Pride and pure awe were among the emotions of the crowd who spilled around Whangārei's Town Basin this morning to watch what has been marked as a momentous occasion in the city's history.
There were also many fighting back tears.
Whangārei's Hundertwasser Art Centre has received its golden crown.
More than 1500 people braced against the morning cold as they gathered to watch the sun dance across the cupola's gold leaf as it arrived to its resting place.
Among them was Sue Mehrtens, co-owner of Absolute Stainless, whose team have spent the last seven months constructing the 3.5 tonne golden cupola.
Mehrtens stood with her team, beaming faces up-turned to the spectacle before them as they slightly-nervously watched their creation being uplifted via crane. Awaiting its arrival at the top of the Hundertwasser building, was husband and co-owner Simon, along with two crew members.
"I'm so proud that it was given to us to build such an icon and community project," she said, overcome with emotion. "I'm nervous but so excited."
Behind them were throngs of spectators who turned out to the event, phones raised to capture the lowering of the gleaming dome as it caught the early morning sun.
Among them were Whangārei Heads' artists Pauline Marjoribanks and Anni Veart-Smith, both Hundertwasser fans who'd been awaiting the arrival with great anticipation.
Said Veart-Smith: "I wouldn't miss this for the world. I've got tears in my eyes. It just hit me – it's happening, it's happening!"
Alanah Stigsdottir had woken her kids – Delilah, 11, and Byron, 9 - early for the occasion and let them have the morning off school.
"It was really cool when it got lifted up in the air," said Delilah.
"It was really shiny," added Byron.
Once the cupola had been rotated, lowered and bolted in place, the crowd erupted into applause.
The project's community coordinator Andrew Garratt said the placing of the cupola completed the form of the building. It literally "caps it off", he said.
"This building will be as successful as the Eiffel Tower in France or the Sydney Opera House in Australia. This will be a significant building to New Zealand."
"For eight years, we've had a team working on raising the funds, getting the building consents, and other jobs. No one person could have achieved this but we all made it happen. The construction, design, everything has been a team effort."
Project chief executive Kathleen Drumm said the cupola was a visual, potent symbol of an incredible journey by the community that had taken 21 years. She said Whangārei would be recognised for its artistic contribution.
"The interior has wonderful mosaics, incredible brickwork, and beautiful space for people to just wander through. We really celebrate the relationship between art, nature and humanity.
"In the times like Covid-19, when it is a little bit hard to leave New Zealand, this building has some European flavour to it and people can enjoy that. Hundertwasser brought a European sense of artistic ability with his architecture."
Hundertwasser project quantity surveyor John Barber was present with his family and was thrilled to be a part of the big day.
"I've been a part of this project for 13 years and I was present when they first brought the cupola model. Looking at it today, it is so much bigger and more visual than we ever imagined."
Sarah Gomes, a leather and mosaic artist, said she celebrated the building's contribution to the region and our country.
"It is literally a jewelled crown and looks the best in the moonlight. I want to tell every New Zealander to come and visit this gorgeous piece of artwork.
"Right now, with the borders closed, we get to enjoy it first. It will obviously be a major international tourist attraction once the borders open, but this is our time to be proud and enjoy the glory of it."
Pari Walker, of Te Parawhau, said the cupola symbolised "a relationship between man and God".
"It is to elevate ourselves from the existing ground to reach out to the almighty."
"I look at this building as recognition to Hundertwasser and if we get international tourists, it is just a bonus. Only the experts can tell what economic benefits we'll achieve in the future, but I am certain they are going to be marvellous."
Standing proud in the crowd was Barry Trass, who has been instrumental in the project from the beginning.
"We could never have imagined how incredible it looks but when we saw it in the flesh here, it is absolutely amazing," he said. "I think anyone would be hard-pressed to find someone who would say it's not a huge asset for our region.
"It's amazing how many turned up to see it, I wasn't expecting it, it definitely built the excitement up."
He said that pre-Covid, 14 cruise ships were booked to arrive because of the Whangārei Hundertwasser building and it was predicted to attract up to 90 a year.
"I got involved with this because I saw it as a catalyst for more great things to come for Whangārei."
Live-streaming the event was Mayor Sheryl Mai who said the hundreds of people watching were appreciative to be a part of it.
"I had the deputy mayor of Kaipara watching live from Dunedin who was appreciative because she couldn't be at the actual event."
Mayor Mai had heard the cupola described as a "beacon" and said it was an apt description as the icing on the cake.
"What a buzz. It was beautiful, calm water as the sun rose from behind Parihaka. That beautiful silence of people watching in awe... and I'm guessing everybody who was there will have an incredible memory in their hearts."
Following the placement of the cupola, a blue orb was also lowered into place, which delighted Mayor Mai into carrying out a jig, later describing it as like "the pin you drop to mark the spot".
"I'm incredibly proud of the people who have been involved, not only from the ideas but also all of the contractors, the team who've worked hard to create this magnificent icon."
While half the crowd dispersed around 9am, many lingered, soaking up the vibe as the music played on.
One spectator could be heard to exclaim: "It's so great to catch up in real life, instead of just on Facebook!"
The cupola is a common feature of Hundertwasser's architecture. Gilded cupolas are incorporated in the artist's other architectural projects around the world. He believed that a golden 'Zwiebelturm' (onion tower) beautified architecture and provided those who enjoy it the status of royalty.
In true royalty style, the large golden dome, dubbed the "crowning jewel" of the art centre, glided serenely down the harbour early this morning stopping traffic in its path as it made its way to the much-anticipated and near-complete Hundertwasser building.
The 3.5 tonne aluminium tower had been a six-month project involving a covering of $50,000 worth of fine leaf gold intricately and custom-made at Absolute Stainless's fabrication workshop. It was sealed with a protective coating to protect it from the elements and to ensure it couldn't be removed, with its durability expected to last 100 years.
The 90m2 cupola was transported to the barge yesterday for its 6am departure from Port Nikau today. Travelling around 2 knots - about walking speed - it moved up harbour with the bridge raised to make way for its 8m height passage atop the vessel. It was due to arrived at the Town Basin with dawn.
It was originally scheduled to arrive about 8.30am time but the time was moved forward to avoid a potential wind as the day progressed.
Looking forward to its arrival was neighbouring Mokaba Cafe owner Justin Le Cheminant who was anticipating a strong turnout.
"We think its fabulous. It's really exciting and we've been happily putting up with the noise and dust and drills and earth shakers next door and we know that the benefit is going to be there.
"It's been a long time coming but you can put up with the (Hātea) Loop being blocked and the noise and the dust and the rest of it because you know it's going to be unique."
One of the most celebrated artists to come out of Europe in the 20th Century, Friedensreich Hundertwasser celebrated irregular lines and contrasting textures and colours and was acclaimed for his work with colour and mosaics.
The Kawakawa-based New Zealand citizen of 30 years, was invited to select a building in Whangārei suitable for one of his world-famous architectural transformations for an art centre within. He decided the former Northland Harbour Board building at the Town Basin would be ideal to turn into a work of art – thus becoming his parting gift to Northland.
After his death in 2000, much controversy surrounded the project among those for and against it before work on the controversial $33.2 million project began just three years ago.
The project employed more than 500 people of various trades with the construction involving tens of thousands of coloured tiles and 40,000 recycled red bricks. In keeping with Hundertwasser's grass-roof theme, it had the largest afforested roof in the Southern Hemisphere after 150 trees were crane-lifted over recent months along with the planting of thousands of plants with an estimated value of $100,000 donated by a local nursery.
Predictions had been that international travellers would comprise 42 per cent of visitors to the completed centre, so management has been working with the tourism sector to devise a marketing plan to entice New Zealanders to visit.
It will house the only permanent collection of Hundertwasser works outside Austria and be the new home of the Wairau Māori Art Gallery. The project is on track for its December 3, 2021 completion.