Two men, 750,000 plants and a local business. That’s what it’s taking to help beautify and stabilise the boundaries of the expressway.
The two men are Tongan-born brothers Kisione and Mafi Kaufusi. Almost alone, they have been digging in and maintaining everything along the banks and wetlands of the expressway. When the job is complete, there will have been more than 750,000 plantings.
The men are employed by Chelsea Landscapes, owned and operated by Jeff and Vicky Roach. Jeff was born and raised in Ōtaki, as was Vicky’s grandfather, Mat Swainson. When the couple are not working around the Auckland region, they’re at home in Manakau, just north of Ōtaki.
Jeff is full of praise for his toiling Tongans.
“Kisione and Mafi are fantastic workers,” Jeff says. “On a good day they can put in up to 1500 plants each. It’s hard work, but they just get on with it.”
Both men have been working for Jeff and Vicky for many years. Jeff says getting local workers for the company has been problematic.
“They haven’t lasted, and drug testing puts many of them off applying.”
The planting work is labour-intensive. It’s mostly done with tried-and-true shovels and manpower. The hardest part is along the many steep banks of roading projects. In these situations, safety harnesses have to be used, adding another level of physical exertion.
Mechanised cherry-pickers have been suggested, but the planters have difficulty putting weight behind the shovels.
After planting, the company continues with maintenance contracts that could be anything from two to five years. Kisione and Mafi also look after the maintenance on the Ōtaki job, carrying knapsacks and machetes for weed control and gorse removal. When the maintenance contract is over, the growth generally looks after itself,
The plants and trees come from propagators throughout the country, who then supply Chelsea Landscapes. Up to 300,000 are shipped off every year – mostly big roading projects.
The plants are carefully selected for their ecological suitability to the local landscape. What is native to the Ōtaki area will not be appropriate for a Waikato wetlands project, for example.
Jeff and Vicky have supplied some of New Zealand’s biggest projects in their 35 years of business. In recent times they have delivered a million plants for the Northern Gateway to Puhoi, and have provided for motorways in and around Auckland, Mt Maunganui and Hamilton, and plantings for the new hockey stadium at Tauranga. Jeff says he’s enjoyed the Ōtaki job.
“The Fletchers team has been fantastic to deal with.”
The Peka Peka to Ōtaki expressway has already taken 660,000 plants – that leaves Kisione and Mafi only 100,000 to go!