Behind the scenes of Auckland's new Waterview Tunnel

Created in collaboration with NZ Transport Agency

The 2.4km Waterview tunnel opens in early July, part of a sleek new $1.4 billion route that connects Manukau, the city, west Auckland and the North Shore, provides a motorway connection to the airport and a way for traffic to bypass the central city. As well as the roading infrastructure, there are new cycle and walking paths, parks, skate parks and a restoration of heritage features. Paperboy spoke to six of the people who have spent the last few years working on the Waterview project.

Rachel Blake
Environmental manager

How does this project stack up environmentally?
It has so many aspects to it, and so many potential effects to look after, that’s been the beauty of it. There’s been some real improvements made to the environment. Especially when you look at Oakley Creek, you’re basically leaving an environment much better than how you found it. It would have zig-zagged over the top of the [motorway] trench in the south, so it had to be relocated to the side. [In doing so] we changed it from a block-lined channel that didn’t really support anything in the middle of a field to something that is a more natural shape and has planting around it now, so is going to support life. It’s night and day basically.

What else did you work on here?
Down at the water’s edge, the interesting things are the archaeological areas. At the Oakley Creek inlet under the ramps, there used to be a flour mill and a tannery, and then there’s the Māori occupation sites. Nobody really knew about all those sites until the archaeological investigations were done for the project, and those areas are now in a park rather than someone’s backyard. There’s going to be information there so people understand the history, and they’ve stood up the boiler that was part of the tannery and protected that, they’ve replaced a historic footbridge; they’ve done lots of things so people understand that part of the history.

What’s been the most satisfying part of this for you?
The variety. It’s also a great team to be working with. I love all the variety and different improvements you can see. Another one down on the coast is the New Zealand dotterels that nest near the interchange at Great North Road; we’ve been able to make changes to our landscape design to accommodate them. Being able to make little changes like that, that improve the way you leave the area, is really cool.

Sonia Fernandez
Operations engineer

What led you to this role?
I was in Spain, and I’ve always worked on tunnels, as well as fire safety and ventilation, and I thought New Zealand would be a really good experience.

Are you going to stay now this project’s complete?
 I’m going to stay on. I’ve lived here four years already.

So New Zealand has made a good impression?
Maybe it rains too much, but other than that, it’s perfect.

Now that you’ve moved here, what do you like most about the city?
I live in the central city, and I guess that it’s a very handy city, you have everything pretty close by, not like Madrid where I grew up, where everything is too big and too spread out.

What’s been the best part of working on this project?
Being able to work across all the systems, all the people. I’ve been able to review all the designs, and be involved in construction and commissioning from beginning to end.

Are there many other women in the engineering and construction areas, or do you feel like a pioneer?
There are more and more. But sometimes I feel like a pioneer, yes [laughs].

Justis Kamu
Communications advisor, Well-Connected Alliance (which delivered the construction of the Waterview project).

How long have you been working on this project?
This is my third year. I started in 2015.

What have you enjoyed most about it?
It would be the people, both those in the Well-Connected Alliance and meeting those out in the community. We’ve been working closely with the people of Waterview, New Windsor and Ōwairaka.

A big part of your job has been seeking input from residents. Do you feel that process worked well overall? This is a blueprint that can be used for other projects of this scale, and that’s the feedback we’ve had from the community: this is a model of how to consult and carry on those relationships throughout the construction.

What did you do to ensure the residents felt heard and were heard?
It’s about being proactive and about truly and genuinely engaging with them by following up. It’s about building relationships and having that ongoing conversation to get to an outcome that you’re both happy with. We’re looking for win-win situations in everything we do.

What difference do you think this project will make?
It’ll make a huge difference for people who live in west Auckland and south Auckland. I grew up out west so I understand the travelling, as I went from Henderson out to Ōtāhuhu for five years. I understand the weaving you have to do through the suburbs. And now living out south and heading into the city, I understand too that this is going to make those connections safer, more efficient and reduce travel time, whether you do that in the day or at night.

Tom Locke
Project architect at Warren & Mahoney for the tunnel’s ventilation buildings and Te Whitinga bridge

What’s Te Whitinga bridge?
It’s one of the standout pieces of the project. It’s part of the shared path network for pedestrians and cyclists. It’s a pedestrian bridge that links Alan Wood Reserve in the south with the park in the north. It crosses the motorway and connects those two communities of Mount Roskill and  ōwairaka. It was designed as a really clean geometry, with three arcs connected to one long sweeping curve. Structurally, it’s a suspended bridge. It is a fairly efficient structure and the bridge itself is quite a clear expression of the structural concept. There’s not too much other extraneous stuff. It’s a really good piece of work, I’m really excited about it.

How do you go about stitching an infrastructural project like this into an urban or suburban realm?
There was a really good process put in place right from the start, where there was a lot of community engagement, so it really starts with listening to what the concerns of the communities are, because they’re the experts in their place, not us. We can go and analyse and look at it and come up with ideas for what might be good, but I think it was through the process of talking to the community and finding out what the really important things were.

How did you design the ventilation stacks?
They were probably one of the hardest things: they had to be 15 metres tall and they had to have an open diameter of 60 square metres, but how you shape that was the real challenge. They’re both quite different. In the southern end, the vent stack is quite a crystalline form, a shard that marks the tunnel portal. I think it’s quite expressive of the movement of the motorways. In the north, because the vent stack is right next to Great North Road and a tree-lined edge to the street, the goal there was to get something which was more embedded within the landscape. It’s a concrete stack again and that comes from the performance requirements, but at the northern end we cloaked it with a steel fin screen to give it a finer grain so it was more in keeping with that context.

What difference will this project make to Auckland?
What we’re really pleased with is the really strong emphasis on urban design outcomes when you’re doing a big project like this. There’s all sorts of performance and health and safety requirements you have to deal with, but there was a lot of emphasis on getting really good urban design outcomes for all the communities affected. I think hopefully it’ll set a benchmark for the way infrastructure projects are developed in Auckland.

Alasdair Rigby
Landscape architect for Well-Connected Alliance and principal with Boffa Miskell

What elements did you help design?
Almost all aspects of the scheme, apart from the interior of the tunnel. Certainly all the bits which are either visible to, or used by the public. We worked very closely with the local community, plus the project engineers and architects to design 1.5 kilometres of new naturalised creek systems and storm water wetlands, several sports facilities, a coastal walkway and long boardwalk, over 10 kilometres of shared paths and footpaths, a playground, a restored heritage site, several footbridges (including public artworks and the iconic vent buildings and Te Whitinga bridge), and a wayfinding system.

What was it like working on a project with this significance?
Experiencing the management structure and systems required to make a huge project like this happen has been amazing. We’ve been rubbing shoulders with some pretty smart people; world-class designers, engineers and construction teams. The scale and magnitude of the job really took a while to sink in at the start. There has been somewhere in the region of 10,000 people involved.

What is your approach to designing things for the public?
Consultation with the local community was an extremely important part, probably the most significant and defining aspect actually. Following a bit of a bumpy start, we’ve become friends with people who had significant concerns at the outset. We had a system of fortnightly evening design workshops where we systematically worked through all aspects of the scheme together. Understanding that people who live in a place know it better than anyone comes first, then turning up with an open mind and being ready to listen and form a well-reasoned design response.

Are there any Māori design elements used?
Yes, precast concrete panel artworks at the southern motorway entrance going northbound depict the story of Hinemairangi and Tamareia and their escape into a lava tube to escape capture. There are two laser-cut steel artworks underneath the ramps on Great North Road which were collaborations with Ngāti Whātua  ōrākei and Te Kawerau a Maki.

How do you go about designing a good skate park?
Plenty of space between obstacles to allow the riders to set up for their tricks (or fall off afterwards), a good balance of flat ground space, rails and transitions, but it’s also all in the quality of the finish. Skaters like it smooth. If you can add colour and interest to break up the grey mass of concrete then that is also good. An absolutely key point though is to work with designers and builders who understand skateboarding. It’s very easy to get it wrong if you don’t know how the sport works.

Any memorable moments?
Without question, seeing people using the spaces as they opened. It was a real kick eavesdropping on conversations on opening day. Seeing the skateparks, BMX track and playground openings will be a lasting memory, as will the connections made with the stack of good people who made the whole project happen.


Hot Spots

Walking, cycling, skating and playing around Waterview.

Restores the historic connection that was severed in the 1950s when SH16 was built.

Archaeological sites that provide insight into the history of the Waterview area.

Plenty of jumps in a pump-track style loop.

Waterview Primary School children helped develop the playground’s design.

The skatepark includes a three-metre-high quarter pipe, fun boxes, rails and stairs.


Crosses Oakley Creek to connect Unitec with Great North Road and Alford Street.

An upgraded stream environment.

Boardwalk linking two reserves.

Connects the shared path with Soljak Place.




Tuna Roa, meaning long eel, refers to the shape of the park.


Te Whitinga, means ‘The Crossing’, and spans SH20 connecting Ōwairaka and New Windsor.

A sports field.

About 74,000 native plants were planted in the reserve.


Designed with help from local skaters.


Photography/ Simon Young.