Roddy Hapati-Pihema and Te Awe Koni, of the Taumatamakuku Community Residents Representative Committee, have campaigned long and hard for improved road safety in the Far North settlement. Photo / Peter de Graaf
A tiny Northland community tired of dealing with the trauma of serious crashes is fighting back with reduced speed limits, footpaths, speed bumps and now the Far North’s first fixed speed camera.
Taumatamakuku is a settlement of about 50 homes alongside what was until recently a 100km/h zone of State Highway 1, between Kawakawa and Moerewa.
It’s a busy stretch of highway that’s had more than its share of fatal crashes.
The settlement’s main street, a crescent that starts and finishes on SH1, was used by hoons, and children and the elderly had to walk on the road because there were no footpaths.
Locals lobbied for generations for safety improvements but had all but given up.
Now, however, Taumatamakuku has an energetic new committee spurred on by the settlement’s kaumātua and kuia.
In little over a year they’ve managed to get footpaths built, an 80km/h limit on SH1, and speed bumps for motorists tempted to ignore the new 30km/h limit within the settlement.
Next, highway authority Waka Kotahi is about to install the Far North’s first fixed speed camera.
The new-generation camera will distinguish between cars and heavy trucks, which have different speed limits, and will be equipped with number plate recognition technology.
The changes have been driven by the Taumatamakuku Community Residents Representative Committee, set up in 2021.
Chairman Roddy Hapati-Pihema said residents who lived along SH1 were traumatised after every serious crash outside their homes.
They were effectively first responders who had to face the carnage or take the injured into their homes until emergency services arrived. In some cases they had held the hands of the dying until they passed away.
Another concern was the danger faced by drivers turning right into the settlement from the highway because there was just one lane in each direction and no median strip.
They either had to wait in the path of traffic for a gap, or pull onto the shoulder and wait for traffic to clear in both directions before darting across.
The risk was compounded at night by poor lighting.
“You’re pretty much running the gauntlet … There’s been a high number of deaths and serious injuries. Over the years the trauma has really affected the community,” Hapati-Pihema said.
Just over a year ago the committee took part in a speed review held in nearby Moerewa, attending workshops, identifying community concerns and making submissions.
They also made contact with the Far North District Council, established a relationship with Kawakawa police, and met Northland MPs.
The committee pushed for a 50km/h limit on SH1 — to match the speeds in Kawakawa and Moerewa on either side of the settlement — as well as a double yellow line or a median barrier to stop crashes caused by overtaking.
The highway limit was dropped, albeit to 80km/h, but their other requests were rejected.
Instead of giving up, the committee started discussions with deputy mayor Kelly Stratford, police and Waka Kotahi, which agreed to a 12-month trial of a mobile speed camera.
“The aim was to find out how many people were speeding in the area and if a fixed camera was warranted. You can’t just put a camera wherever people want them,” Hapati-Pihema said.
Last week the committee learned the Far North’s first fixed camera was due to be installed by the end of this month.
“It feels good that things are going to happen to curb the behaviour of some drivers, but it’s also a really tough balance. We’re a low socio-economic community. We want to do the right thing but we don’t want to add to hardship [with speed camera fines].”
He believed, however, locals would get used to the camera and adjust their speed.
“Eventually it’ll be just the people passing through who get hit [with speed camera fines],” he said.
The committee had also notched up a number of successes within the settlement.
Locals had long wanted a footpath so children and the elderly wouldn’t have to walk on the road.
“I wasn’t even born when the community started asking for a footpath.”
Despite being told by multiple agencies there was no funding available, the committee’s request to the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Community Board was successful.
The 460-metre footpath, from one end of the settlement to the other, was completed in March, despite the original $150,000 grant needing to be bumped up to $265,000 because of rising costs.
The committee also managed to get the speed limit within the settlement reduced to 30km/h and had three sets of temporary speed bumps installed, which will soon become permanent.
The effects had been huge, Hapati-Pihema said.
“We used to see a lot of speedsters in our crescent but not now. And the mobile camera has had an impact on speed on the highway.”
The Taumatamakuku community was grateful to the council, the community board and council staffer Ken Ross for their support, he said.
Kuia Georgina Edmonds was a member of the original Taumatamakuku Māori Ratepayers Committee which lobbied for a footpath in the 1960s. Seeing it built at last made her emotional.
“It’s something we worked for with the old committee for years. To see it finally coming into place is just overwhelming. Our mokos walk on the footpath now. They don’t have to walk on the road,” she said.
Hapati-Pihema, who is now also the community board’s Kawakawa-Moerewa representative, said the key to making things happen was being heard.
“We realised the one thing we didn’t have was a community voice. That was the first step.”
“We were also able to bring all the agencies together, which is probably the most important thing we did. We got the council, Waka Kotahi, the Northern Transportation Alliance and the police all under the same roof so we could put all of our issues in front of them at the same time.”
It also required a change of mindset from residents, committee secretary Te Awe Koni said.
“Our community is very humble and not used to complaining. We had to convince them if there’s a problem they need to make a complaint. They’re not a bunch of moaners.”
Hapati-Pihema agreed: “We had a quiet generation who believed their requests would never be heard, so they stopped asking. Since our committee was established, we’ve been able to rekindle the flame. You have to be persistent. You have to be loud and believe in yourself and your community,” he said.
“It’s also brought communities together. It’s now a collective of Taumatamakuku, Moerewa and Ōtiria working together. It’s about reducing speeds and the harm — emotional, spiritual and physical — from accidents.”
It hadn’t been easy, however. Koni said it had taken two years of hard slog, and constant meetings with the community, whānau and agencies.
“We’re still pushing for a median strip and lighting so turning traffic can be safe. It’s a constant battle. But I’m glad the footpath is there. The kids are off the road and speeds are slowing down,” she said.
■ According to Waka Kotahi, the new speed camera will be installed by the end of this month, weather permitting. After testing and certification, the camera will be run in test mode before becoming fully operational later in the year. The public will be notified before it is ready to issue fines to speeding drivers. In the past year, Moerewa and Ōtiria have also had significant road safety improvements. A raised pedestrian crossing has been built at the Moerewa shops, traffic-calming measures have been installed around Moerewa School, and speed limits have been lowered in Ōtiria.