A blessing ceremony has marked the completion of the new $22.7 million Ōpaoa River Bridge.
A pou whenua, by Spring Creek-based master carver Reg Thompsett, was unveiled.
It marks the northern entrance to Wairau/Blenheim and represents the mana whenua of Wairau.
The pou whenua was blessed and unveiled early Saturday morning by mana whenua Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Rārua and Rangitāne o Wairau, along with interpretation panels that share the history of mana whenua, the Wairau region, and the history of the bridge.
More than two years after construction started, the new 188 meters long bridge offers a wider and safer gateway to the town’s north.
The historic Ōpaoa River Bridge, also known as the banana bridge, was too narrow for some vehicles, but also vulnerable to earthquakes and susceptible to damage from heavy floods.
Built between 1915-1917 as the first concrete bowstring arch design in New Zealand, the old bridge has been restored.
“Conservation and heritage have been key priorities throughout the project, reflected in the urban design of the new bridge, and the recreation and gateway areas” NZ Transport Agency says.
The old structure is now used as a walking and cycling facility.
The three iwi representatives, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Rārua and Rangitāne o Wairau, agreed that the Ōpaoa River has been a landmark on a major travel and trading route for centuries.
“Our tupuna represented in the pou whenua and the interpretation panels connect us, and all who see them, to this place and our history.
“We thank Waka Kotahi and Marlborough District Council for recognising the importance of that history, and for improving safety for road users as we move forward into the future.
“Fittingly this project has successfully provided the opportunity for our cultural narrative to be celebrated and acknowledged and provides a foundation for further collaborations.”
Waka Kotahi Director Regional Relationships Jim Harland thanked partners Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Rārua and Rangitāne o Wairau, and the Marlborough District Council.
“And we would especially like to thank the community for their patience throughout this project.
“This morning didn’t just mark the completion of this project, it was also an acknowledgment of a wonderful collaborative effort between Waka Kotahi, our partners, and the local community. The combination of this superbly engineered bridge and stunning pou whenua make for a magnificent welcome to Blenheim.”
Marlborough Mayor John Leggett said it was a great day for Wairau/Blenheim and Marlborough.
The new bridge would make “a huge difference for both local and long-distance travellers coming through Blenheim on State Highway 1”.