A massive volunteer effort has restored public access to a waterfall which was hidden for more than 40 years despite being just a short walk from central Kerikeri.
The 2km track to Wairere Falls was officially opened on Saturday along with a new footbridge spanning the Wairoa Stream.
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The track starts at the bottom of Alderton Drive, off Hone Heke Rd, or the footbridge at the bottom of Pa Rd. It follows the Wairoa Stream upstream through forest and past a series of swimming holes to the 20m-high waterfall.
Vision Kerikeri chairman Rod Brown, whose group led the project, said 60 years ago the waterfall was the prime swimming spot in Kerikeri.
Long before that the track was used by Maori, then by British forces in the Northern War of 1845-46. It also featured in the Fiona Kidman novel Mandarin Summer.
However, as land was subdivided and the once open stream banks became overgrown, access to the falls was lost.
Vision Kerikeri had been prodding the council for years to restore access without result so decided to do it itself.
It enlisted the Kerikeri Rotary Club to build the bridges, while the Friends of Wairoa Stream did much of the track building and the Walking Access Commission covered legal costs.
One of the biggest obstacles was a lack of public land along part of the stream but that was solved when landowners Richard and Emily Fladgate allowed the track to cross their property.
However, Vision Kerikeri still had to raise money for a substantial bridge across the stream.
When Mr Brown was interviewed about the project on Radio NZ last year, listeners included Wanaka man Michael Sidey whose late grandparents owned Pagoda Lodge, on Pa Rd near the track's starting point, in the early 1960s. It had long troubled him that, with no descendants in the area, there was nothing to link them to Kerikeri.
That evening he rang Mr Brown and offered $10,000 towards the bridge as long as it could be named after his grandparents, Jim and May Brodie. The Far North District Council contributed another $5000.
Mr Sidey travelled to Kerikeri for the formal opening by Far North Mayor John Carter and Ngati Rehia's Kipa Munro. Mr Sidey's granddaughter Zoe Fahy, 6, cut the ribbon and was first to cross the new bridge.
He said the opening was "much more special than I could have imagined".
"I didn't realise how important it was not just to us, but to lots of other people. It makes you realise the importance of lineage and whanau."
Mr Carter commended Kerikeri people for taking the lead in a genuinely community-driven project.
Others at the opening included Green MP David Clendon, councillor Ann Court, community board members and about 50 members of the public.
From the falls the track continues upstream, emerging next to Orchard Estate at the Cobham Rd Bridge. This section will be opened once barriers have been built. The track then continues upstream on the other side of Cobham Rd and will eventually connect with Campbell Lane, off Riddell Rd.
Kerikeri man behind volunteer effort honoured
Many people contributed to the long-running project to restore access to Wairere Falls but none more so than Kerikeri resident Rod Brown.
That contribution, and the many other community projects he is involved in, was recognised on Saturday when incoming Kerikeri Rotary president Keith Day surprised Mr Brown by presenting him with a Paul Harris fellowship, Rotary's highest honour.
Mr Day said Mr Brown toiled tirelessly for the community and exemplified the Rotary motto of "service above self".
The former Navy commander also chairs the community group Vision Kerikeri, runs a volunteer native tree nursery called the Shadehouse, and co-ordinates replanting of the Ipipiri islands in the Bay of Islands.
His volunteers have produced more than 250,000 native plants and trees for planting projects around Northland.
Vision Kerikeri started lobbying to get the track reopened in 2006 but work began in earnest four years ago.