It's one of the Far North's most historically significant river ports, and now the long-awaited upgrade of its wharf is officially under way.
Awanui's Unahi Wharf is now used for mainly recreational purposes, but was formally the site of a thriving commercial port.
On Monday morning a blessing was held to mark the impending start of construction on the wharf, made possible through a $1 million grant from the Provincial Growth Fund and $750,000 from the Far North District Council.
Council subsidiary Far North Holdings Ltd will manage the project, and has developed designs in partnership with commercial fishermen and the Awanui Progressive and Ratepayers' Association to ensure the new structure met community needs.
The project will include demolishing the 51-year-old wharf, installing a new concrete pontoon and gangway, plus additional berthing piles and repairs to the seawall.
Unahi Wharf was built in 1926, driven by Awanui's development as a transport hub that allowed large vessels to navigate through the river to the vicinity of the present township.
Former minister for regional economic development Shane Jones was at the blessing, and was instrumental in securing funding for the project.
Jones announced in July last year, $10.8 million would go towards shovel-ready projects in the Far North as part of $3 billion earmarked for infrastructure projects as part of the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF) set out in Budget 2020.
The Unahi Wharf upgrade was one of those projects, alongside the $2.5 million Pukenui Wharf project on Houhora Harbour.
Jones told event attendees he had first advocated for the upgrade in 2009, so it was a pleasure to see the upgrade finally come to fruition.
"Unahi has a great heritage, so it's fantastic to see this project will be used by locals who will be able to gain access to the Awanui fishing grounds," Jones said.
"It is indeed a source of pride to be able to see the restoration of the Unahi Wharf and this vital infrastructure for the area.
"It's taken some time, as is the way of parliamentary long-gestation periods, but I'm pleased to see the hearty souls of Awanui will be able to once again benefit from the prodigious amount of fish historically available here."
Awanui resident Laurie Andrew is the secretary-treasurer of the Awanui Progressive and Ratepayers' Association, and has been heavily involved with the project from its inception.
Andrew also has strong family ties to the area and is related to the Walker family, who moved to Awanui in1905.
Her family has a long history of affiliation with Unahi Wharf, with her grandfather the first harbour warden, succeeded by his son (her father), her brother and now herself.
Andrew said she and her family had spent many volunteer hours maintaining the wharf and was excited to see its transformation.
"I'm personally very passionate about the wharf given my connection to the area, but more broadly it's a great thing for the whole community," she said.
"The wharf has been very well utilised, from commercial fishing to people now using it for recreational fishing."
Awanui is now seeing a flurry of activity, with beautification works happening throughout the township.
As part of a wider project to beautify a handful of Far North towns - the Te Hiku Open Spaces Revitalisation Project - several pieces of artwork have begun popping up around Awanui.
Te Hiku Open Spaces Revitalisation Project spokesperson Andrea Panther was also at the blessing, and said elements of the old wharf would be given new life to support the beautification project.
"We are hoping to use some of the big sleepers on the wharf, which will be upcycled and used as part of the current works happening at Awanui," she said.
"It's important we don't lose the history of the wharf, so we really want to reuse the sleepers, which are very valuable and can be enjoyed by everyone.
"The palisades will be used at the Awanui Park reserve, which runs off the SH10 and SH1 boundary, as well as for some planter boxes."
Jobs are expected to be created through the project, and Far North Holdings Ltd general manager Chris Galbraith said he was keen to get things under way.
"FNHL and the main contractors, Total Marine Services, will progress the development as quickly as possible," Galbraith said.
"Covid-19 restrictions in Auckland have had an impact on anticipated completion dates, however, as specialised equipment and staff remain unable to get to site.
"We are doing everything we can to resolve this issue and to complete the project on time, but the restrictions are having a very real impact."
The new Unahi Wharf was due for completion at the end of November, but is now expected to be finished early in the new year.
The wharf will be closed during construction.