Father's birthday trip to NZ ends in tragedy after four dead in crash

Leighton Ahuriri had celebrated a birthday with three of his children in Taupo.
KIRSTY AHURIRI/SUPPLIED

Leighton Ahuriri had celebrated a birthday with three of his children in Taupo.

A week ago Kirsty Ahuriri was organising a birthday cake and blowing up balloons for her father's 60th birthday celebrations. 

Leighton Ahuriri had travelled from Perth especially to celebrate with family in Taupo. 

A week later Kirsty is readying herself for the father of four's funeral at his hometown in Gisborne on Sunday. 

"We're absolutely gutted really," she said on Friday morning. 

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"It's all pretty surreal - one minute we were doing his birthday and now we're doing his funeral."

Ahuriri was one of the four people killed in a two car collision near Taupo on Tuesday afternoon. 

The New Zealander, now living in Perth, was travelling with friend Helena Adele Paul, 56, and her moko, 5-year-old Hone Te Ahurei Hawkins-Kanuta, both from Kaikohe, and a 10-month-old baby boy strapped into a baby capsule in the back, when tragedy struck. 

Their black van and another carrying eight people collided not far from the end of a passing lane on State Highway 1 near Tutukau Rd.

Ahuriri, Paul, and Hone were killed, along with Mele Ilisapi Oliveti, 44, known by family and friends as Pesi Tuivai, who was a passenger in the other car carrying eight people. 

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Tuivai, a Tongan woman from Palmerston North, had recently become a minister.

She was mother to one child living in Tonga, three young boys living in Palmerston North, and daughter Anamoala, 3, who was among those in the vehicle with her. Anamoala was taken to Rotorua Hospital, where she was in a stable condition.

Seven others suffered critical to minor injuries. 
 
Ahuriri grew up in Gisborne where he had worked at the freezing works and later in road construction for Fulton and Hogan. 

He had a passion for Ford hot rods and had met Kirsty's mother when she was 18. 

For the last eight or nine years, Ahuriri had lived in Western Australia where he worked at the Perth Airport. 

"He absolutely loved it there, he had a good life there, he'd just come back here for his birthday," Kirsty said. 

He had flown over especially to celebrate his 60th birthday, which was held in a private dining room at the Taupo Cosmpolitan Club last Friday night. 

Kirsty had organised it. 

"We had a beautiful buffet dinner, but mainly my dad wanted it to be about his grandchildren. We had awesome balloons, he wanted all the kids there to blow out the candles on his cake.

"It was so awesome to see him, he always comes back for holidays to see us. It's always a good time."

Ahuriri's four children, Kirsty, Jeanette Ahuriri, Jarred Thompson and Princina Stewart, were "doing okay", she said. They were a tight-knit family who had come together. 

"We're holding together pretty well. My dad was really close with all of his brothers and sisters are on their way over."

"He was pretty cool, a pretty amazing dad."

He was also a "proud, proud" grandfather to six.

"He loved, loved, loved his moko."

She said her father was an "amazing, cheeky man". He had a good life in Perth and was looking forward to taking a cruise to Fiji next year with friends. 

"He had so much life ahead of him.

"I remember speaking with him and remember him saying how happy he was in life at the moment. I was so happy he got to that point in life."

Ahuriri was taking the time to visit friends and family before his scheduled flight on Thursday when the crash happened. 

Kirsty had no idea where he was heading when he crashed. She had last seen him on Saturday. 

"I'm trying to figure it all out. Dad told me he was heading to the Bay then he was going to come back and see me. He would never go back to Australia without seeing me.

"He didn't have any plans, he was just on holiday. I don't even know which way they were going."

Police said in a statement on Thursday that investigations into the crash were ongoing. Speed or alcohol was not believed to be a factor.

 - Stuff

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