‘A wind of change has been blowing through our land for a long time. Today, the change continues – this time, making a connection from one side of the whenua to the other side.’
So said Ngati Whatua kaumatua Matt Maihi at the opening of the new walking and cycling bridge over Te Auaunga/ Oakley Creek.
It was extra fitting and wonderful to begin the opening ceremony with the voices of the custodians of the land. The bridge and pathway travel along an easement across Ngati Whatua whenua; and on the Unitec side of the bridge stands a magnificent pou carved by Matt’s son Katz Maihi (who was also responsible for the glorious designs of Lightpath). Katz is currently traveling in the United States with a group of carvers; but as the pou was officially unveiled, two grey herons flew overhead as if to make sure all was well.
Equally apt and heartwarming was the acknowledgment – and long applause! – for Margi Watson and others who fought so hard, and for so long, on behalf of the local community, which sacrificed much in exchange for the Waterview Connection. Bike Auckland (as Cycle Action Auckland) worked alongside Margi and neighbourhood groups in pushing for community mitigation, and we’re deeply proud of the combined effort that resulted – among other positive outcomes – in the Waterview Shared Path.
Those with long memories may recall the many hours Max Robitzsch and Barb Cuthbert devoted to making the case for a proper network of cycling and walking paths as community mitigation for the project. Max and Barb campaigned especially hard for a commitment to building those links concurrently with the roading project, so they wouldn’t disappear into an indefinite ‘one day’ future.
Alas, both Max and Barb are overseas at the moment and couldn’t be there today to see the first fruit of their labours: the giant bridge and the wide, beautiful paths reaching into neighbouring communities, delivered by the Well-Connected Alliance. But with even more connections opening over the coming month or two, there will be more chances to celebrate.
Another thing to celebrate: the speeches that followed Kaumatua Maihi’s were striking in their harmony. AT Board chair Lester Levy spoke warmly of Auckland’s biking boom, with 18 cycling projects currently under way or being consented. He noted that making space for walking and cycling ‘is a critical component of [giving people] modal options’, offering predictable travel times. With 50km of connected cycleway in the offing, he said, the multiplier effect would be spectacular – the more connections, the more riders, the more riding, and the healthier, more beautiful, and more desirable our city.
Next, Minister Simon Bridges spoke without notes and from the heart, as he always does at bike-related openings. He called the $25m project ‘incredibly significant in its own right,’ not just an adjunct to the Waterview Connection; and he praised the pou whenua as a beautiful example of the ‘cultural infrastructure’ that’s flowering alongside cycling and walking infrastructure. ‘Government and Auckland have a shared ambition for a comprehensive network of cycleways’ across the city, he reiterated, with the aim of making Auckland ‘one of the most liveable cities in the world.’
Mayor Phil Goff spoke last; he got a laugh by noting that as he stood next to the bridge before the speechifying, a random cyclist zipped past him – and it was his own GP, riding in from Papakura. The point being, all sorts of people are now getting around by bike, and even more will do so as it becomes easier and more welcoming. He brought a useful reality check to the jubilation, noting that while we celebrate these accomplishments, there’s always much more to be done to create a truly bike-friendly city. He also underscored the long-term vision: ‘This isn’t just for today, for the next year or two – this is an investment for decades to come.’
And then it was time to cross the bridge. It’s wider than you might imagine, and higher too: soaring above Oakley Creek, almost as tall as Grafton Bridge. Vertiginous views let you see the creekside walkway and its greenery with unexpected clarity.
We’re sure this new connection will lead many to discover the hidden delights of the pathways below – like Auckland’s best-kept-secret waterfall – and the magical arboretum of significant trees that beautify Unitec’s grounds. What we won today: not just a spectacular new bridge linking two neighbourhoods, but a whole new perspective on the whenua it traverses.