Mangaotuku Lane.jpg Mangaotuku Lane sign (2023). Mike Gooch. Word on the street image collection.

Mangaotuku Lane runs off Poplar Grove in Whalers Gate. The name was chosen by the local hapū Ngāti Te Whiti in acknowledgment of the Lane’s proximity to Mangaotuku Stream. Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) declined the hapū’s first proposal to use hyphens (Manga-o-tuku), insisting that the sign read Mangaotuku, which the hapū agreed to.

The Mangaotuku meanders its way from its source near Barrett Road through New Plymouth, and once flowed into the Huatoki Stream near Brougham Street. In February 1971, far from meandering, the Mangaotuku transformed into a raging torrent as floodwaters rushed through the central city. A midsummer storm deluged the province for over 30 hours, overwhelming flood protection methods with devastating consequences. Businesses in Devon Street and lower Brougham Street were the worst affected, some suffering huge stock losses and damage to their buildings. Swift action from volunteers managed to save precious artefacts from the basement of the Taranaki Museum and Richmond Cottage was fortunate to suffer only minor damage despite floodwaters rushing through it.

The huge financial cost of the floods prompted immediate action. An array of dams were constructed as well as a diversion tunnel from the corner of Bonithon Avenue and St Aubyn Street (previously South Road) to an outlet near the lee breakwater. The breakthrough of the tunnel in December 1973 was a memorable day for project manager Mr C.L. Whitaker. With his wife in hospital about to give birth, Whitaker shuttled between the hospital and the construction site with dignitaries waiting for the special moment. The breakthrough was late (55 minutes after the waiting crowd had left) and so was the baby, arriving at 7am the next day. Whitaker joked “We should call her Mangaotuku, but I think my wife has other ideas” (Taranaki Herald 8 December 1973). In the end Mrs Whitaker won out and the baby was named Rachael. 

The flood protection scheme has proved its worth, largely keeping central city businesses safe ever since. In 1994 another diversion tunnel – with an outlet at the bottom of Queen Street – was constructed when Rangi Street was closed off and the Richmond Centre developed. 

This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.

Related documents:

Meddlesome Mangaotuku Still Untamed Taranaki Herald 18 July 1961

Mangaotuku culvert reveals Taranaki history Taranaki Herald 7 February 1979

Flood control - a dam good scheme Taranaki Herald 31 March 1986

Digging their work Daily News 4 February 1997

Storm no match for flood system North Taranaki Midweek 1 July 2015


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