Time never stands still and while today’s Cameron Road feels very familiar, it’s about to undergo its next major transformation.
Tauranga City Council has secured a $45m grant from central government to futureproof Cameron Road from Harington Street in the city centre down to 17th Avenue beside Tauranga hospital.
The work is government-funded to support New Zealand’s recovery from COVID-19. Work will begin next year to make Cameron Road safer, more attractive and provide more ways to move so people can choose whether to walk, cycle, use public transport or drive.
This major redevelopment will be designed to meet the needs of our growing city, supporting Te Papa peninsula intensification, planned growth in Tauriko and improving public transport reliability for those travelling from Welcome Bay.
The council is determined to also honour Cameron Road’s cultural and historical past. The project team is working closely with mana whenua including representatives of Ngāi Tamarāwaho and Ngāti Tapu to discover how they can pay tribute using elements of urban design.
Josh Te Kani is responsible for strategic Māori engagement for the council and says Cameron Road follows the natural ridgeline along the Te Papa peninsula and was always a thoroughfare pre-European settlement.
“Geographically, it has always been the centre of this region. It was a hub of activity and quite a mixing pot for local iwi. It was a popular trading area and there was a large defensive pā called Otamataha where the Elms’ Mission House and cemetery now stand.
“There is very fertile soil in the city centre so there were large kūmara gardens everywhere that sustained local iwi. It’s pretty cool how the city centre has just developed naturally here.”
Mapping investigations have uncovered over 20 natural springs, four of which were large enough to sustain crops and tangata whenua in the area. While they’re impossible to see now, Josh says “there’s a big clue for you and it’s called Spring Street. The city’s been built over the top of them.”
In 1828 a warring tribe attacked the area, scattering the original Māori descendants further afield.
“When big attacks like that happen and lots of people die, Māori tend to remove themselves from the area, hence the reason we don't have any marae here in the city centre. Māori went back to their other homes – to Judea, Matapihi and Maungatapu. They went to those surrounding areas to find refuge because their home at Otamataha pā had been destroyed.”
Josh Te Kani, responsible for Māori Strategic Engagement at Tauranga City Council and Principal Transport Planner Sarah Dove. Photo: Supplied.
A subsequent land sale to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) saw the Te Papa Mission Station set up in 1838 under the leadership of Alfred Brown and tensions over who owned the land peaked in 1864 at the Battle of Gate Pā.
“As well as being a natural thoroughfare for Maori, Cameron Road was also used by British soldiers to carry their cannons and heavy artillery from The Strand all the way through to Gate Pā. The soldiers marched along that very route.”
While Māori won a mighty victory at Gate Pā, the land wars soon saw vast tracts of land confiscated by the Crown, including the city centre and Cameron Road area.
“The city itself was built on a foundation of confiscation so the people that originally occupied this area were removed through tribal attacks, the CMS transaction and finally the land wars. If you look at the history, you can see why there isn’t a cultural layer here in the city centre today. It was removed through a number of different factors.”
Cameron Road was formally constructed in 1871 and named after General Duncan Cameron who led the British troops in the Battle of Gate Pā. It was just grass to begin with, resulting in a long-running controversy over the grazing of cows. By the late 1920s the political question of the day was whether or not you were in favour of taking cows off the streets.
Eventually sections of Cameron Rd had metal chip added but Tauranga’s first motor cars had to drive with chains on rainy days to avoid getting stuck in the mud. The first attempt at tar sealing was applied using a watering can and a broom. In 1932 the council decided to seal the road from Elizabeth Street to Eleventh Ave, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that two-way traffic was established.
The main road has always been a hub for community activities and businesses.
Churches, theatres, hotels, the fire station, hospital, schools, parks, bowling greens, war memorial halls and the telephone exchange have all sprung up, and many historical buildings are still home to retail businesses today. Residential homes were also a notable feature – and the Brian Watkins House, built on the corner of Cameron Road and Elizabeth Street in 1881, remains a window into our past.
It is these ‘glimpses’ that the council will now try to enhance and protect as the next era of Cameron Road takes shape. Principal Transport Planner Sarah Dove says incorporating a cultural narrative within the new design has the potential to add so much value for a wide range of people.
“We certainly want to acknowledge the history. We will be working with our iwi partners and other stakeholders and at the moment we're still in the very early stages of what those elements might actually look like.”
Urban design options can include adding cultural patterns to pavement treatments, using tree species or specific materials such as stones or shells that are of importance to local hapu, designing benches or resting places with a cultural element, installing artwork, and using wayfinding and signposting techniques to draw attention to areas of historical significance.
“There are a lot of destinations off Cameron Road and we want to try and encourage people to access those by different transport modes. So, we need better signage to help people find their way to destinations like leisure facilities and reserves and so on. But there’s also an opportunity to use those signs to provide some cultural identity and historical context too.
“It’s a very exciting project and we’re looking forward to better representing our past while ensuring Cameron Road is ready to support Tauranga’s future.”