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What may be an unfinished waka is uncovered on Pūhoi motorway site

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The NZ Transport Agency says what’s believed to be a partially complete waka about 10 metres long has been uncovered during excavation work on the Ara Tūhono Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway project.

The discovery was made on April 16 near the Ōkahu inlet north of the Johnstone’s Hill Tunnel on State Highway 1.

Crown Māori/Relations Minster Kelvin Davis has welcomed the discovery as an exciting insight into the rich cultural past of the area.

“This is a significant discovery that will grow our understanding of where and how waka were made. It reinforces traditional korero around the use of resources including waka forests, where particular trees were identified and nurtured for waka construction.”

The Transport Agency’s Senior Manager Project Delivery Chris Hunt says the discovery was made during piling work for a viaduct on the new motorway.

“A digger identified a wooden object under the surface of the inlet. The mud around the object was carefully removed exposing a large rectangular wooden object that extended across the excavation.”

It’s believed the object may be a waka that’s about ten metres long and is still connected to the trunk of a Kauri tree. In all, the waka and tree trunk are about 17 metres long. More work is required to confirm its origin, says Mr Hunt.

Mr Hunt says all Transport Agency contractors are trained in anticipation of a taonga find like this, and work ceased immediately under the Transport Agency’s Accidental Discovery Protocol. The project’s Environmental Manager and onsite archaeologist were notified along with iwi partners Hōkai Nuku.

“It’s an amazing discovery and the Transport Agency has strict protocols for when unidentified artefacts are uncovered. We will treat the site with the utmost care and respect to ensure the correct cultural practice is carried out,” says Mr Hunt.

Careful excavation by the project archaeologist’s team and the conservation specialist around the discovery is under way, along with close consultation with project treaty partners Hōkai Nuku, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and Auckland Council.

It’s not yet known how old the waka is, who it belonged to or how it came to be left in an unfinished state.

Mr Hunt says the immediate objective is to secure the discovery and decide how to preserve it as the wood will deteriorate in contact with the atmosphere. It’s expected the object will be lifted into a storage container and taken to a new site under the close supervision of Hōkai Nuku and Heritage New Zealand to be examined more closely and preserved.

The preservation and removal of the waka will not delay the project, as contractors are able to continue working on other sites while the archaeology team and conservation specialists carry out their work.

The Pūhoi to Warkworth project will extend the four-lane Northern Motorway (SH1) 18.5km from the Johnstone’s Hill tunnels to just north of Warkworth. The project is a PPP (Private Public Partnership) between the Government and a private consortium, the Northern Express Group (NX2). NX2 has contracted ACCIONA Infrastructure and Fletcher Construction to build the motorway which will improve driver safety and support the economic growth of Northland.

An object believed to be a partially complete waka is under wraps.

An object believed to be a partially complete waka is under wraps.

The object that’s believed to be a partially complete waka is under wraps at the Ōkahu inlet on the Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway project.

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