After months of delays and anticipation, the Upokongaro Cycle Bridge near Whanganui was opened to the public on Wednesday, December 2.
Hundreds of excited locals gathered on the Papaiti Rd side of the bank to celebrate the public opening of the bridge.
Te Pou Tupua Turama Hawira, one of the voices for the awa after it gained its own legal identity, and kaumatua John Maihi began the ceremony with karakia, welcoming those in attendance.
Upokongaro School students followed with a number of waiata before Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall addressed the public.
"Today we are completing Ngā Ara Tūhono (Mountain to Sea). That's what we are doing today, the finish of a long journey. Both physically, from the mountains to the sea, but also a long journey from conception to execution.
"This project met the river. That is because of the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) legislation and it has been a fascinating time to learn how the council can better embody the Te Awa Tupua status of the river, it has been pretty excited."
McDouall acknowledged the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Waka Kotahi NZTA and elected officials for their assistance through the journey. Emmett Construction and local iwi advisers were also thanked for their work in helping get the bridge to where it is today.
McDouall thanked project manager Damien Wood "for his remarkable work. Without his work it wouldn't have happened".
Upokongaro School students Lukah Wyeth and Benson McKay were chosen to cut the ribbon. Lukah was the youngest from the school and Benson was chosen because his family have a long family lineage from Ngā Paerangi.
The 130m-long suspension bridge was first lowered down and installed just before the Covid-19 alert level 4 lockdown in March.
The bridge was first proposed in 2014 when Annette Main was mayor of Whanganui. After years of debate, McDouall and Whanganui District Council got the ball rolling in 2017.
The bridge cost $3.4 million, with half of that funded by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. MBIE has funded $600,000, with the Whanganui District Council providing the rest.
Avid cyclist Maurice Mildenhall said it's great to finally have the bridge open.
"We have been waiting for two years."
He said it will link the various cycleways around the town and help bring more people to Upokongaro and Whanganui through the Mountain to Sea Trail.
"People complain that there aren't many cyclists, but if you build pathways they will come out and use them."
Allan and Chrysa Munro, who biked up from Aramoho for the big day, said they've been excited for years about the opening.
"It's a good thing. It gets people out and about," Allan said.
They hoped the next step would be smoothing out the cycleway from the bridge along Papaiti Rd to the river cycleway near the Aramoho Railway Bridge.
McDouall asked the public to utilise the bridge as intended and, because of safety concerns, to resist biking back down State Highway 4.
"Encourage people around you to get on bikes and get walking because there is nothing better for the health of the entire community than to do that."