Well I finally got the opportunity to get out of Auckland for the weekend, and went up to my parents’ beach house at Mangawhai Heads with Leila (girlfriend) and Amalia (daughter). It was a pleasant weekend, which also involved a couple of trips along the Orewa-Puhoi Motorway, which was opened in January this year. I had been on the motorway once before, back in January on the weekend when it very first opened, but only heading southwards (as the motorway wasn’t yet open when we’d headed up on the Friday).

As the first weekend of the motorway being open had also been declared “toll-free”, this weekend was also my first experience of the tolling system. I made what was probably a mistake in queuing up to pay manually at the BP Station near Silverdale – and got stuck behind either a bunch of idiots or a group of poor suffering people being confused endlessly by the system of paying… I’m still not quite sure which, as I found it easy enough to use. In any case, fortunately Leila took a reasonable number of photos of the route, which are included below:alp1These are the cameras that take a photo of your car’s license plate as you drive through the “electronic toll gate”. It’s pretty clever stuff as you don’t need to stop for a toll gate (although all the queuing to pay means that much of the time saved through the shorter route could be lost).

alp2This is quite a good long-distance view of a part of the route. One of the “eco-viaducts” is shown, while “Pukeko Bridge” is visible in the distance. I’m pretty sure that bridge isn’t a public road, but instead only allows one side of a farmer’s property to link with the other side. It’s definitely pretty narrow.

alp3Another photo a bit further along the road. One thing that really stood out for me was how barren the general area that the motorway runs through is. I know that a LOT of plants have been planted, and that over time things will regenerate, but I must say that at the moment the view from the road is almost a bit of a moonscape in its barren-ness.

alp4This is the cut through “Chin Hill”, which apparently is one of the biggest ever cuts made into a hill anywhere in the country. I can’t say I see that as much of an achievement, as the landscape of the area is pretty heavily modified by the cut. Perhaps a tunnel could have been an option here too?

alp5This photo looks towards the Waiwera Viaduct and the Johnstone’s Hill Tunnels in the distance. The viaduct is 537m long and up to 31m above the estuary, but to be honest when driving over it you hardly notice what’s beneath you. I’m yet to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

alp6This is from inside the Johnston’s Hill tunnel (southbound actually, the northbound photos turned out pretty rubbish). The tunnel is certainly pretty cool, although it’s all over quite quickly which in some ways feels like a bit of a shame.

Overall, obviously the road is a triumph of engineering to make a pretty easy-to-drive road go through some pretty harsh terrain. However, if I’m honest I would say that it actually feels too easy, too over-engineered in some ways. Like in the battle between nature and humanity we have won through a complete knockout punch and then stood there pounding the losing nature to death repeatedly. Sure, there has been good environmental mitigation in the form of the eco-viaducts and the tunnel, but the way it’s just so smooth and easy to drive, the enormous amount of earthworks that went on to cut through places link Chin Hill and to fill other places, it just somehow feels a bit wrong. A bit surreal – although perhaps over time as I drive the route more often I’ll get used to it.

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  1. Hmmm… Thanks for that… I haven’t driven it yet… It looks okay except for that hideous cut through Chin Hill… Apart from that I think when the plants grow in it’ll look okay, lets face it this project has more mitigation than any other motorway project in NZ yet…

  2. I’m living in Australia at the moment. Instead of moonscape, that photo looks lush and plentiful!

    And yes, my experience is that we very quickly get used to things. The drive on SH1 felt oh so wrong after they cut out Rangiriri, but now it just feels normal.

  3. Oh Jarbury, tell me you’re not one of these people that drives fulltime in the passing lane as those photos suggest? 😉

  4. It is overengineered, the then Transit did so deliberately, thinking a toll road has to be of a very high standard, so as a result, less of the cost of the road is being recovered by tolls than otherwise – which is a huge mistake. The tunnels were unnecessary.

    It was Transit’s showpiece of toll highways, it wasn’t a good road to toll, but it was done anyway because the CEO strongly pushed it (Tauranga Harbourlink was a better project, but it got killed off by Winston’s deal with Labour after the 2005 election).

    You see, all road users have subsidised the toll collection system used for this one project – that is how much of a disaster tolling this road has been. It would have been better financially, and economically, to build this section of motorway to a lower spec, and not toll it.

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