Our house backs onto paddocks and on the other side of those paddocks part of Transmission Gully is being constructed. It’s a notorious road. One I can hardly believe is actually being built, having heard about it for as long as I can remember. I see the earthmovers and the hazard bunting during the day, and I’ve got used to the hi-vis workers clearing out the pie warmer in the local dairy, but it’s mostly at night when I feel the road advancing. Lights pulse and flash, machinery growls, and the shouting talk of workers carry across the paddocks.
There’s another notorious road nearby. Centennial Highway is actually the length of State Highway One from Ngauranga Gorge to Paekākāriki, but most people use the term to refer to the stretch between Paekākāriki and Pukerua Bay. It’s a Black Spot. A term I always associated with pirates but which denotes an area of high road accident numbers. If someone crosses the centre line there’s nowhere to go except into the sea or the side of the hill. There’s a wire median barrier now, to stop these head on collisions. It’s nicknamed the cheese cutter, and apparently does nasty things to motorcyclists.
The other reason for its notoriety are its traffic jams, especially at peak times or public holidays. The speed limit is eighty kilometres an hour, though I remember when it was one hundred and there was at least one passing lane. However, its speed camera has long been removed. It’s one of those few places a cyclist, sometimes even a pedestrian, can occasionally take pleasure in beating the traffic.
Whenever I cycle the path I mentally thank the builders for including it when they made the sea wall around eighty years ago. Even today a path beside a new road is not a given. When the traffic is flowing it’s undeniably unnerving to have the cars so close, the trucks buffet you as they hurtle past. Occasionally waves will break against the sea wall and douse you in spray. But it’s also exhilarating, and beautiful.
To one side of the path, the hills. Hang gliders and paragliders leap onto the updrafts, walkers skirt the escarpment, motorists wind up the hill road to glimpse over the horizon. To the other side, the sea. Fish belly flat and silver, or white foamy turmoil, it’s ever changing. The smell of seaweed, and wild freesias. The shags drying their wings. Three big rocks that must have a legend behind them. And Kāpiti, always Kāpiti, island of a million moods. So much a part of me that I look at a horizon without it and feel the lack.
The traffic recedes as you imagine the past; the road workers in their camps, the whalers, and war party waka, a lone swimmer with a child on her back. Perhaps in the future, once Transmission Gully is complete, the traffic will lessen and the speed limit be lowered. We might glimpse another road. One that is notoriously peaceful as well as beautiful.
Listen to Sarah: