So today Transmission Gully was opened – blessed, ribbon cut, journos let through, and a few selected souls have had access. Tomorrow, it opens to the public, as Te Ara Nui o Te Rangihaeata, or the Big Pathway of Rangihaeata (Te Rauparaha’s nephew). No doubt he would feel honoured to have such a beast of a road named after him – and probably also a little shocked to see the vast scarring of the landscape that he used to walk across. As well, probably, bewilderment as to what all those honkies were doing with those thousands of cars each day. I’m not sure what Uncle Te Rauparaha would have made of it either – probably not too keen, I suspect. 

View across Pauatahanui inlet from the new road

The Encyclopaedia of NZ, Te Ara, says: “Te Rangihaeata was feared and disliked by the whaling communities living under his aegis. He exacted tribute in the form of numerous demands for the gifts he considered they owed him for his tolerance, demands which the whalers saw as extortion and bullying. Europeans who encountered him in the late 1830s or 1840s tended to regard him as Te Rauparaha’s ‘fighting general’ or as his lieutenant. Te Rauparaha was credited with the greater cunning, but Te Rangihaeata was thought to be more ferocious.”

The view that Rangihaeata would have had of Te Wai Pounamu, as he paddled his waka over from Kapiti

I’m not going to review what the new road is like or how it is designed etc – I’ll leave the journalists to do that, and they can mention the 25 badges and 32 cuttings, or whatever it is. There is one great bridge in there, Te Ara a Toa, that sadly no one will see as it is all beneath you, somewhere up a gully at the back of Cannon’s Creek – I went up there a couple of times to see it under construction and it was interesting as a piece of work and a problem for the engineering bods to plan, but it is hardly any sort of glorious, poetic, dynamic bridge. In fact, I’m going to wager that probably the big thing about this new road will be that it is completely boring. Safe, unexciting, nothing that is going to frighten the horses. 

Forming the road, a few years ago. A lot will have changed since then…

Ben Strang, the “Senior Reporter” from the DomPost, says this about the Te Ara a Toa bridge: “Over about a year it was pushed into place from the higher northern end, engineers doing so with careful precision, using every bit of algebra they could to ensure the bending, sloping and descending bridge linked up with the other side as the architect intended.” Really? There was an architect involved? Hmmm… I don’t know who that might have been – seems like a very engineering response to me – extremely clever. But even that brief snippet is wrong – it was pushed into place from the southern end, and I know that, because I stood there and watched it get pushed. Plus, I’m pretty damn sure the southern end is lower too.

Back in 2017 when they were building the bridge, pushing it from this side to that – uphill too

Unlike the old Coast Road / Centennial Highway through Pukerua and along the coast of the wild raging Pacific Ocean / Tasman Sea to Paekakariki, which has certainly been exciting and beautiful every single day of its 82 year life. Of course, the people most looking forward to the opening of Rangihaeata’s pathway are the people of those two coastal villages – along with Mana and Plimmerton I guess. At long last, they will get their life back – having been severed in two by a State Highway for the last eight decades, perhaps at last they will be able to cross the road without fear of death. I think the statistics speak for themselves – yesterday’s paper said that since the Dominion Post had been advocating for an alternative to the Coast road, there had been 32 deaths on the road, in just a 10km stretch of road.

The poured concrete from 1938 still does the job holding back the waves today

On the other side of the coin of course is those who are going to suffer as a result of this new road – Pauatahanui is going to get a lot more traffic, whether it likes it or not, and some of the entry/exits onto the new highway will significantly open up the edges of what was formerly a fairly undesirable part of the region. That could be good, or it could also have downsides, I guess.

The former “bustling metropolis” off Warspite Avenue, where shops and shoppers fear to go

Warspite Avenue in Cannons Creek has for a long time been a fairly run down neighbourhood, with tired buildings, gang affiliations, and half-dead or fully closed local shops, but that is set to change significantly. Instead of being stuck at the back of the saddest suburb in Porirua, now they are sitting on the front row seat of access to the fast road into town. Property prices are likely to rise, I guess, but then again, if it is a state house there will be no change for the individuals living there.

Old house being stripped of asbestos cladding, ready for recladding and new insulation and a new life

But the great thing here is that someone has been doing up / rebuilding houses there to a huge extent. Some of the projects are Kainga Ora housing projects with some lovely new, slightly denser living, while I think that other parts are being done by Ngati Toa Rangatira themselves – great to see that the local iwi are stepping up and providing some quality new housing for their own people. 

New housing where once there was tired old crappy housing

Overall then, this road is going to have mixed effects, and we still don’t know the finished cost. Originally it was going to cost about $800 million, but its way past that now, and is on its way to $2 billion. Or $3 billion probably, by the time it has been paid off over 25 years, with the Gov paying the incompetent contractors something like $125 million a year for the next quarter century. The biggest effect could, unfortunately, be on the use of public transport in the region. If the road proves too efficient, then less people will take the train. For the train to perform at its best, it needs to be faster, cheaper, safer and more pleasant to use than the road – and vice versa. So, ironically, the best way for the Big Pathway to succeed would be for it to fail miserably, and to force people back onto the trains – but of course, that won’t happen. Even if only half the current road users change to the new road, that will still mean that there will only be 50% of the previous totals on the old road – not a bad result at all. The key thing that it will have is the brand new effect of duality – not just a single road, but now a choice of two. Is that worth $2 billion? Too early to tell.

Saddle – by Stuff

Post-script: I got to searching, because I knew I had seen a picture somewhere, of the testing of those Centennial Highway sea walls under construction – and under design.

Starting at the Paekakariki end, perhaps, with Pukerua way off in the distance. The workers lived in those huts.

I know everyone else will be raving about the modern new road and all that new cool stuff – but I just thought – wouldn’t it be nice to look back for a minute at how things were done in the old days? Bit of a change in terms of men, money, machinery, and attitudes towards health and safety.

Working conditions were…. rudimentary

Amazing to think that in 1937 there was no road up the coast – of any kind, except for the Paekakariki Hill Road I guess – and all there was was a train north, or a road to Masterton. So in honour of NZ’s 100th upcoming birthday, in 1938 they started to build a road, sitting along the edge of the rugged coast line, and here also is a lovely picture of PM Michael Joseph Savage, being shown the wave testing tank where they were putting the proposed sea wall profiles to the test.

MJ Savage 1939 seeing the wave testing tank, as designed by some clever engineering bods

Conditions were fairly primitive back then – but heck, here we are 82 years later and the wall is still standing….