Taniwha debate raises valid point

By Alastair Bull of NZPA

A taniwha which lived in the old Waihorotiu Stream, which ran roughly along what is now Queen St before it was sealed over, has become the latest hurdle for Auckland's CBD Rail Link project. Photo / Dean Purcell.
A taniwha which lived in the old Waihorotiu Stream, which ran roughly along what is now Queen St before it was sealed over, has become the latest hurdle for Auckland's CBD Rail Link project. Photo / Dean Purcell.

The heritage advisor for Auckland's main iwi hadn't heard of an inner-city taniwha before yesterday, but he says the point about consultation over the CBD Rail Link project is valid.

The Rail Link, a proposed $2.4 billion tunnel which would increase rail capacity by turning Britomart into a through station rather than a dead-end, is already controversial with the Government saying it is much less economic than Auckland Council does.

But a new potential rail-block appeared when Glenn Wilcox, who sits on the council's Maori Advisory Board, said nobody had considered Horotiu the taniwha.

Mr Wilcox said Horotiu's area roughly covered the old Waihorotiu Stream, which ran roughly along what is now Queen St before it was sealed over.

Ngati Whatua o Orakei heritage advisor Malcolm Paterson hadn't heard of Horotiu prior to yesterday, but said he'd only held the job in the past year and he wouldn't pretend to know everything.

"Personally it's not a korero (discussion) that I'm familiar with, but that's not to denigrate what Glenn Wilcox has said," he told NZPA.

"My sense of it is that he was really trying to draw council's attention to the need to talk to mana whenua (local Maori) like us regarding big projects like this, to take into account things like the environment such as the waterways, and the heritage of the places these big projects go through."

Mr Paterson said non-Maori people often misunderstood taniwha to mean a monster such as a dragon or giant eel.

"Taniwha is a term used in a variety of ways. It can be a physical being but it can represent the mauri, or the life force, the essence of a place; perhaps Pakeha might think more in terms of ecological health and things of that nature.

"People can be taniwha. Taniwha can be used to mean 'what's the issue, what's the potential problem, what's the elephant in the room'."

Auckland Transport today released information saying its consultants tried to contact Ngati Whatua o Orakei during preparatory studies into the preferred route in 2009, prior to the existence of the current Auckland Council.

Further efforts were made in late 2010 and earlier this year. The documents didn't make it clear how much feedback was received from Ngati Whatua o Orakei.

Mr Paterson said he thought consultation was still at an early phase given that local and central Government hadn't agreed on when the project would go ahead.

"My understanding is that as far as Glenn was aware from the papers that he'd been given, he couldn't see much evidence of consultation having been undertaken, so I think he was doing his job as a member of that statutory board in saying in his way 'remember to talk to mana whenua'.

"Our anticipation would be as it moves forward that we are fully engaged in the development of this project and vetting its merits and the consideration of elements like the local ecology and the recognition of heritage."

Maps of the tunnel and the old stream seen by NZPA today suggest that the proposed rail link skirts around the west side of the old stream without touching it, though Mr Paterson did not know whether the areas just away from the stream were part of Horotiu's realm.

Transit New Zealand in 2002 agreed to slightly reroute the Waikato Expressway near Meremere after a local hapu said the planned route cut through the domain of the taniwha Karu Tahi, A Northland iwi was later that year unsuccessful in stopping getting a prison built at Ngawha because of a taniwha.

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