Mud and rain – it never seemed to stop.
The weather – and the camaraderie – are the enduring memories that Robert Parker has of working on the Maui gas pipeline almost 50 years ago.
Commissioned in 1973, Parker, 75, was one of the original bulldozer operators during construction as the pipeline snaked 299km from the Oaonui Production Station, south of New Plymouth, under farmland, over steep ridges, across gullies and under riverbeds, to the Huntly Power Station, south of Auckland,
It was a dream job.
“We just loved the work. We went everywhere and worked any day of the week. We couldn’t get enough of it,” he said.
“There was mud all the time. We were always sliding and skidding, or digging someone out of somewhere.
“We would get stuck but we would always get on top of the problem and that was the enjoyable part about it.”
Parker recently revisited the pipeline at the invitation of owners Firstgas, flying in a helicopter from New Plymouth to Mōkau, but had difficulty recognising the terrain.
In most areas the pipeline is 1.2m-1.5m underground, only emerging as it crosses gullies on aerial spans, or steep ridges.
A series of white battens on farm fence lines track its path, alongside the smaller Kapuni gas pipeline, as it heads northwards.
“It’s unbelievable how everything has changed,” he said.
Parker is still in awe of the amount of earthworks undertaken to lay the 750mm-850mm diameter steel pipe that supplies a constant and reliable flow of natural gas to industry, businesses and households north of Taranaki from the Maui field.
“It was amazing the amount of work completed,” he said.
“People now just don’t have any idea what sort of work went on to build this.”
Since construction of New Zealand’s largest high pressure gas pipeline was completed in 1979, the Maui pipeline is set to remain a significant contributor to the country’s energy needs towards 2050.
In its first year of operation it carried 17.9PJ (petrajoules) of natural gas.