Death walks the Wairoa Bridge


It’s only when the placard-bearing, hooter-tooting, pot-banging, protest bridge walk turns to straggle back over the smooth, inky waters of the Wairoa River that it occurs to me one or more of us may not see Christmas 2018.

Melodramatic? I don’t think so.   SH2-the Tauranga West Road is becoming more and more capricious and undiscerning in whom it is fingering. And death is appearing with a hideous regularity. It is not for nothing that the comparatively sedate Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty crowd has given up its Sunday afternoon to publicly shame those they perceive responsible for the continued lack of realistic action on the roadway.

We like to think it always happens to someone else…not always

Having lived through the times of Nga Tama Toa, Bastion Point, apartheid and the Vietnam War; Sunday afternoon is a particularly staid affair. It’s organised in conjunction with local law enforcement; it’s promoted well in advance so inconvenience to users of the roadway is minimized; there are graphic designs which can be downloaded for protest signs and we’re told to arrive early and where to park. Pre-made placards are brought along in quantity for the otherwise busy to hold up. Several appropriately dressed Grim Reapers wait by the coffee cart.

The crowd gathers..

Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber in conversation with one of the protest organisers, Andrew Hollis

Organisational discussion









This sign says it all…am I next                                                                                                                                    

I look over the age-diverse crowd as it gathers – beautifully groomed and dressed older women –I admire the shoes one of them is wearing; young people one or two in rural gumboots, a young man displaying his school colours hoodie. Another holding the ashes of his grandfather “taken by this road”. Very young children, almost excited to be in the crowd with their fresh-faced parents, and the older men some of whom have obviously left the outdoor jobs they had planned. And that’s what makes this such an important public statement. So there is a significant media presence.

Matthew Farrell sharing the story..


Locals talk to the television

I recognise Tauranga City Council Deputy Mayor Kelvin Clout

Worth a Sunday afternoon for…









Why were we all there?   A combination of long-planned urban development in the Western Bay of Plenty hinterland north of Tauranga City and increased heavy vehicle traffic to the Port of Tauranga (now the North Island’s major export port) all traveling at speed on what is an undersized, too narrow rural-regional road.

Having first written to the Western Bay of Plenty District Council and the New Zealand Transport Agency in 2012 about SH2-Tauranga West roading issues I’ve been consistently bemused that it’s considered safe to drive at 90kph separated from oncoming traffic only by painted lines of white and yellow. That’s at a speed higher than currently permitted on the four-laned, concrete barrier medianed Takitimu Drive expressway.  

Trying to find out conclusively who is responsible for implementing change and doing and saying what, has been a mission in itself – in 2012 the NZ Transport Agency responded by ignoring me – the time-honoured response of the righteous bureaucrat.   When in early 2017 that organisation holds community consultation “Public Information Days” I go down to the Omokoroa Settlers’ Hall and walk around the large and colourful display boards.

The Project Update I’m given dated March 2017 is headed “Making State Highway 2 safer and more reliable for everyone”. “The overall objective for the State Highway 2 (SH2) Waihi to Tauranga corridor business case is to improve safety and travel time, and support economic development and the growing needs of the region…”   Yeah, right!

All this paper and no tangible result for the road

The image beneath the text of this handout in no way represents the traffic volumes currently using the roadway. There are four small neatly spaced private vehicles – there is no opposing traffic. The reality – coming towards you at 90kph a fully laden logging truck, a heavy vehicle with at least one container for the port, a bus, commercial vans and trucks, a steady stream of private vehicles ranging in size from tiny “shopping baskets” to “urban tractors” (and often these are coming at you at more than 90kph). It doesn’t show you what it looks like when you’re approaching the confines of the tiny two-laned Te Puna Stream bridge and the wheels of the oncoming truck and trailer unit as big as a house are on “your side of the road”.

What does represent the current volume of traffic is the image on the “Feedback form” showing traffic at the Wairoa Bridge turnoff – here it’s doing the 20kph crawl from the Te Puna roundabout if you’re lucky or from just after the Snodgrass/Quarry Roads corner if you’re not.   And now that traffic volume does not just occur in “the rush hours”

Today I see that my “Public Information Day” was on the 1st of April 2017 – April Fool’s Day.

So on April Fool’s Day 2017 I filled in my “Feedback form”. I don’t want a series of roundabouts and fiddling about with the existing road way as the ultimate solution. I want Option D for Omokoroa to Te Puna – a new four lane highway adjacent to the existing roadway which is retained as a local highway.   Again only today I see that “the option most closely aligns with the existing designation in the District Plan”. Having had to live through the debacles that are the development of the Te Puna roundabout and the Omokoroa Road I would not want to have to try to drive anywhere under construction by the currently employed roading contractors. And of course, destroying/developing the current roadway would isolate the communities living along it as it is the only access way for them north and south and disrupt the heavy traffic avoiding the stupidity of SH29.

There are numerous NZTA personnel present but when I ask “who can tell me when these projects are going ahead” I’m referred to a man who tells me straight the work has not been budgeted for.   And we both laugh when I say “so nothing will be done in my lifetime”.  

Page 2 of the “Update” also includes the 2016 development timeline for “preferred options” – this in itself is noir-hilarious as the initial plans to develop concentrated urban areas between Waihi and Katikati date from the early 1990s. But, as politicians are currently still “assessing” the area it’s worth noting “August 2016 to November 2016 workshops with stakeholders to confirm the problems with SH2 Potential treatments identified and analysed”.     And politicians are bemused by our contemporary fear and anger.

The lack of attention to SH2-Tauranga West Road is perplexing when you read the NZTA’s own printed information: “State highways: development and access” which says:

“The role of the NZ Transport Agency is to contribute to an effective efficient and safe land transport system in the public interest. Subdivision, land use and access can affect the safety and efficiency of the state highway network. The Transport Agency needs to consider the potential effects that your proposed activity may have on the state highway.   If you are considering a development which may have an effect on the state highway network, it is highly likely that you will require ‘affected party’ approval from the Transport Agency as required by the Resource Management Act.”

Local National Party politicians have organised a “post-protest meeting” at the much-used Omokoroa Settlers’ Hall. There’s no tea being served – I knew I should have stopped in at the Black Sheep but even though it’s Sunday afternoon I don’t want to have to turn right back across SH2 to get on up to Omokoroa – that’s what this road is now like.  

The Hall fills and up the front stand the region’s “boys in blue” – this area is a stronghold of the National Party and the current leader their former Minister of Transport.   Not expecting to be out maneuvered following the last general election, funding for part of the needed roading development for this area was not allocated until late 2017.  

They stand on their moral high ground berating the present coalition and the team member responsible for transport tries to rark up the crowd with those phrases “latte drinking and trams for Auckland”.    I’ve come from Auckland and am so old I’ve been on the tram to Herne Bay and been to Melbourne so know how great urban trams are and I go up to Auckland and know exactly what it’s like. During the years of their control that city deteriorated so much. I take no notice of this stuff.

If he’d said “it seems those responsible for the current Government Policy Statement (transport) are not familiar with the reality of regional hinterland roading conditions and development needs as they are entirely different from those of inner city urban concentrations” or “it is inconceivable with the needs of this section of SH2 that the current Government would allocate funding for a walkway/cycleway on the Auckland Harbour Bridge” or “it is inconceivable that this current Government would allocate $10million for pest control on Waiheke Island” or “this is the legal process to block continued residential building in Omokoroa and prevent residential subdivision in Tauriko and other areas of the Western Bay of Plenty” or “this is the legal process to hold the NZTA and it’s board accountable” – I could have clapped.

Funnily enough the most impressive performance from this team comes from their present leader, the former Minister of Transport.   He handles the overt audience aggression well and responds coherently. He repeats what I’ve always known – State Highway 1/State Highway 29 through the Waikato over the Kaimais is the primary North Island commercial transport route. He doesn’t explain what will happen if ever earthquake fractures that highway and closes the one-track railway tunnel. We are the current alternative. Again I can’t clap because what he really says is “your road got left to last”.    To his credit later when I ask him the legally focused questions he tells me to seek legal advice. The meeting closes with encouragement to keep emailing, submitting, appearing at Select Committees.  No-one states the obvious “and keep dying…”

It’s not specifically mentioned during this event that the speed limit on SH2 is supposedly being lowered to 80kph “before Christmas”. Sorry but that’s now too late. As one of the organizers points out to me later – the size and condition of the roadway and traffic volume is only fit for 60kph. Ironically one of the most heartwarming developments I’ve seen on this road has been the way regular road users have been trying, through personal driver courtesy, to mitigate the dangers of the traffic volume. It is now more common to see that quick flash of headlights as someone slows the traffic to let you join the queue.    

What am I “taking away” – the usual – how good it is to be able to publicly protest without fear of being shot or arrested. How good it is that we can all sit safely in the Omokoroa Settlers’ Hall while members of the Government Opposition can address us without being afraid they will be arrested or shot. How good it is we have diverse and relatively free media.   That the Mayor of Western Bay of Plenty fronts up again and the irrepressible Deputy Mayor of Tauranga Kelvin Clout walks the Wairoa Bridge but disappointed that our local Government Coalition representatives are nowhere to be seen. In the evening my laptop reveals the current Minister of Transport with a straight face telling the world that the matter is being investigated…..

You may also be interested in reading the article A clear and present danger: SH2 sucks!

Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.



ARTbop promotes

(or we think you should check this out!)


Qualification: New Zealand Certificate in Te Reo (Reo Rua) Level 1 & Level 2
If you want to learn basic Māori language this is the perfect place to start. Whether you want to use te reo Māori at home with the kids or in the workplace, this interactive programme will have you speaking with confidence in no time.

TIME: 6:00 – 9:00 PM

 pronunciation
 tikanga
 introductions
 basic vocabulary
 basic sentence structures

 correctly pronounce Māori words, names and place names
 use basic greetings and introduce yourself
 understand and follow tikanga (protocols)
 perform some waiata
 use Māori words with confidence
 Understand basic sentence structures

When: Tuesday 25th September
Where: Room 1, Whakamarama School
Time: 6:00 pm
25 + people = 1 class
50+ people = 2 classes
Also possible with 25 + people



The next Affordable Art & Artisan Fair will be on the last Sunday of September – September 30th.   The Fairs are held within the Black Sheep Cafe & Restaurant complex on the last Sunday of every month 11am to 3pm.  There is heaps of parking, clean toilets and wonderful food and coffee.  There’s live music. There’s an event prize you can win.   If you would like to join us as an exhibitor/retailer of your original creativity or artisan products you can contact us at

We are sign posted along SH2 with signage to the turnoff of SH2 and Plummer’s Point Road.  You won’t be able to miss us!  Here’s  just a taste of what you’ll find. We’re indoors over winter months and outside in the Summer!

ARTbop is promoting poetry in the Western Bay of Plenty

ARTbop has a poetry initiative to give Whakamarama District locals the opportunity to meet and share their spoken words with others.  Meeting on the second Thursday  of every month and providing an evening of entertaining words and thought from 6.00pm to 8.30pm. Enjoy the hospitality of the Black Sheep Bar & Grill while you’re there



Join us every second Thursday of the month,

6.00pm to 8.30pm

Read your own poems or poems by your favourite poet.   Enjoy the power of the spoken word!

Phone:   07 571 8722   021 145 5810


My lamb shanks dinner when we met with Auckland poet John Adams in July 2018


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