A new terminal at Bay of Islands Airport will be able to handle as many as three times current passenger numbers as growth on the Kerikeri route continues to outstrip most airports around the country.
The $4.75 million building was officially opened yesterday by Regional Economic Minister Shane Jones and Far North mayor John Carter, just under a year since demolition of the old terminal began.
The new building has roomier arrival and departure areas, a dedicated luggage area, a viewing gallery and space for luggage screening if security has to be beefed up in future.
A new terminal has been in the pipeline for many years but a sharp increase in passenger numbers since Air New Zealand switched from 19-seater aircraft to 50-seaters three years ago gave the project more urgency.
It was largely funded by council-owned Far North Holdings, which owns and operates the airport, with $1.75m from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund.
Jones, who ironically had to drive to Kerikeri the night before after his flight was cancelled, said the new terminal was ''a facility to take pride in''.
''If we want to make the North more attractive for domestic and international visitors we need modern, up-to-date infrastructure — and let's face it, the old one was shop worn.''
Jones hoped new infrastructure such as the terminal would lead to more prosperity and encourage young people to stay in Northland instead of relocating to Australia, as many of his whānau had done.
Recalling the ''tiny'' airstrip and shed of 30 years ago Carter said the new terminal was a huge step forward and showed the Far North was finally playing catch-up on infrastructure.
Under current trends tourism spending in Northland — most of which went to the Far North — was expected to hit $1.24 billion in four years' time so the investment would pay off, he said.
Passenger numbers have shot up 30 per cent since bigger planes were introduced. Last year the total was 110,000; this year it is expected to hit 120,000. The new terminal will be able to handle twice or even three times that number.
Air New Zealand's head of tourism and regional affairs, Reuben Levermore, said demand for leisure travel had softened across the country in the last six months — but both business and tourist numbers were still growing in the Bay of Islands.
''It's one of the better performing airports around the country, even though it's one of the smallest,'' he said.
Good support from Northland's tourism industry had helped with the Bay of Islands Marketing Group chipping in for the famous Summer of Safety in-flight video.
More than 200 people, including local hapū and cultural groups from Kerikeri high and primary schools, took part in the opening ceremony.
The new terminal features artworks including carved pou by Renata Tane of Oromahoe flanking the entry, glass birds suspended from the ceiling by Auckland's Luke Jacomb, and stone sculptures by Anthony Dunn and Graham Nathan of Whangārei symbolising the meeting of Māori, Tahitian and European cultures 250 years ago this year.
'Champion of the Provinces' falls victim to god of wind
It wouldn't be a public event with the self-styled Champion of the Provinces if he didn't fire off a few potshots — including one directed at himself.
Economic Development Minister Shane Jones was true to form on Friday when he opened Kerikeri's $4.75 million airport terminal, lavishing praise on the on-time, on-budget project but sprinkling his speech with barbs for Air NZ, its outgoing chief executive and aviation security.
Jones said he had missed the dawn ceremony at the new terminal because his Thursday night flight to Kerikeri had been cancelled.
''Air NZ chose not to deliver me last night, as a consequence of Tawhirimatea, the God of wind. That's something I know a bit about,'' Jones said, referring to his propensity for overblown rhetoric.
During previous announcements at the airport Jones has made headlines by criticising the airline for pulling out of Kaitaia and accusing chief executive Christopher Luxon of playing politics.
Jones said he had no ill-will for Luxon, who just this week revealed plans to enter the political arena.
''I predicted the chief executive was a National Party surrogate. A year later he's followed my advice which was, 'If you want to be a politician, go into politics'.''
Money from the Provincial Growth Fund allowed the the new terminal to be built with enough space for a baggage-checking area if required in future by the Civil Aviation Authority.
However, Jones described the prospect of luggage screening in a small town such as Kerikeri as ''invasive bureaucracy'' and an affront to his birthright as a Kiwi.