Construction of a $6.4 million Hundertwasser-inspired community hub was due to begin in Kawakawa yesterday, following the burial of a mauri (life force) stone by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones on Friday.
(The stone was taken from a site on Motatau Mountain where warriors were once prepared for battle, and where the Prime family gifted Hundertwasser a tokotoko (carved walking stick), also called Te Hononga).
Te Hononga (The joining together of peoples) will combine a library, district council service centre, gallery, community workshop, showers and toilets for freedom campers, and an interpretative centre exploring the relationship between the town and Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
The project, which has had a difficult 12-year gestation, also includes bus and car parking to ease Kawakawa's summertime congestion and a town square linking the main street with the hub.
Te Hononga will be built on what used to be a metalled car park behind the town's famous toilets, while the square will replace the current library, which is slated for demolition later this year.
It will be built using a rammed earth-based method called Sirewall by the end of the year, with fit-out to be completed by April 2020.
About 90 people turned out for Friday's ceremony, Mr Jones saying it had been a matter of personal pride to be able to direct putea (money) to the project and help rejuvenate the area where he spent his holidays as a child.
"Kawakawa is the waharoa (gateway) to the Bay of Islands. This is long-term infrastructure; it will enable other investors to follow up," he said.
"It will show we do have pride in our history, we want to recover our environment, we want to extend sustainability — that's the kind of tone I want to set from the North."
Deputy Mayor Tania McInnes said Te Hononga, a partnership between the Kawakawa Hundertwasser Park Charitable Trust and local iwi Ngāti Hine, was a great example of a community, local government and iwi working together.
"We always talk about it but we don't always do it well. It will be a fricking amazing building, and it will also be an example of how you can build trust and work together," she said.
Project partnership co-chairman Pita Tipene said the complex would cement Kawakawa's standing as a cultural hub, which it already was geographically, while trust chair Noma Shepherd said she was excited to see construction finally begin after 12 sometimes difficult years.
The lead contractor will be Whangārei-based Harnett Builders, with JS Hepi Contracting making the earth walls. Ten builders work with 16 trainees recruited from around the Mid North, with Far North Holdings managing the project.