Auckland's 'Dame Whina Cooper' tunnel boring machine unveiled

Auckland's chronic congestion problem has come a giant step closer to being fixed, with the unveiling of the tunnel boring machine that'll create the veins of the City Rail Link.

"In its own way, our TBM is taking Auckland and New Zealand to a better place," announced City Rail Link CEO Sean Sweeney at the machine's unveiling on Friday. 

Brought in from China, the 910-tonne machine will dig tunnels beneath Auckland, giving the city a world-class underground railway.

The 7.15m tall machine will travel just 32 metres every day. But in that day, it'll excavate 1500 tonnes of soil and rock. 

Boring machines traditionally have female names to honour St Barbara, patron saint of underground workers.

And this one is named after one of Aotearoa's pioneers - Dame Whina Cooper.

"If you think about this project and the way that it's gonna build this city and build this nation, I think Dame Whina's name is so appropriate in that way," explained Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, one of the many dignitaries in attendance for the unveiling.

Dame Whina's name beat 300 others in an online competition. But CRL says she was always the preferred choice.

"A strong leader, courageous, takes New Zealand forward, all those things. She ticks all those boxes, and that's what this machine is going to do for us as well, it's going to take New Zealand forward," says Dr Sweeney.

Dame Whina will be put into action in April, digging from Mt Eden station to Aotea station, then brought back to Mt Eden for a second run to build a twin tunnel.

The tunnels will join up with those already built from Britomart.  

The Transport Minister says the naming isn't just an empty gesture.

"This isn't a one-off, it's been really important for CRL that there's an extremely strong relationship with mana whenua from the get-go," Michael Wood told reporters.  

Robertson says the whānau approved of the name.

"I think this is the example of the whānau saying 'we're prepared to give a bit of our kuia to the rest of New Zealand."

Dame Whina's daughter Hinerangi gave the machine her blessing.

"I want to say I'm humbled, but I want to say I'm really proud," she told Newshub.

And she's excited by the opportunities it will provide.

"It's going to do a lot of wonderful things transport wise, and safety for the people not only of Auckland, but the people of the world."

And she hopes it'll facilitate new family connections.

"I hope that one of my mokopuna will be able to get on and work alongside the Dame Whina machine!"

A wahine toa still influencing and inspiring, 26 years after her death.