Ōpaoa River project bridges take out top heritage award


Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has been recognised for its efforts to celebrate local heritage, with the Ōpaoa River Bridge project winning the 2021 Engineering NZ Heritage Award.

Engineering NZ Heritage Award(external link)

The prestigious award celebrates innovative heritage projects that have delivered value to a community, iwi, organisation, environment, education, or wider New Zealand society.

Opened in Blenheim at the end of 2020, the Ōpaoa River Bridge project  provided a safer, stronger State Highway 1 bridge across the Ōpaoa River, as well as repurposing the heritage Opawa Bridge* for walking and cycling and a community gathering space.

Engineering NZ said the project delivered on all three of the award’s criteria - clear vision, engagement with all the right people, and a great impact on the local community.

“Thought, care, research and collaboration has gone into not just retaining the historic bridge, but in making sure it has wide use and relevance for communities today and in the future. The lasting relationships built during this project also made it stand out,” says Cindy Jemmett, Engineering New Zealand Heritage Advisor.

“It’s a top honour for a top project,” says Waka Kotahi Senior Project Manager Andrew Adams. “It is fitting recognition for a special project that called on expertise from across the organisation.

“The Ōpaoa River bridge is a critical piece of infrastructure for State Highway 1 and the top of the South Island/Te Wai Pounamu. While we had to deliver a safe new piece of infrastructure, it was also important to give the heritage bridge a renewed life, recognise the history and influence of mana whenua, and create a place for people to relax, remember and reflect.

“I’m very proud of the work of our wider team to create a fantastic new bridge, repurpose the existing heritage bridge, and create a beautiful place that the community can be proud of.”

The project team worked closely with mana whenua iwi Te Rūnanga a Rangitāne O Wairau, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, and Ngāti Rārua to incorporate cultural and spiritual aspects into the project and Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and Marlborough District Council to ensure the designs were sympathetic and suitable.

As well as walking and cycling facilities, the repurposed Opawa Bridge offers community space to hold local events, complete with a courtyard, interpretative panels, gateway signage, and Pou Whenua.

Bridge project background(external link)

Completion of the Ōpaoa River Bridge project.

The new bridge with vehicles travelling over it sits next to the old repurposed bridge.

The award-winning gateway to Blenheim.

The old banana bridge at night with panels lit up in different colours along the bridge.

The old banana bridge panels lit up.

*The Ōpaoa River was known as the Opawa River until 2014, when it was officially changed as part of a Treaty of Waitangi settlement, to correct the spelling of the river’s name.

Treaty of Waitangi settlement(external link)


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