Taipā bridge upgrade brings hope to the Far North

By James Caldwell, James Perry

As dawn broke over Taipā, in the Far North, the opening of the long-awaited two-lane bridge brought hopes of a brighter future.

The bridge that spans the Oruru river was officially opened this morning with a karakia, before the carved panels on the canoe-inspired bridge ends, a pouwhenua depicting Parata, and the relocated war memorial plaque were unveiled.

Professor Makere Mutu, chair of Ngāti Kahu says the iwi are thrilled to have had a very close relationship with New Zealand Transport Agency throughout the project, "right from the beginning of the project, Matakariri and Te Pātū have been working closely with the NZTA, which is why Ngāti Kahu is happy today. This is the culmination of that collaboration between Ngāti Kahu and NZTA."

Work began on the 107 m long bridge in 2017. One end of the bridge takes the form of the prow of a canoe, with the stern at the other end to take the shape of a double-hulled canoe. The design is an acknowledgement of the Taipā's significant seafaring history, including being one of the first landing sites of Aotearoa explorers, including Kupe. 

Associate Minister of Transport Shane Jones, whose mother hailed from the Taipā region, was on hand to cut the ribbon early this morning. "It's awesome! The double-hulled canoe design of the bridge is symbolic, it carries the people, the hopes and the dreams that all people of Aotearoa can walk together." 

The close relationship between Ngāti Kahu and NZTA saw the relocation of the old war monument that commemorated soldiers of World War One from the shop carpark to next to the northern entrance of the bridge. NZ Transport Agency Senior Manager Project Delivery, Andrew Thackwray says "it was really important that we worked closely with local hapū to acknowledge Taipā’s rich history, the significance of its river and estuary and the role of the bridge in the town’s future."

Niki Tauhara, of Te Pātū says "the hope is with this pou that the stories and history of Ngāti Kahu are retained and told." 

Some pieces of old Ngāti Kahu canoes, found in Taipā that have been held at Auckland Museum for some time have made a return home to coincide with the opening of the bridge, for the descendants of Ngāti Kahu, the community of Taipā and visitors to see and admire.

Tauhara says "Ngāti Kahu was able to see the taonga that are in the museum in Auckland, as well as the young people, were able to get an understanding of the significance of waka in this area. So their tūpuna Hekenukumai Puhipi who saw a lot of these taonga and who actually got some of the designs off them and now you see it on the waka Te Aurere and Ngāhiraka."

The $19 million bridge, has opened ahead of schedule, in time for the busy summer season. Thackwray says that will help the town cope with the population increase, and help ease the congestion that brings, “the old one-lane bridge on the Twin Coast Discovery Route was often a summer congestion point with delays and safety concerns at the bridge and nearby intersections. The new bridge comes with additional roading and town centre improvements that benefit the local community as well as people passing through. There is improved traffic flow and walking and cycling facilities in a safer environment.”

Niki Tauhara also says wi-fi will be added to the bridge, which will give visitors access to "in-depth understanding of the pou, and of the bridge and of the designs of that, which reflects the history of Ngāti Kahu."

Professor Mutu is hopeful that this collaboration between Ngāti Kahu and the NZTA is the first of many more. "Ngāti Kahu have been fighting for a long time to be heard by government departments, and by the council. Today we see the great things that can happen when the hapū of Ngāti Kahu have been heard."