About 700 people turned out to walk on the new bridge at Matakohe.

It was the first time the public has been allowed on to the larger of the two new bridges on State Highway 12 in what was billed as the Community barbecue on the bridge.

"Saturday was a very special day where we could celebrate significant progress on the Matakohe realignment project. The new bridge will replace the old Hardies Bridge but it's still off line, so this was a unique experience to walk across it free of traffic," Acting Senior Project Delivery Manager Karen Boyt said.

The open day follows the opening of the new bridge to replace the old Anderson Bridge to traffic two weeks ago. The two new bridges and 2.5km road realignment will remove tight curves and short straights to improve safety on this section of the Twin Coast Discovery Route. The $39m project is expected to be completed in mid-2019.

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Saturday's celebration started with a dawn blessing and the gifting of the bridge's name – Piringa Tahi (bringing together as one) - which follows the name given in February to the smaller bridge - Te Ao Marama Hou (moving from the past into the future).

Among the sightseers were three generations of the Manga family.

For Shakayla and Tanisha Clayton, Piringa Tahi will always be known as "Poppy's bridge". Their grandfather, Tua Manga, has been working on the construction as a driver for subcontractor, Kevin Reid Contracting. "We love standing on Poppy's bridge and are very proud of him," Shakayla said.

Grandmother Adelaide Manga said it was special day for all the family and one that they will always remember."Poppy's grandchildren will always know where his bridge is."

The new bridge is expected to open to traffic next month.