On 14 November 2016 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the coastal town of Kaikōura, in the South Island of New Zealand.

Twenty-one faults ruptured bringing landslides onto the transport corridor instantly isolating communities and bringing travel to a halt. There were over 3,300 ‘things to fix’.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and KiwiRail came together to fix it in a unique road and rail partnership – the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) Alliance.


Challenge and opportunities

The Kaikōura coastline is a unique part of the world. The road and rail networks wind like a ribbon between the mountains and sea.

It is an area of great cultural significance to Māori (indigenous people) as a traditional travel route, for gathering seafood and settlement.

Even though a huge amount of damage had been done, we had an amazing landscape setting and natural environment to work with. There was an opportunity to use large engineered spaces and structures as a canvas to tell important stories of the coast.

It was a job that could not be done alone. NCTIR established a Restoration Liaison Group to help us address environmental, ecological and cultural concerns and opportunities and collectively deliver better outcomes. Members included Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura (the tribal council of the area), the Department of Conservation, and Heritage New Zealand.

Landscape Design Framework

We developed a guiding document for all design work so that we could appropriately integrate the permanent works into the surrounding landscape and design with nature. We took a whole of corridor approach that resulted in consistent outcomes relative to the cultural landscape, environment, engineering, and overall user experience.

The Cultural Artwork Package

NCTIR and our Cultural Advisory Group created a narrative to be detailed through a Cultural Artwork Package.

This package resulted in the biggest/longest piece of combined artwork in New Zealand covering 53km. Seven new rest areas along the highway have enhanced the user experience of the coastline. Each tells cultural stories through artwork, furniture, sculptures and planting that reflect its location.

The Cultural Artwork Package includes:

  • Six wall-etched murals on rail tunnels and retaining walls telling the creation story as told by tribal leader Matiaha Tiramorehu in 1849 – from the beginning of time – Te Po Te Ao Te Kore (The dark, the day, the void) to the birth of Ranginui the sky father.
  • A palisade adorned with eight carvings at the foot of an historic pā (village) site. We designed a contemporary representation of a historic palisade fence which would have once existed to defend the pā site.
  • Four large pouwhenua (carved marker posts) representing historic individuals that the Rūnanga can trace their lineage to. Master carvers made carvings that were cast in concrete and mounted on a plinth.
  • Nine tekoteko (small markers) placed at sites of occupation, burial or historical events. We worked closely with the sculptors and fabricators to create nine concrete versions replicas of the original carvings that will last in perpetuity.

Corridor-wide landscape planting treatment

Indigenous vegetation, prevalent along the corridor, was the source of seed for all of our landscape and revegetation planting

Given the extent of the multiple areas to be revegetated, direct seeding into a compost blanket was used; a first at this large scale on a coastal location for New Zealand. In one area, the compost and seed were applied by helicopter and monsoon bucket – a definite first! Thousands of plants were planted by conventional means also.

Ecological diversity was a strong component of the revegetation work; a highlight of this has been the re-establishment of the Ōhau rock daisy, a native plant that is only found in one particular location – Ōhau Point.


We worked closely with the Rūnanga to ensure we were responsive to the cultural context of the area and could represent their narrative throughout the corridor. Together we have left a beautiful and lasting legacy for the community and all of New Zealand.

Maurice Manawatu, Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura. “It’s been a good journey, working alongside NCTIR to draw together designers, artist and carvers to bring the Cultural Artwork Package to life. Every piece of art is there for a reason, and the reason is whakapapa and connection – that is what turns it from a mural or a carving into a piece of art, it creates a life force and gives Māna (respect) and meaning.”


Sir Tipene O’Regan, former long-serving chairman of the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board. “I would like to join in the general chorus of praise for the forces that have assembled this package of memories along our coast. The coast is now much more widely adorned with its memories and its story than it was before, and that says something about what we are beginning, as a people, to become.”

Further information

Name of the project: The Cultural Artwork Package

Project category: Infrastructure Project

Entrant: North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) Landscape Architect Lawrence Elliott

Other Landscape/Architecture offices involved: NCTIR, WSP, Aurecon, Boffa Miskell

Location: Kaikōura coastline – publically accessible artworks between Oaro and Clarence. (See ‘Map of Cultural Artwork Package sites.jpg’ in Project 1 ‘Simple site plan’ folder for reference)

Design year: 2017 – 2018

Year built: 2019 – 2020



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