of the trust. This meeting can provide all the owners with the opportunity to discuss and make decisions about the proposed trust.

Those attending the meeting will need to discuss how to set up the trust, including:

  • Which blocks or shares will be included in the trust,
  • Who will be the trustees of the trust,
  • What the name of the trust will be, and
  • The terms of a draft trust order.

The trustees can then apply to the Māori Land Court for an order establishing the trust.

Once the ahu whenua trust is formed, the land is held by the trustees for the purposes set out under Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993. The purposes include promoting the health, social, cultural and economic welfare, education and vocational training, and general advancement of the beneficiaries.

It is important to remember that an ahu whenua trust still has obligations under the Trustee Act 1956, such as having a separate bank account, an IRD number and a trust order (or trust deed). The trustees must also comply with trustees’ duties under Te Ture Whenua Māori Act and the Trustee Act.