A machine longer than a rugby field that will drill tunnels under Auckland for a new rail link will be named after a Northland kuia who could move mountains of a different kind.

City Rail Link's 1600-tonne, 130m-long tunnel-boring machine will soon be on its way to New Zealand from a factory in China, where it is being built by a German company.

Once here it will take nine months to drill two 1.6km-long tunnels from Mt Eden to central Auckland.

Tunnel-boring machines are traditionally named after influential women so City Rail Link held a nationwide poll to choose a name, won convincingly by the late Dame Whina Cooper of Panguru.

Dame Whina Cooper at her home in Panguru in 1989. Photo / John Stone
Dame Whina Cooper at her home in Panguru in 1989. Photo / John Stone

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Dame Whina's daughter, Hinerangi Puru Cooper, said 300 names had been put forward, which had been whittled down to three and finally to just her mum.

It was fitting that her mother would be associated with a major Auckland project because she had spent a large part of her life in the city, working hard to improve living conditions for Māori, setting up the Māori Community Centre in Freeman's Bay and founding the Māori Women's Welfare League.

Once she returned to Panguru she became president and coach of the Hokianga Rugby Union and headed the local branch of Federated Farmers while running the local store and postal run and, most famously, leading the Māori land march of 1975.

''I think it's an honour [to have the machine named after her]. My mum was that kind of person, she had so much energy and always wanted to do things. She was very powerful and had her marbles to the last moment. I don't want to say she could move mountains but she was that kind of lady.''

Hinerangi Puru Cooper and her brother, Joe Cooper, will take part in the naming and blessing ceremony.

A statue of Dame Whina Cooper and her granddaughter Irenee Cooper setting off on the 1975 Land March was unveiled at Panguru in February. Photo / Peter de Graaf
A statue of Dame Whina Cooper and her granddaughter Irenee Cooper setting off on the 1975 Land March was unveiled at Panguru in February. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The machine is due to arrive in September and start drilling in February next year.

City Rail Link chief executive Sean Sweeney said the project was proud and honoured the machine would carry the name of a woman of such mana.

''We were looking for the name of a New Zealand woman who inspired — brave, compassionate and fearless — and all those outstanding leadership qualities are well and truly represented by the very remarkable Dame Whina Cooper."

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The other finalists were Antarctic scientist Margaret Bradshaw and the world's first openly transgender mayor and MP Georgina Beyer.

Route of the planned City Rail Link tunnels. Image / City Rail Link
Route of the planned City Rail Link tunnels. Image / City Rail Link

Dame Whina was born in 1895 at Panguru, Northland, and died in 1994. A statue was unveiled in her honour in Panguru in February.

Tunnel-boring machines are always named after women in honour of St Barbara, the patron saint of those who work underground. This one will cost about $13.5 million.