New Kawarau Falls bridge opens

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Step aside “dear old Kawarau bridge” and make way for the new $22million curved replacement.

About 3000 people walked across the new Kawarau Falls Bridge in Queenstown yesterday at its official opening ceremony.

The new bridge on the main state highway route to Southland and Fiordland replaces a ramshackle one-laner built in 1926  as a dam to allow gold prospecting of the Kawarau River bed. Hundreds of people then staked a claim along the river and on August 30, 1926, they lined the banks waiting for the gates to close.

But when they finally did, the water level only dropped about a metre — because the river is fed by other tributaries too. The opening day yesterday of the new 252m-long bridge was more successful.

After a blessing by Dean Whaanga, representing Ngai Tahu, and speeches, the NZ Transport Agency’s southern region director Jim Harland and other dignitaries drove across the bridge in a fully electric Hyundai.

They were closely followed by Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult and Mayoress Karen Boult in a Model T Ford — which rolled off the production line in the same year the old bridge opened.

Classic: Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult and Mayoress Karen Boult in a Model T Ford

Soon after, the curious, and several dogs, walked across.About 2pm, the bridge opened to traffic, although only one lane.

Cars heading towards Queenstown will still use the old bridge until early January. In his speech, Mr Boult said: “To those of you who commute across the bridge daily, you’ve had your last summer holiday period with the colossal congestion caused by our dear old Kawarau bridge.”

On January 8, all traffic shifts on to the southbound lane of the new bridge with the old bridge closing permanently. It will be converted into a walking and cycling route.

Both lanes of the new bridge, which also has a walkway, are due to open fully in April.

Mr Boult described it as a “huge milestone” for the district.

“When my wife and I moved here almost 36 years ago, high on the list of local importance matters was a new Kawarau bridge.

“The old adage of ‘good things come to those who wait’ comes to mind but it is a good thing we are a patient lot here in Queenstown.”

He urged the NZTA to begin looking at a second bridge downstream before the congestion caught up.

The bridge, on State Highway 6 at Frankton, also provides access to The Remarkables Skifield and upmarket suburbs Kelvin Heights, Jacks Point and also Hanleys Farm, where another 1700 homes are planned.

Mr Boult thanked the NZTA, the contractors McConnell Dowell, subcontractors and workers.

“But don’t forget to get back in January and finish it off.”

Mr Harland said the new bridge, at $22million, represented good value for money.

Unstoppable: Angela McRae and daughter Zara, 11, who didn’t let a sprained Achilles tendon stop her enjoying the bridge walk