Date: 23 June 2009
Over 100 community members from Opotiki and Gisborne braved a chilling wind at Manganuku Campsite on Saturday 20 June to celebrate the opening of ‘The Waioeka Journey – Te Awa a Tamatea’. Department of Conservation Acting Conservator, Nicola Etheridge noted that the project, led by NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) and DOC, had involved a wide range of agencies, contractors and community members.
“This project aims to reduce the road toll on a challenging highway and give travellers in the Waioeka Gorge an appreciation of the historic, cultural and ecological significance of the area. The gorge is a very special place and the many people involved in the project have shown that locals have a real affinity for the area and its many stories,” Ms Etheridge said.
The opening of the project was led by local iwi, Ngati Ira o Waioweka and Te Aitanga a Mahaki. People travelling from Gisborne stopped at the Opato (Traffords Hill) entrance, where Te Aitanga a Mahaki kaumatua, Charlie Pera, blessed the site. The group then travelled to Manganuku Campsite to be greeted with a powhiri from Ngati Ira o Waioweka. Speakers at the powhiri included Ngati Ira kaumatua, Hone Kameta, Opotiki Mayor, John Forbes and NZTA Principal Safety Advisor, Colin Brodie.
Representatives of Ngati Ira o Waioweka, Te Aitanga a Mahaki and local settler family, the Redpaths, unveiled the three information panels at Manganuku as part of a ceremony to bless the project. Ms Etheridge, Kaye Clark of NZTA and Gisborne Deputy Mayor, Nona Aston all paid tribute to the effort that went in to the project. Ms Clark spoke of how the road toll for the Waioeka Gorge has reduced since the project started. Mrs Aston recalled some hair-raising trips taken through the gorge in the days before the road was widened. She also referred to an attitude that the gorge is an obstacle to be overcome as quickly as possible, rather than a beautiful area with fascinating stories.
“Tell your children the stories of this area. For too long, the Waioeka Gorge has been taken for granted as a piece of road to be travelled as quickly as possible. In fact it has unique flora and fauna and a lot of families are connected to the history of the area. This project should inspire people to look at the gorge in another way,” Mrs Aston said.
Kaumatua Charlie Pera was pleased to have project opened. “This has been a great community effort and I hope our people take care of this project. These displays tell our stories and it belongs to all of us,” Mr Pera said.
The project involved engineering measures to improve safety and creation of seven rest areas with information panels. The panels provide stories of the area, including traditional tales of iwi, settler and road-building history and ecological information.