Ruakura Superhub: Building Aotearoa's largest inland port

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 28 October 2022

The Detail pays a visit to the country's most ambitious industrial development

Chris Joblin and Dave Christie standing at the Ruakura Superhub construction site

Tainui Group Holdings chief executive Chris Joblin and supply chain strategy director Dave Christie stand at the Ruakura Superhub construction site. Photo: The Detail/Sharon Brettkelly

The writing on the side of a red shipping container sitting on an old dairy farm just off the Waikato Expressway reads: He ihihi nuku! He ihihi Rangi!

It means pride of place from land to sky and it is the mantra of Waikato-Tainui's Ruakura Superhub. The shipping container is an apt symbol for New Zealand's largest industrial development, with its inland port, where imports and exports will be offloaded or loaded onto trains and transported to ports in Auckland or Tauranga.

The place is also significant. This 490-hectare site that was given back to Waikato-Tainui as part of its 1995 Treaty of Waitangi settlement sits in the middle of the golden triangle of Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga. Home to half the country's population, the area generates 50 percent of the country's economic activity and 65 percent of its freight. The expressway is right next to it and the rail line between Auckland and Tauranga intersects it. 

After 16 years of planning and tens of millions of dollars of infrastructure investment, the project is taking shape: the first tenant, Peter Baker Transport Express has opened its doors and the 40,000 square metre warehouse for the second tenant, Kmart, is close to completion. It will be another 16 years or more before the distribution zone is completely filled with tenants, including multinational companies and local exporters and importers.

"We believe this is going to be unlocking the golden triangle," says Dave Christie, supply chain strategy director of Tainui Group Holdings, the iwi's commercial arm. 

"At the moment you see farmland, a few sheds being built, but in fact when you look at this in 20 years it will be the epicentre of logistics in the North Island."

The Detail is taking a tour of the superhub with Christie and Tainui Group Holdings chief executive Chris Joblin to find out how it will transform the movement of freight around the country.

"What we're doing is bringing to life a logistics and industrial eco system," says Joblin. "But how we do that also has a foundation in improving the environment at the same time."

He's standing next to the site of the 10-hectare wetland where huge trucks are picking up and dumping dirt and sand. 

"We've moved the better part of a million cubic metres of earth to create the wetland and to contour the site."

The wetland is designed to take all the water from the industrial site, through a series of streams and lakes and will be open to the public with a series of boardwalks.

"We're bringing this site to the highest economic best use," says Joblin.

At the same time, it is aiming for a zero carbon footprint, with the wetland and a green hydrogen fuel station being built at the service centre.

Drains and roads at the Ruakura Superhub construction site

 Drains and roads at the Ruakura Superhub construction site. Photo: The Detail/Sharon Brettkelly

At the nearly-finished inland port, Christie, a logistics expert, explains how trains will drop off and pick up containers from importers and exporters with warehouses at the superhub. Eventually, the 30-hectare site will be able to take one million 20-foot shipping containers, a similar number to Ports of Auckland at its pre-Covid peak.

It is expected to take 65,000 trucks off the road each year - including those carrying empty containers - worth $1 billion in productivity gains, says Joblin.

Christie explains how the Kmart warehouse being built next to the distribution centre of the shipping giant Maersk epitomises the function of the Ruakura Superhub. 

A truck loaded with a container from the inland port half a kilometre up the road will drop off goods to Kmart, then move 50 metres along the road to Maersk to pick up exports, take them back to the inland port to be loaded onto a train to Tauranga or Auckland.

Christie describes the development as "Australianesque" in size.

"This is massive. I don't think New Zealanders or even people in Hamilton quite understand how massive this scale is. This is why we say ultimately this is going to change the way freight flows."

Rahui Papa, a former director of Tainui Group Holdings and tribal support person for Ruakura and other Tainui projects, says the superhub is hugely significant for the tribe's 85,000 members as it takes the iwi back to its roots.

"Prior to the confiscations of 1863 we were traders, we were business minds. That was enveloped in our own tikanga and our way of doing things for the sustenance of the people.

"Ruakura today is a symbol of getting back to that type of trade and enterprise where the world's goods are coming through the doors of our ports and into Waikato-Tainui for dissemination across the different areas. In time it will be a doorway for Waikato, for iwi and for the Waikato communities to be able to trade from our point of view to the world."

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