Maori fortifications from one of the fiercest battles of the 19th century land wars will be commemorated as part of a $105 million highway bypass of Rangiriri in the Waikato.
Preparatory work is due to start this week on the project - another link in the $2.4 billion Waikato Expressway - which will move State Highway 1 to the west of Rangiriri and a hill which was the most heavily defended point in a battle in which up to 130 British and colonial troops and 41 Maori died 150 years ago.
Motorists will not be the only beneficiaries from late 2016 of a straighter alignment, closer to the Waikato River, for the new 4.8km stretch between Te Kauwhata Rd and Rangiriri to be built by Fletcher Construction.
The project will also go some way towards remedying a grievance held by Waikato Tainui Maori over the construction of SH1 in the 1960s through the middle of the old Rangiriri pa site and a trench which extended much of the way from the river to Lake Waikare to the east, an escape route for many of the defenders.
Rangiriri is becoming a growing visitor centre as a gateway to the Whangamarino wetland, and Transport Agency principal project manager Richard Young says moving the highway will make it easier for people to walk from the village to the battle site, where interpretive panels and pou will be installed around a re-creation of part of the trench.
"It is the site of the seminal battle of the land wars in 1863 - it's an incredibly important piece of New Zealand history," he said.
"The damage that was done when the road was built in the 1960s was probably something that nobody is particularly proud of, looking back. It probably took about half the fortifications, which nowadays would be unheard of.
"Obviously we can't put back what was there, but there is a joint recognition of making that a site not only of cultural but also of visitor significance."
Tainui historian Tom Roa said Maori were pleased with a high level of consultations leading to proper recognition of a site denigrated by the previous highway construction.