The ceremonial start of a major roading project at Piarere provided dignitaries with an opportunity to learn about Māori legend, reports senior writer Mary Anne Gill.
As invited dignitaries dug their glistening spades into the ground signalling the start of construction on a new roundabout at Piarere last month, Ngāti Koroki Kahukura kaitiaki Poto Davies watched on ready to share an ancient story.
When completed, the $43.5 million 60m wide roundabout will take 30,000 vehicles a day – 16 per cent of it freight – on what Waka Kotahi says is currently the unsafest stretch of SH1 in the country.
Centuries ago they would have needed boats, and not cars and trucks, as Davies explained the cultural context of the site.
Pointing to the hard ground where the spades made their marks, she revealed the Waikato River used to flow through the paddock where the roundabout will be.
The river which now meets the sea at Port Waikato once flowed into the Thames estuary. The course change was one consequence of the Oruanui eruption of the Taupō volcano more than 26,000 years ago.
Davies explained that in Māori legend siblings Taupiri and Tongariro, grew up together in the central plateau but were separated when Taupiri became homesick after she migrated to the Waikato to become bethrothed to Pirongia, she explained.
Taupiri believed the only way she would get better was for healing waters from home so she sent a message to Tongariro to bring the sacred water north to her. When the water reached what is now the SH1-SH29 intersection, the river changed course, cutting its way along SH29, ending up in Hauraki.
Some of the sacred water was taken to Taupiri and she was instantly cured but when she was told the river had changed course she started an incantation to bring it to her. The land began to shake but the river did not know where to go. It heard a dog barking, followed that sound, and flowed right in front of Taupiri and out to the west coast.
The roundabout will be built in the paddock away from the busy state highways and is already two metres lower than the roads to allow Downer Construction to build the approaches first.
When finished the roundabout will be future proofed to fit in with plans to extend the Waikato Expressway from Cambridge to Piarere as part of the government’s 13 national road of significance plans.
Transport minister Simeon Brown confirmed the extension was back on after the Labour government froze it during its two terms. More details about funding and finance opportunities – known as public-public partnerships – will be announced then. Brown has met officials from the NZ Super Fund to discuss their approach to infrastructure investment.