Ahipara locals were excited to finally test run their newest community facility at the weekend, with the official opening of the upgraded Korora Park on Saturday.
The new destination playground comes complete with a giant whale, flying fox, inbuilt mini-trampolines and a number of other sensory playground equipment to appeal to children of all ages and abilities.
The $352,000 park forms part of the Te Hiku Open Spaces Revitalisation Project funded by Kānoa - Provincial Growth Fund, secured through the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund for shovel-ready projects.
The upgraded park, located on Korora St at Ahipara, has quadrupled in size, with the new equipment designed by Playco Playgrounds and based on themes representing the township, including the whales that regularly migrate to Ahipara, as well as the iconic landmark, Maunga (Mountain) Whangatauatia.
Te Rarawa kaumātua John Paitai was MC for the event, with special guests Far North mayor John Carter, Te Hiku Ward councillor Felicity Foy, Te Hiku Community board representatives and project working group chairwoman and project manager, Andrea Panther, there to open the park.
Kaumātua Eru Harawira and Matiu King were also present to bless the park before the official ribbon-cutting, conducted by Ahipara Sandhoppers' former owner Glenys Brasell.
Panther said the upgrade had been a community-wide effort and the 11 weeks to build the park had been worth the wait.
"This project has involved lots of community input and consultation from groups like Ahipara Aroha, Sport Northland, as well as community members and Ahipara School," Panther said.
"I want to acknowledge all the mums and nannies out there too who have been talking and planning for something like this, for as long as 40 years I'm told!
"I want to acknowledge all the other people who were involved with this project- without them, we wouldn't have this amazing park."
Panther added Ahipara local Bruce "Hooky" Tanner had provided an incredible service to the area and had become an unofficial park ranger, taking it upon himself to do weed-eating, raking and vacuuming the park.
Far North mayor John Carter said the project was a great example of the community working together to get something off the ground and said he was pleased to see the end result.
Te Hiku ward councillor Foy is also part of the project working group and was instrumental in leading the design concepts for the Te Hiku Open Spaces Revitalisation project, as well as for securing funding.
She said she was excited for the community to see the park open.
"This makes me so happy and proud and is the best part of what I do- seeing all the kids enjoy this facility and being all about them," Foy said.
"This is community-led, we've always wanted a park and toilet here.
"My job is to secure the funds for these types of projects and to make things happen for the community and our working group has got some incredible movers and shakers who have also helped make this happen."
Following the ribbon-cutting, tamariki (children) were invited to play on the playground equipment, with Councillor Foy and project working group member Delwyn Shepherd throwing lollies around for a lolly scramble.
Playco Playgrounds area manager Luke Spratt said the whale feature was the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and second-only in the world, apart from Spain.
Te Hiku Community Board member and Ahipara local Jaqi Brown said her whānau had been coming to the park for 40 years and was pleased to see such an awesome facility right on her doorstep.
"I have brought all our children to this park and now our mokopuna," Brown said.
"This concept has been a long time coming and as someone who researches destination playgrounds, this has to be one of the best parks I have seen in New Zealand.
"I think it has the potential to put Ahipara on the map and to be a tourist attraction for families who will then invest money into our local economy."
The park's opening comes after the Ahipara Pump Track on the same street was opened last November.
This week, Te Rarawa alongside ex-local and Good Wood Aotearoa owner Glen Coulston, will start a two-year planting programme, which will see the removal of invasive plant species around Korora Park and replace them with native species.
Ahipara Board Riders were also present on the day, holding a sausage sizzle fundraiser to raise to go towards a trip for their young surfers, the Grommies, to attend a surf competition in Gisborne this month.
The next park set to open thanks to the Te Hiku Open Spaces Revitalisation Project will be at Awanui.