Waka Kotahi and partners celebrate completion of SH1 Ōpaoa River Bridge project with dawn pou whenua blessing and unveiling


Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has officially marked the completion of the Ōpaoa River Bridge project in Wairau/Blenheim with the blessing and unveiling of a spectacular pou whenua, alongside the opening of the new walking and cycling facilities on the historic Opawa Bridge.

The pou whenua, by Spring Creek-based master carver Reg Thompsett, marks the northern entrance to Wairau/Blenheim and represents the mana whenua* of Wairau.

It was blessed and unveiled early this morning (Saturday, 28 November) by mana whenua Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Rārua and Rangitāne o Wairau, along with interpretation panels that share the history of mana whenua, the Wairau region, and the history of the bridge.


“We thank our partners Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Rārua and Rangitāne o Wairau, and Marlborough District Council. And we would especially like to thank the community for their patience throughout this project,” says Waka Kotahi Director Regional Relationships Jim Harland.

“This morning didn’t just mark the completion of this project, it was also an acknowledgment of a wonderful collaborative effort between Waka Kotahi, our partners, and the local community. The combination of this superbly engineered bridge and stunning pou whenua make for a magnificent welcome to Blenheim.

The three iwi representatives, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Rārua and Rangitāne o Wairau, agreed that the Ōpaoa River has been a landmark on a major travel and trading route for centuries.

“Our tupuna represented in the pou whenua and the interpretation panels connect us, and all who see them, to this place and our history. 

“We thank Waka Kotahi and Marlborough District Council for recognising the importance of that history, and for improving safety for road users as we move forward into the future. 

“Fittingly this project has successfully provided the opportunity for our cultural narrative to be celebrated and acknowledged and provides a foundation for further collaborations.”

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett says it was a great day for Wairau/Blenheim and Marlborough.

“Thank you to Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency for completing this wonderful new asset for Marlborough and the South Island. It will make a huge difference for both local and long-distance travellers coming through Blenheim on State Highway 1.

“The old bridge, which has done a great job serving Marlborough for over 100 years, will have a well-deserved quieter life as a walking and cycling connection. That is appropriate for what is a dearly loved heritage bridge originally built for the horse and cart way back in 1917.”

The Mayor also thanked mana whenua and carver Reg Thompsett for their contributions to the new landscaped area.

“We have a beautiful new welcoming area for travellers arriving in Blenheim and Wairau,” he says.

The blessing marked the official completion of the Ōpaoa River Bridge Project, including construction of the new bridge over the Ōpaoa River, landscaping of the area, and restoration of the historic Opawa Bridge (often called the banana bridge) for use as a walking and cycling facility.

While the new bridge and walking and cycling facilities on the old bridge are now fully open to the public, works such as installing permanent lighting for the pou whenua, and remediation works on the land around the project area, will continue over the coming months.

The project ensures a more reliable, resilient, and safer route for freight transport and travellers on State Highway 1.

  • While the historic Opawa “banana” Bridge is just 5.5 metres wide, the new one is ten metres wide, making it much safer for trucks and wider vehicles to safely pass each other.
  • Traffic was moved onto the new bridge in June and July this year, allowing work to start on the historic, heritage bridge and adjacent landscaping.
  • The $22.7 million bridge project started construction just over two years ago in September, 2018.

*Mana whenua: The Māori people of Wairau who have historic and territorial rights over the land.

Ōpaoa River Bridge project page 

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