Roadbuilding; On the road again

Roadbuilding; On the road again
     Story: Joe Akari

When Cyclone Gabrielle hit the North Island in February 2023, its destructive force destroyed roads and bridges, including the one linking Tairāwhiti’s Tolaga and Tokomaru Bays.

The road closure isolated families and communities, and was particularly bad news because the closest hospital to Tolaga Bay is at Te Puia Springs near Tokomaru Bay, meaning people couldn’t get medical help quickly.

The scale of the devastation meant Waka Kotahi couldn’t even get machinery into the area to start repairs, and the towns faced the prospect of being cut off for months. 

Into this situation stepped Ricky Kuru and his roadbuilding crew at Kuru Contracting. Over two weeks they built a temporary road, called Pourau Road, linking Tolaga and Tokomaru Bays. They did it using forestry road-building equipment they already had in the area.

The story behind the road being built reflects Kuru Contracting’s approach to supporting the wellbeing of its workers and community. 

When the cyclone hit, the East Coast was devastated – there was no power, no phones and roads were closed so people were cut off from their whānau. Kuru Contracting responded immediately to support its workers and community. 

Ricky says some of the company’s management team had a quick meeting and decided to do whatever they could to help people. With the phones out, the only way for people to check on their loved ones was to drive to them. So, the company left the Tolaga Bay petrol station, which it owns, open so people could get fuel without having to pay. 

Kuru Contracting also committed to keeping all of its staff (97 at the time of the cyclones, but this has now grown to 118) on the payroll despite forestry operations on the East Coast being suspended or severely disrupted for many months after the cyclone because of damage to forests and forestry infrastructure. 

“We didn’t want our workers worrying about how they would pay their bills at such a bad time. We wanted to support them so they could help with the task of recovering from the cyclone,” says Ricky. 

An important step in this recovery was reconnecting Tolaga and Tokomaru Bays. 

Up to the challenge

Ricky says the company talked to the local landowner at Pourau Station about building a temporary four-wheel drive road to reconnect the two towns, using the forestry road-building equipment already in the area. In addition to its forestry and log hauling operations, Kuru Contracting has a Civil & Traffic division, a Quarrying division, and a Bulk Haulage division. The company estimates it has built 1500 kilometres of forestry roads in the area over the past 30 years. It thus had the equipment, experience and skilled workers needed to do the job.

Pourau Station understood the devastation the community faced, so supported the project. With the landowner on board, Kuru Contracting then talked to the Gisborne District Council and Waka Kotahi. The scale of the devastation meant both those organisations were working flat out. So, rather than wait for a decision,...

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