The mood among politicians, council staff, and the local iwi may have been jovial but the road safety message at the opening of a roundabout was deadly serious.
Improvements to the notoriously dangerous intersection, Puketona Junction, at the corner of State Highway 10 and SH11 were officially opened on the grounds of the Bay of Islands Country Lodge yesterday.
About 60 people turned out to celebrate the completion of the project, including NZ First leader Winston Peters, former Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis, Northland MP Willow-Jean Prime, Far North deputy mayor Ann Court and Far North District Council chief executive Shaun Clarke.
The site was blessed by Ngāti Rēhia leader Kipa Munro, who also led the waiata.
Davis said the roundabout was "such an essential piece of infrastructure and an absolute dog of an intersection.
"Waipapa was another one. We really needed it because it was a real danger even though it was a pet project of Shane's.
"What we have done here is save lives."
The intersection has been the site of many crashes, including fatal collisions, due to the high volume of traffic turning to and from the Bay of Islands.
In 2016, two women were killed during a collision involving a vehicle that had turned into the wrong lane.
The roundabout aims to make it safer for motorists while reducing road closures due to crashes, helping to build a more reliable transport network.
Construction started in July 2020 and the roundabout has been operational since December.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency director of regional relationships Steve Mutton said the roundabout would make a difference to Northlanders.
Speed has been reduced, traffic flow improved and better lighting meant better visibility, he said.
"Many of us here will know someone who has been hurt or even killed here. We remember them today."
Mutton was pleased the project had been delivered "on time and under budget".
Initially earmarked at $15 million, the project ended up costing $12.9m, $2.1m under budget.
Court said in 2014, NZTA compiled a list of 100 high-risk intersections in New Zealand.
"Puketona, sadly, featured at number 67 on that list."
Before the roundabout was constructed, minor safety improvements were made including rural activated warning signs, alignment improvements and a reduced speed limit.
But these measures did not remove the risk, she said.
"An intersection that had long been an unsafe and risky place for road users is now a safer and smoothly flowing part of the Far North's roading network."
The Puketona junction was one of three roundabouts to be completed in the Far North funded by the former coalition Government's Provincial Growth Fund.
The others are at Waipapa on State Highway 10 near Kerikeri and in Kawakawa at the intersection of SH1 and SH11.
All three are used heavily by locals and are on the Twin Coast Discovery Route, Northland's main tourist artery.
Jones acknowledged NZTA staff in getting the project completed on time.
Of the three roundabouts, the Puketona junction was the first to be announced in February 2020, he said.
"And boy did I get some crap for the Waipapa roundabout because it was 100 metres from my house."
Peters said the roundabout was an "essential utility that was going nowhere until we put investment in that was desperately needed in Northland".
Of the current state of Northland roads in general, he said it was "way behind the eight-ball".
There was "no doubt" the region needed more funding for maintaining the roads, he said.
"Too often in maintaining Northland roads the original sealing is below standard."
Local iwi unveiled symbolic artworks in the centre of the roundabout.
The opening of the Kawakawa roundabout is expected to take place in August, followed by the Waipapa roundabout in September.