Possibly the biggest gathering of MPs in Northland since the 2015 by-election met in the pre-dawn mist near Kāeo.

And just like the by-election, the focus of Tuesday's political attention was a one-way bridge — specifically the Whangaroa Bridge on State Highway 10 just north of Kāeo.

In 2015 National candidate Mark Osborne, accompanied by then Transport Minister Simon Bridges, used the same spot to announce his party's plans to replace 10 one-lane bridges around Northland, though it later transpired that one of the bridges was not a bridge at all.

Northland voters ignored National's carrot and elected NZ First leader Winston Peters instead, but work on three of the most dangerous bridges — at Matakohe and Taipa — is now nearing completion regardless.

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Next in line for replacement is Whangaroa Bridge, which is what brought Regional Development Minister Shane Jones and Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis to Kāeo before dawn on Tuesday, along with six National MPs led by Northland's Matt King.

At the blessing of Whangaroa Bridge north of Kaeo are, from left, Northland MP Matt King, Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis, Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, Ōtaki MP Nathan Guy, Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker, Waikato MP Tim van de Molen, Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith and list MP Maureen Pugh. Photo / Peter de Graaf
At the blessing of Whangaroa Bridge north of Kaeo are, from left, Northland MP Matt King, Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis, Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, Ōtaki MP Nathan Guy, Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker, Waikato MP Tim van de Molen, Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith and list MP Maureen Pugh. Photo / Peter de Graaf

A crowd of about 40 people gathered in the dark by the roadside as Ratana āpotoro (apostle) Archie Waihora More blessed the site, then reconvened at the nearby Kāeo Rugby Club for speeches and plenty of jibes about who should take credit for the new bridge.

Jones claimed none of the bridges would've happened ''if National hadn't been frightened into it by Winston Peters''; King, however, said the long-overdue bridge replacement was the fruition of a National pledge made four years ago.

Former Māori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels also weighed in, urging the National MPs to ''support this Tararā (Croatian, meaning Shane Jones) who's doing something for us''.

The famously blunt Jones warned NZTA officials not to make Kāeo's flooding any worse and not to mess with the pohutukawa next to the bridge.

The Whangaroa Bridge will not be funded through the Provincial Growth Fund, unlike the Waipapa roundabout, but through the NZ Transport Agency's normal funding channels.

So far $1.6 million has been set aside for the design phase; an early estimate of the total cost is about $16m, but that won't be confirmed until the design work is complete.

Currently NZTA's preferred option is to build the new bridge slightly to the south of the current one-way bridge and to build a roundabout at the T-junction where the bridge and the roads to Kāeo and Whangaroa meet.

The highway on the other side of the river will remain at the current height so it doesn't act as a dam and worsen flooding.

Jones said the bridge had been a bone of contention for a long time. The purpose of Tuesday's gathering was to involve tangata whenua and the local community, which was particularly important given local anxieties about flooding.

There was no official timeline yet but late 2020 ''sounds really good to me'', Jones said.

The five MPs accompanying King — Nathan Guy, Hamish Walker, Tim van de Molen, Stuart Smith and Maureen Pugh — are part of National's rural team currently on a tour of Northland.