At just 26 years of age, Te Amorangi Simeon can already lay claim to having better work stories than most. The New Plymouth local is part of a team from the Mt Messenger Alliance that has been doing the earthworks for New Zealand’s first cableway built for road construction.
Rising above the trees on a rugged section of Mt Messenger, the 1.1km cableway will be used to transport personnel, equipment and heavy machinery into a remote valley for Te Ara o Te Ata: Mt Messenger Bypass – a new 6km route from Uruti to Ahititi.
The cableway’s towers and north and south anchor blocks are already in place and a heavy-duty cable capable of carrying 20 tonnes will soon be pulled through.
“I’ve just finished three days of rope training, abseiling off one of the towers from 28 metres up,” Te Amorangi says.
“We’ve been doing the training in preparation for the cable install, in case we need to do any rescues of workers on the project.”
That might sound unusual but things like abseiling and helicopter flights are a surprisingly common part of Te Amorangi’s work. As a HEB Construction Project Engineer on the Te Ara o Te Ata project, he often adopts creative forms of travel to traverse the area’s challenging topography, especially during planning and pre-starts for new highway sections.
His typical workday can involve doing everything from visiting sites to support team members or make sure earthworks are being done correctly, through to managing procurement and ensuring the project is being completed within budget.
“I go out to my zone at least twice a day just to check up on things, see how we’re progressing, and to make sure we are meeting our targets and moving dirt where we need to move dirt.”
He also regularly liaises with Ngāti Tama, the mana whenua for the project area, to ensure cultural interests are considered, and supports environmental and ecological initiatives to protect water quality and the native long-tail bats that live in the surrounding valleys and hills.
“It’s a 100 per cent unique project because of the terrain and ecological considerations. You can usually see where the road will be going when you start a project but this one is quite different because you literally can’t even picture it, it’s that steep.”
The bypass project will include two bridges of approximately 125m and 30m length, a 235m tunnel and a substantial environmental restoration programme. Once finished in 2026, it will provide a new route from Uruti to Ahititi that avoids the existing steep, narrow and winding route over Mt Messenger on State Highway 3.
Te Amorangi says the scale of the project means the terrain along the route is being transformed, making the efforts of the project team feel very tangible.
“Part of me does just like moving dirt,” he says. “I like to see big changes, big cuts, and dig really deep holes.”
His love of engineering and earthworks began as a teenager and he went straight into a labouring job when he left school. While working he studied a Diploma in Civil Engineering part time through the NZ Institute of Highway Technology (NZIHT), graduating earlier this year.
He says the ability to earn while he learned was a big drawcard, and he enjoys the challenges the career provides that require him to constantly think on his feet. He recalls the challenge of building ‘bridge one’ in Awakino on an earlier project – a job where the geology of the ground they were drilling into proved to be different to what they expected.
“It was a simple bridge but hard to build. We had to drill straight into limestone and we had to come up with some tricky ways of staging to support it and make it all work.”
At times the team wondered whether it was possible, but they managed to find a solution and with that comes satisfaction, he says.
“You need flexibility and you need to be able to roll with the punches. Every day is different in this industry.”
He urges anybody considering working in the industry in the year ahead to “give it a go” and see where they end up.
“You can always start out on the tools and see where you want to go because there’s all sorts of other opportunities. Whether you go into earthworks or structures or tunnelling, you can see what you like and go find your niche.”