40,000 people just banded together to buy a private beach in New Zealand and give it to the public

Awaroa BeachSamuel Mann/FlickrAbel Tasman National Park

Over Christmas dinner, brothers-in-law Duane Major and Adam Gard’ner started dreaming about a beach.

But it wasn’t because it was winter — Major, a 44-year old pastor and Gard’ner, a 43-year-old tennis professional, live in New Zealand, so it was warm outside. Instead, the two were lamenting the fact that a private beach was up for sale.

Both had learned separately that Awaroa Beach, a pristine patch of coastline on the northern side of New Zealand’s South Island, had been listed for sale for $2 million. Major had once kayaked there with his brother, who’d since passed away, and both had spent time in a neighbouring patch of land, the Abel Tasman National Park.

The current owner, businessman Michael Spackman, had been generous with public access and kept the beach in good condition, but Major and Gard’ner worried that whoever bought the land would cut off access or build a resort.

“Our family said, ‘Why don’t you do something about it rather than just talking about it?'” Gard’ner tells Business Insider. “So we said, ‘OK we will do something about it. Then we had some dessert and started hatching a plan.”

That plan was to convince New Zealanders to band together to buy the beach and give it to the country as a Christmas present.

Awaroa BeachAdam Gard’nerAwaroa Beach as seen from above

The pair created a campaign on Givealittle, a platform that allows non-profits to accept crowd-funded donations. They had three weeks to raise $2 million.

“It’s not our land historically or originally, but it is part of the land of New Zealand. It’s part of the coastline. We’re an island nation, and we just felt, ‘Why does only one person have to own it? Why can’t everyone own it?,'” Gard’ner says.

Thanks to interest from local news outlets and the power of social media, the campaign went viral, receiving nearly 40,000 pledges from individuals, schools, businesses and organisations. The government of New Zealand even threw in $150,000, and as the campaign was nearing the end, New Zealand’s Joyce Fisher Charitable Trust kicked in $250,000.

“I thought he was joking or he was someone from the media stringing me along,” Gard’ner said of the trustee who called to offer the money. By the end of the three weeks, they’d hit their goal.

But there was no guarantee that the money would prove to be enough — other bidders were still in the running for the beach, and the team had to account for the risk that donors could default on their credit cards. The team of lawyers who’d volunteered to help with the project told Major and Gard’ner that they most likely wouldn’t succeed.

But then, as the two men prepared to appear at a press conference and announce that the deal would most likely fall through, they got an email: The government had pitched in an extra $200,000. By 10:30 that night, the deal went through. In total, the campaign raised $2,278,000.

After considering their options and talking to the area’s native population, Major and Gard’ner donated the beach to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. Last month, it officially became part of Abel Tasman National Park. 400 people celebrated in a waterfront ceremony on July 10.

Awaroa BeachAdam Gard’nerMajor and Gard’ner at Awaroa Beach in February, 2016

Andrew Lamason, the Department of Conservation’s Golden Bay Operations Manager, tells Business Insider that the publicity surrounding the crowdfunding campaign has already attracted more people to the beach. “There was a real feeling of the little guy being able to actually do something that mattered,” he says.

Lamason says other people have already reached out to him to suggest or discuss similar crowdfunding campaigns to purchase private land and make it public. Gard’ner, too, has been asked to lend his support (and newfound celebrity) to other like-minded initiatives. He’ll get behind the efforts if they seem practical, he says, but is urging others to take the lead.

“We were just, like, these two guys walking along who said, ‘Come on, let’s have a go,” he says.

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