Hidden in the valleys and hills to the east of Huntly, work is underway to dramatically reshape Waikato's northern gateway.
Eight months into the project's build, the 15.2 kilometre-long Huntly section of the Waikato Expressway is ahead of schedule and tipped to open early.
Tony Dickens, project director of the Fulton Hogan HEB joint venture, said favourable weather and meticulous planning had put the $458 million project in a strong position ahead of winter.
Fulton Hogan HEB joint venture project director Tony Dickens.
To date, the focus has largely been on earthworks and enabling work - clearing trees, diverting streams and putting in culverts.
About 600,000 cubic metres of earth has been shifted this so far, while enabling work has been carried out in 20 gullies.
Earthworks season ended on April 30 but Dickens said the project had secured a winter work permit from the Waikato Regional Council allowing them to carry out earthworks for as long as the weather remains dry.
"That should only be for another few weeks and then we'll have to stop. We only have 100 days a year that we can do earthworks et cetera because the rest of the time it's raining or the ground is too wet," Dickens said.
"So we have to be geared up to make the best out of each of those 100 days."
Among the project's most dramatic features will be the 60 metre-deep cut through the Taupiri Range, dubbed the Taupiri Pass.
The Taupiri Pass will require 1 million cubic metres of earth to be excavated.
Controlled blasting will be required to remove the final 10 per cent of the cut.
"We've already made quite a dent in the skyline and have removed 200,000 cubic metres from the Taupiri range. This is a key logistical part of the project and everything must go right in order for us to finish the project on time," Dickens said.
The Huntly section is viewed as a key link in the $2.1 billion Waikato Expressway project and will connect with the Ohinewai section in the north, and to the Ngaruawahia section at Taupiri.
The project has a completion date of March, 2020, but Dickens said his team aims to deliver the section to the NZ Transport Agency by December, 2019.
"Time is everything to us. As contractors we benefit from finishing the work early because it means we are here for less time and that means less cost. But also, it means NZTA can open the road to the public and they get the benefits earlier."
National's Hamilton East MP David Bennett said the Huntly section would enable safer and more efficient travel through the region and would further reinforce the economic benefits of the expressway project.
Dickens, who led the Te Rapa section build, said the Huntly section presented its own challenges, such as steep terrain, big volumes of material to be shifted, and the difficulties of working with clay.
The section is allowed a maximum road grade of six per cent to enable trucks to maintain a 90kmh travelling speed.
Once complete, Dickens said the views along the section would surprise the public.
"At the moment people can't see what we're doing here or appreciate the massive scale of the earthworks going on and they won't see it until the section is completed. But once they drive through here I think they will be very pleased because we're creating a spectacular gateway to the Waikato. The road will travel through rural valleys, past native bush and through the Taupiri cut before bursting out onto the Waikato plains. It will be fantastic."
Stuff - Aaron Leaman
Image - NZ Transport Agency - A view looking north of the Taupiri Pass along the Huntly section of the Waikato Expressway.