Ventia NZ Roads team

Ventia is committed to the ongoing protection and promotion of cultural and historical heritage. 

When members of the New Zealand Transport team recently encountered a possible artefact, the first thing they did was stop work and contact Heritage New Zealand for guidance on next steps.

The team were carrying out road drainage works in Paihia in the Northland region for client Far North District Council, when they noticed a hollowed-out wooden object in the excavated area that may have been a waka. 

A waka is a culturally significant wooden canoe, traditionally used by Māori for fishing and to carry goods and people between and around islands. Over the years, some waka have been found buried, particularly around coastal areas such as Paihia.

David Collins, Ventia Transport Branch Manager for the Far North region says he was informed of the possible waka by the onsite team who immediately ceased all work.

We made the rather easy decision to cease all work until we could ascertain the cultural significance of the item in consultation with Heritage New Zealand," said David.

"I immediately contacted Heritage New Zealand to report the possible artefact and we arranged an assessment for the following day" explains David.

The wooden artefact in the excavated drain undergoing assessment

Pictured: The wooden artefact in the excavated drain undergoing assessment.

Assessing the archaeological find 

Two regional archaeologists working for Heritage New Zealand attended the worksite and completed an assessment of the possible waka. 

The assessment concluded that the wooden object measuring three metres in length, 50 centremetres in width and 25 centremetres in depth, was not a waka but was still of archaeological significance. 

The report surmises that the wooden object is part of a fallen tree that remained buried under the historical swamp lands of Paihia for centuries, until it was uncovered and opportunistically used to assist with drainage during the installation of an old concrete culvert around 1960.

Due to this significance, the site was recorded as a pending archaeological site (Q05/1554) in the New Zealand Archaeological Association database.

Water flowing along the wooden culvert

Pictured: Water flowing along the wooden culvert. 


Preserving heritage 

In consultation with Heritage New Zealand, Ventia then developed a plan to complete their required drainage works while safely preserving the historical wooden culvert in its existing place.

Dr James Robinson, Senior Archaeologist for Heritage New Zealand praised Ventia in his report stating that Ventia acted completely in accordance with the archeological protection provisions of the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014.

"All of the Ventia team showed a strong interest in the archeological heritage values of Paihia in what was originally thought to be a Māori waka but which ended up being a story that related to early road construction and maintenance - directly relatable to their current job," said Dr Robinson. 

Vic Hensley, Ventia's General Manager for Transport New Zealand, also a proud Ngati Kahu man, says the team demonstrated Ventia's values with their actions, particularly as they relate to cultural heritage protection.

I couldn't be prouder of the team for the way they responded to the possible waka, and then how they found a way to provide ongoing protection for the artefact while still completing the required drainage works for the Paihia community," said Vic.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga is the leading national historic heritage agency with a mission to identify, protect and promote heritage. Its work, powers and functions are prescribed by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014. Click here to learn more about Heritage New Zealand.


Top image: the Ventia team who made the discovery, protected and reported the possible waka.