A small, but diverse range of quarrying activities and associated operations is helping AA Contracting through the current downturns in the Taranaki dairying and oil and gas sectors. By NEIL RITCHIE.
AA Contracting’s quarrying expertise extends into supplying specialist fine pit metal for cow races and equine dressage arenas, with accompanying sand for the horses, as well as some significant work in the world-renowned Pukeiti rainforest property on the outskirts of New Plymouth.
“We are still busy with the Pukeiti project, building retaining walls and walkways, and embedding rocks in the garden – something we’ve been doing now for about two years,” says AA Contracting managing director Andrew Adlam.
“Despite the current poor dairy payouts and the cutbacks in oil and gas activity, quarrying is still doing well, accounting for about one third of our business and complementing our other activities.
“And we continue to enjoy the ongoing work for the Taranaki Regional Council,” he adds, referring to the 360 hectare Pukeiti property located between Mount Taranaki and the coast that contains, among other flora (and fauna), the country’s largest collection of rhododendrons.
AA Contracting has now put metal on over three and a half kilometres of walkways at Pukeiti and has installed over 100 rocks and boulders in the gardens, some as big as 1200mm in diameter.
Andrew, who holds a B Grade Certificate of Compliance, says he and his staff (two others and a third, part-timer, at the quarry) have gained expertise in the equine area over a number of years.
“We have done about 25 arenas over the past 20 years or so and every one is different, different access or different shapes … we do everything, the earthworks, supplying the metals and sand, drainage, etcetera.
“But there have been no difficulties we have not been able to overcome.
“We specialise in supplying a pit metal that we get from a seam that has no stones in it. This, when finely ground, binds together and is just great for cows and horses as it doesn’t damage their hooves.
“And we cap it off with a layer of sand for the dressage arenas as the soft layers are just great for the horses.”
Most jobs are at private equine areas where riders practise with their horses, though one project involved some remedial work at a pony club.
“The original [dressage arena] had some metal that was creating havoc for the animals as stones worked their way to the surface and started hurting their hooves. But we fixed that, putting metal on that had no stones and then sand … so we feel we have gained in our expertise over the years.”
As well as this work and other quarrying activities, the company is also involved in residential, rural and commercial services such as earthmoving, excavating, digger hire and top soil.
There is the usual screening plant, crushers, loaders and associated equipment. And Kiwi ingenuity is to the fore with the design and construction of the quarry’s mobile crushing plant, which is relatively small and can go basically anywhere.
“We often go to farmers’ properties so it’s good to have equipment that is portable. It was essentially designed by us and Inglewood’s Falcon Engineering, the company that built the machine,” Andrew adds.
The company is reinstating as it goes as it has enough overburden and the quarry should continue for many years as only two hectares or so have been quarried so far, leaving another four hectares still to be worked.
Another rather unusual aspect of quarrying operations is that the company has stopped pumping out groundwater before extracting and drying out the base material for crushing.
“Now we just dig deep, up to four metres under water, and just stockpile the material for crushing as and when needed. This saves us time and money as we don’t have to have pumps operating around the clock.”
Although the quarry, inland and north of New Plymouth, has been in operation for over 30 years, AA Contracting has only managed the operation for the past 19 years or so. As well as the specialist fine pit metal and sand, the quarry also produces a range of aggregates (AP 40 and AP 65), builder’s mix, and various rocks.
“One earlier job we did involved supplying three five tonne rocks that ended up as an art work for someone’s garden,” says Andrew.
He, Jill and their children, son William (19) and daughter Hannah (16), are all involved in the company business, be that just making teas and coffees, answering the phones or doing the book work. Only WorkSafe certified people work in the Sentry Hill Quarry, which has a very modest output of about 10,000 cubic metres of products per year.
Even the family dog, a Fox Terrier known as Basil Brush, gets involved, chasing any stones thrown around the quarry, picking them up and playing with them.
“Quarrying is just a natural extension of our other operations involving machines and I really enjoy fiddling with and fixing things … quarrying is like a 100-year apprenticeship as you are always learning,” Andrew reflects.