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The symbolic reinterpretation of the Rangiriri Paa site was completed last year

Rangiriri Paa project complete within Waikato Expressway

It wasn’t possible to have a public walkover and ribbon-cutting event to mark completion of the Rangiriri section of the Waikato Expressway, as the NZ Transport Agency has done on other expressway sections when they have opened. That’s because traffic has been on the new alignment since Easter last year while finishing works continued and the paa reinterpretation project was completed.

The $125 million Rangiriri section is a 
4.8 km stretch of four-lane highway which connects the completed Ohinewai section in the south to the Longswamp section (under construction) to the north, with interchanges at Te Kauwhata and Rangiriri. The Waikato Expressway is one of the previous government’s seven roads of national significance, and once complete will deliver a four-lane highway from the Bombay Hills to south of Cambridge.

The Rangiriri section is unique in that it includes a ‘project within the project’ – the symbolic reinterpretation of the Rangiriri Paa, scene of the 1863 Battle of Rangiriri and first major conflict of the Waikato invasion by British forces.

About 220 people attended an iwi-led event in December last year, mainly centred on the paa project. Crown-Maori Relations Minister Kelvin Davis joined representatives of Waikato-Tainui, including King Tuheitia, to celebrate the completion of both projects.

A special place in NZ history

The paa site was significantly damaged by an upgrade to State Highway 1 in 1965, and the new SH1 route for the Rangiriri section to the west of the paa provided the opportunity to reinstate the area.

“Rangiriri was never just about building a four-lane expressway,” says NZ Transport Agency portfolio delivery manager Peter Simcock. “It was also about the Crown and Waikato-Tainui working together to preserve the cultural and historical significance of Rangiriri, about doing things differently and recognising the area’s history for all New Zealanders.”

NZ Transport Agency portfolio delivery manager Peter Simcock: “Rangiriri was never just about building a four-lane expressway”

Mr Simcock has also overseen the completed Te Rapa, Ngaruawahia and Cambridge sections, and has Longswamp, Huntly and Hamilton sections under construction. He says the Rangiriri project provided challenges and rewards.

“It has been a difficult site to work on with the variable ground conditions and terrain. But the expressway component of the project has a huge benefit for SH1 users and local people coming and going at Rangiriri and Te Kauwhata interchanges. And it allowed us to re-route SH1 from the paa site and work with Waikato-Tainui to create something special. This is a nationally significant site and we feel this project represents a better way of doing things.”

Scaled representation

The old SH1 cutting was filled in with 20,000 cu m of earth, and the area contoured as it was in 1863 when a fierce battle took place at the site between 1400 British forces and about 500 Maori. What has been created is a scaled representation of the fortified paa.

Large pou (pillars) tell the story of the area and mark the battle trench down to the Waikato River. A car park on Te Wharepu Road allows for easy public access to the area which has been designed to provide a space for continued education and contemplation about the battle and subsequent invasion of the Waikato.

Waikato-Tainui Te Arataura chairwoman Rukumoana Schaafhausen says: “Rangiriri will be a significant site in New Zealand for continuing education about the battle and the Land Wars. It will also be a place for contemplation, not only for our iwi, but for all New Zealanders. The roading and paa projects together are an important symbol of the successful partnership between the Crown and Waikato-Tainui, realising a vision of the past while building for the future.”

Good outcome for local communities

Councillor Jan Sedgwick, Whangamarino ward councillor, Waikato District Council, says it’s been a long road for the people of Rangiriri and nearby Te Kauwhata and Glen Murray, all of whom have patiently watched, waited, queued, wiped the dust off their cars, and finally rejoiced in the completion of the Rangiriri section of the Waikato Expressway.

The Te Kauwhata interchange on the Rangiriri section

“For Rangiriri it has created a dramatic approach, accented by the pou leading from the paa site towards the Waikato River, and what could become a stop-off point for tourists and New Zealanders. Te Kauwhata has benefitted from the project by gaining a full diamond interchange, reflecting growth potential where the population is predicted to double within the next five years as new housing subdivisions come on stream. It also opens up pedestrian and cycle access from Te Kauwhata to the Waikato River, and links to the Te Araroa Walkway, adding to the enjoyment of this particularly beautiful part of the Waikato,” she says.

“But for both Rangiriri and Te Kauwhata, a new connection has also begun, with the revocation of the old SH1 and creation of a cycleway and walkway alongside the now very much quieter road. This opens up new routes for the many recreational cyclists and walkers to explore.”

Ms Sedgwick says local history is reflected not only in the bridge barrier designs and the extensive native plantings, but timely acknowledgement of the architect of Rangiriri Paa, Pene Te Wharepu, in naming the connector road Te Wharepu Road.

Working as one

Fletcher Construction built the Rangiriri section of the Waikato Expressway. Project manager Andrew Rose says it was a long journey for them. “We began our involvement in 2008 with what was one of the earliest, if not the first, early contractor involvement (ECI) contracts for the NZ Transport Agency,” he notes.

“Reflecting on that ECI process and the finished product, we achieved an efficient and unhindered consent and the full integration of tangata whenua, recognising Waikato-Tainui’s mana, accepting and utilising their input through a specific working group.”

The opening of Rangiriri Paa – attendees included Waikato District Council Mayor Allan Sanson, Te Atawhai Paki and King Tuheitia Paki, Minister for Crown/Maori Relations Kelvin Davis, and NZTA chief executive Fergus Gammie

Mr Rose says a project charter was drawn up with the purpose of understanding each participant’s drivers so as to form a common vision of ‘honouring the past while building the future’. “This defined the way we would work together: ‘Mahi tahi’ – working as one.”

The spirit of the charter was met in the project delivery and outcomes, Mr Rose says. “SH1 has been removed from the paa site and upgraded to expressway standard for improved safety, reliability and travel time, and there are improved environmental outcomes, with 55,000 plants and specific wetlands for stormwater treatment.”

Mr Rose says large civil projects bring many benefits to local communities, but Fletcher Construction’s job was made much easier with the strong support from community leaders who could see the long-term benefits, who supported construction and kept the company accountable for its community deliverables.

“It has been a privilege to have delivered this truly historic section of the expressway and we thank all participants for their contribution and support,” he adds.

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