Rotorua's long-awaited and controversial Hemo roundabout sculpture has finally been installed.

It is more than three years behind schedule and more than $200,000 over budget.

The 12m-high 3D-printed sculpture - named Te Ahi Tupua - was originally due to be installed in July 2017.

The Hemo sculpture transported by helicopter. Photo / Kayla Bishop
The Hemo sculpture transported by helicopter. Photo / Kayla Bishop

Today's operation included Rotorua Lakes Council, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Kilwell Fibretube and Te Puia, as well as helicopters and cranes. The installation, near Te Puia, began about 6am.

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A number of factors needed to come together for the installation to go ahead: helicopter availability, traffic approvals and management, and the weather.

Vehicles took turns at travelling through a stop-go system, resulting in long queues on State Highway 5, Old Taupo Rd and Fenton St.

The outer cone of the sculpture was brought to the Te Puia carpark, then lifted on to its base by a crane. A second helicopter carried the inner cone, which was also installed by crane.

The sculpture for the Hemo roundabout was installed.

Rotorua Lakes Council's operations group manager Jocelyn Mikaere said today's operation meant the project was nearing completion with some minor works to be finished.

"We are pleased today's operation went as smoothly as it did. Creating and installing this remarkable taonga is something that our teams and our partners have worked really hard on.

The outer cone being lifted into place. Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council, Stephen Parker
The outer cone being lifted into place. Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council, Stephen Parker

"There has been a lot of anticipation to see Te Ahi Tupua welcoming locals and visitors as they travel into Rotorua. The concept behind the design speaks to a significant Te Arawa narrative and represents the arrival of geothermal energy to our district. The innovation in the way it was constructed also provides a perfect example of the talented people we have in Rotorua."

The original artist, Stacy Gordine from the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) will also install the final figurative elements.

Kilwell Fibretube chief executive Craig Wilson said for his team, it was "extremely satisfying to see Te Ahi Tupua in place".

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"Kilwell has been a locally owned company in Rotorua for more than 85 years. Many of our products go off-shore so for us, bringing to life the remarkable piece of art created by Stacy Gordine and the team at NZMACI and showcasing the innovation of our business was really important.

The centre cone being lifted into place. Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council, Stephen Parker
The centre cone being lifted into place. Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council, Stephen Parker

"This sculpture was designed locally by NZMACI and has also been manufactured locally. The majority of it is hand-made by our employees. We have a talented team and for most of the project, they were coming up with solutions to things that had never been done before. We are incredibly proud that we had a crew that persevered through the challenges to bring to life something pretty spectacular that can be enjoyed by the whole community."

Among the bystanders at the installation were Otonga couple Julia and Philip Steele, who walked down to watch having heard the helicopters.

They told the Rotorua Daily Post they were looking forward to the final product.

"I do hope I really like it when it's complete because obviously driving into Rotorua is beautiful anyway but this will make it even more so," Julia said.

"I really hope people really like it."

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The sculpture is being installed at the Hemo Rd roundabout. Photo / Andrew Warner
The sculpture is being installed at the Hemo Rd roundabout. Photo / Andrew Warner

By about 10am, the second piece of the sculpture was lifted into place and was met by applause from some bystanders.

Andy McKeown watched with a sense of pride in the creation.

As part of Haua Engineering, he had been involved in the hydraulic testing of the structure.

"There was a lot of tonnage designed to pull those things apart to make sure they could handle the elements," he said.

"I think it looks very cool. I'm very impressed."

The central cone is almost in place. Photo / Andrew Warner
The central cone is almost in place. Photo / Andrew Warner

Council documents released to the Rotorua Daily Post stated that in November 2018, the sculpture was estimated to weigh about 3450kg.

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McKeown's wife Raewyn said she thought the sculpture was incredible.

"I think it's fabulous to have something so beautiful, when people come into town, so iconic and so Rotorua. I sort of liken it to the Eiffel Tower in Paris - there was a big to-do about that before it was set up and with this, there's been a big to-do. But it's terrific."

Controversy has long mired the arrival of the sculpture. In March last year, council documents revealed the cost of installing and creating the sculpture had risen to $743,029, an estimated $204,361 overspend.

It is understood the transport agency contributed at least $200,000 towards the sculpture project.

Beck Helicopters, which had originally been lined up to help transport the sculpture, pulled out because the artwork would be too heavy.

Springfield resident Viv Radley said the sculpture was beautiful but she would have preferred that the money and effort that went into it went to the Rotorua Museum or performing arts centre instead.

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Traffic is being directed anti-clockwise around the Hemo roundabout. Photo / Andrew Warner
Traffic is being directed anti-clockwise around the Hemo roundabout. Photo / Andrew Warner

"They should have come first. This has taken over from the museum and performing arts centre."

Radley said investing in the museum and performing arts centre would have helped draw more people to those sites and help add some coin to the council coffers.

"I'd like it done before we start getting all the visitors back."

Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers' Association's Reynold Macpherson said the value of a piece of art was "in the eye of the beholder" but there were concerns the total costs of the Hemo sculpture could spiral beyond $1 million.

"There will be those who see this as a heartwarming example of a cultural overlay, and others, like ratepayers, who see it as a symbolic bonfire of their dollars."

Macpherson, who is also a councillor, said the money already spent on the project had been "spent in an irresponsible way".

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Rotorua councillor Mercia Yates said on social media she was grateful to everyone involved in the kaupapa. It was world-leading innovation at its best - another component to add to this incredible story of ours and uniquely Te Arawa and Rotorua, she said.

Finishing touches would be done on the sculpture once it was in place. This work is expected to take two weeks and the roundabout and shared paths underneath would be open during that time.

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