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Hero Horse and Tumanako

Horse JPEG 3.6.1

TWO Quality Roading and Services (QRS) lakie staff have been hailed as heroes during Cyclone Gabrielle after riding a horse and a quadbike to fetch much-needed machinery.  

Jon ‘Horse’ Hohepa from near Lake Waikaremoana couldn’t believe what he saw during his three-hour horse trek to fetch the loader. “It was a complete mess.”  Tumanako Waiwai described his journey on a motorbike “like a war scene”.  The efforts of both men have been praised by locals and their QRS colleagues.

Horse Hohepa lives at Lake Kaitawa with his partner and two children. The area was devastated by Cyclone Gabrielle in February with access between Lake Waikaremoana and Wairoa along State Highway 38  cut off both ways. Slips, washouts, and flooding made roads unrecognisable.

Horse is a labourer for Wairoa civil construction company Quality Roading and Services. He and his Tuai-based cousin, Tumanako Waiwai (also with QRS), knew there was a loader in Ohuka Rd. They could start opening up roads for their community if only they could reach it.

Travelling to the loader by vehicle wasn’t an option. So, while Tumanako opted for a motorbike, Horse chose his mare. “There was no way around to Ohuka Rd except by horseback so I chose Daisy.”

Horse has had an affinity for horses and the outback his whole life. “I grew up with horses and in the bush, and I’ve worked on farms,” he says. “My uncle gave me this horse.”

On the morning of Tuesday 14 February he saddled Daisy and tied a chainsaw on. He said a karakia before he left. “To the Atua, for safety. It wasn’t raining that hard at the time but it was a mess everywhere.”

The pair’s journey was laborious but Daisy, who is pregnant, was sure-footed. They passed over slips and around dropouts. When they came across fallen trees, Horse chainsawed their way through.  “She was all good,” says Horse. “She comes from the bush that one.”

The difficult trek took them up along the skyline at the back of Piripaua before coming down by McDonald Rd and into Ohuka Rd where the loader was parked. It took three hours.

Horse described it as “a sweet ride”. He reckons Daisy knew it was important to get to their destination. “She just went for it and didn’t play up or anything. It was like she knew.”

Tumanko made it to the loader on his motorbike around the same time. A QRS site supervisor and skilled machinery operator, he says the roads were disastrous and destroyed. “There were barely roads in certain sections,” he says.

While Horse rode Daisy home, Tumanako jumped into the loader and began the enormous task of opening vital road links for whānau and community. “It took me nearly four hours to get back to Tuai.” It normally takes 15 minutes. He says when locals saw the machine “it put a lot of hope back in the people,”. The next day he and other QRS lakie staff started to punch their way into Wairoa.

QRS operations manager Anthony O’Sullivan says Horse and Tumanako’s attitude are a credit to QRS and exemplify the type of emergency response that can be achieved with locals helping locals. “The region is lucky to have staff like this – staff (and horses!) that want to do the best they can for their own communities.”

20 April 2023

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Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini. My strength is not mine alone, it is the strength of many.

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