The upgrade of one of the Far North's most historically significant wharves is now complete.
The official opening of Awanui's new $1.8 million Unahi (fish scale in Māori) Wharf was held last Thursday, following months of work to replace the ageing timber wharf with a new modern concrete structure.
Works included demolishing the old wharf (parts of which were believed to have been up to 100 years old), building a new concrete pontoon, gangway and berthing piles, as well as repairing parts of the seawall.
About 100 people turned out for the event, featuring Awanui Progressive and Ratepayers' Association chairman Bill Subtritzky as Master of Ceremonies (MC), speeches from special guests and the wharf's blessing by Reverend Fran and Rapiata Hokianga.
Today the Unahi Wharf is mainly used for recreational purposes, but in its heyday was the site of a thriving commercial port.
Originally built in 1926, the port was largely driven by Awanui's development as a transport hub, which allowed large vessels to navigate through the river near the present township.
Long-time Awanui resident Laurie Andrew (nee Walker) and Awanui Progressive and Ratepayers' Association secretary-treasurer has been a stoic advocate for the project since its inception.
She also has strong personal family ties to the area, with her grandfather the first harbour warden, succeeded by his son (her father), her brother and now herself.
Andrew said while she was very pleased with the result, her biggest wish was for the community to treat it with respect.
"It's absolutely awesome that this is finally open," Andrew said.
"Unfortunately we've had some people come down here to do burnouts in the carpark and others who've come down and left their rubbish behind.
"My message to the community is to please just look after it, a lot of money has gone into this, so just show it a bit of love and respect."
Andrew said two new security cameras would be installed this week to counter any bad behaviour.
The Unahi Wharf upgrade was made possible through a $1 million grant from the Provincial Growth Fund and approximately $750,000 from the Far North District Council.
Former minister for regional economic development Shane Jones was instrumental in securing the Unahi Wharf upgrade funding and also spoke at the event.
The 'Awanui boy' said he had fished at the site many times growing up and was proud to see the project come to life.
"It's my absolute pleasure to be here today and acknowledge everyone here, as well as those who have worked to make this happen," Jones said.
"Little Unahi has a lot of history and will continue to be a tremendously popular facility, given its access to the beach and to our coastal environment.
"This is a birthright none of us should take for granted."
To ensure the new structure met community needs, Far North District Council's commercial arm, Far North Holdings Ltd, developed designs in partnership with commercial fishermen and the Awanui Progressive and Ratepayers' Association.
FNH operations manager Chris Gailbraith said he'd thoroughly enjoyed working with the community on the project, and while it had been challenging, it had been well worth the final outcome.
"About 12 years ago this was not in good nick. We had engineers saying it wasn't fit for vehicles, so that created a whole lot of problems for our local users, commercial fishing fleets, truck drivers, etc," Gailbraith said.
"It was really hard to work through those early days and we couldn't have done it without the combined effort of everyone involved.
"The wharf itself is now built to highway standard, can take 28-tonne trucks and the wharf-loading can take 60-tonne vessels and is 20m in length, so this is going to be with us for a long time."
The new Unahi Wharf was originally due for completion at the end of November 2021.
Far North District councillor Felicity Foy announced at the event that FNDC this summer would seal the unsealed short length of Unahi Road leading up to the wharf.
Cr Foy said this had been planned and approved two years ago as part of the council's Long Term Plan.