As Associate Transport Minister Shane Jones opened Taipā's $19 million bridge looking over his shoulder was Northland bridge-building legend Sir Hekenukumai Busby.
Sir Hek died earlier this year, aged 86, but the master navigator and bridge builder was never far away during yesterday's ceremony.
A large photo of Sir Hek, taken when he was knighted at Waitangi and gifted to his family by the NZ Transport Agency, looked out over the audience during the official opening.
The two-lane bridge is 107m long with a 2.5m-wide shared walking and cycling path, and will reduce the congestion and occasional road rage incidents that plagued the old one-lane bridge in summer.
The striking design, based on a waka hourua (double-hulled seafaring waka) with tauihu (prow) and taurapa (stern) panels at each end, acknowledges Taipā as one of the first landing places of the Polynesian explorer Kupe.
Also unveiled yesterday was a pou whenua, or carved post, which serves both as a local war memorial and a monument to Kupe and another great voyager, Te Parata.
The pou replaces a more humble memorial which had been located in a nearby carpark and, like the bridge, was designed in collaboration with local iwi Ngāti Kahu.
About 200 people attended a dawn blessing led by Te Tai Tokerau Anglican Bishop Te Kitohi Pikaahu with even more turning out for the opening ceremony at Taipā Reserve later in the morning.
Fulton and Hogan construction manager Justin McDowell told the crowd that 1250cu m of concrete had gone into the bridge along with 400 tonnes of steel and 44 beams each measuring 27m long.
The project had included stormwater improvements which had drastically reduced flooding at Taipā Area School.
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It was not just a bridge, it was also a work of art, McDowell said.
''It also has a little platform where the kids can jump off. I probably wasn't allowed to say that, but I thought I'd get in it,'' he said, referring to a change in the plans which saw a jumping platform replaced by a lookout for safety reasons. His comment was met by cheers from younger members of the audience.
Taipā was one of 10 one-way bridges National pledged to upgrade ahead of the 2015 Northland by-election it lost to NZ First leader Winston Peters. Three have been built — two at Matakohe and now one at Taipā — and geotechnical work has begun at Kaeo's Whangaroa bridge.
National transport spokesman Chris Bishop said his party had a vexed history with the Taipā bridge, ''but it's awesome to be here''.
An interview with Sir Hek about the 200 or so bridges he built around Northland was played during the ceremony.
Four waka on the river, live music, kapa haka and stalls contributed to a festive atmosphere at TaipāReserve.