The final 3km section of the Te Awa River Ride, built along the Waikato River north of Hamilton, saw a broad collaboration of stakeholders create a New Zealand first with the launch of the iconic Perry Bridge.
The bridge’s 130-metre green arch is a truly recognisable landmark for anyone following the Waikato River northward out of Hamilton on New Zealand’s North Island. Now the country’s longest network arch bridge, its weaving design represents togetherness, unity, and strength, and was inspired by the region’s historical flax industry.
The bridge allows the safe crossing of the river for those travelling along this section of the route, which begins north of Hamilton and ends in the town of Ngaruawahia. It was built for cyclists and pedestrians to traverse the region without having to use the busy Great South Road.
The completion of this section in October 2017 ultimately cost $4.3 million and was highly commended at the 2018 IPWEA NZ Excellence Awards. It marked the end of construction for the full River Ride which now spans a total of 70km from Ngaruawahia in the north to Horahora in the south.
The project was initiated in 2010 by a group of local business and community leaders, Jennifer Palmer, General Manager of the Brian Perry Charitable Trust, tells intouch.
“Their vision was to re-connect the community to its most significant natural asset, the Waikato River. To do that, they planned to create unprecedented access for everyone, building a 70km shared cycle/walkway along its banks.”
As well as community benefits, the project has been a plus for the environment by opening up previously inaccessible areas of the river for rubbish removal and tree planting, Palmer says.
“It’s also seen new businesses emerge – bike hire and coffee shops and accommodation providers – as well as new events brought to the region. So from an initial goal of creating community benefit, we’re seeing ecological, economic, and health benefits as well.”
The bridge’s October 2017 opening attracted about 1000 visitors. Since then, pedestrian and cyclist numbers have increased from 40 to 200 people daily.
A New Zealand first
Paul McPherson, Community Projects Manager at Waikato District Council, tells intouch
about the “massive innovation” that drove the project, especially around the bridge’s launch.
“The launch method was a New Zealand first, so we’re really quite proud of the bridge and how it was constructed," he says.
With the bridge built on land for safety, traditional methods of placing the span across the river such as barges were unsuitable because of the unpredictability of water currents and large cranes were just plain unavailable, McPherson explains.
The contractor hired to build the bridge, Emmetts Civil Construction, instead chose to carry it across the river on a calibrated system of tensioned cables, stressed to over 400 tonnes and anchored with screw piles. The entire process took about two hours.
“It showed a bit of Kiwi ingenuity from the contractor. They knew there were challenges around the barges and that they couldn’t get a large enough crane to lift the bridge so they created the idea of the tension cabling and the associated anchoring work and built that into the bridge design,” McPherson says.
Lessons from the past
Launching the Perry Bridge was not the only hurdle for constructing this 3km stretch of the River Ride. The path itself also went through a local Maori archaeological site where pre-European gardening artefacts such as storage pits for kumara, taro, and yams were uncovered.
“When we actually dug it up, we found that it was more significant than we realised and that delayed the project while we investigated the site,” McPherson says.
The dig was done in collaboration with local iwi monitors who worked alongside the archaeologists and helped with the cultural interpretation of the site.
While plenty of knowledge was uncovered about local traditions in ages past, McPherson said the council would avoid such areas in future due to delays.
“By disturbing the area, we gained lots of information and got those artefacts to understand how people lived back then, but it does create a lot of uncertainty and lost time on the project. I think it’s better to avoid these archaeological areas.”
A team effort
Palmer attributes the project’s success to a broad collaboration of government stakeholders from the New Zealand Transport Agency and Waikato District Council as well as those from the community, represented by the Brian Perry Charitable Trust.
“The bridge was a collective project bringing together central government, local government, and the local community on quite an enormous scale. The shared vision of these groups, the willingness to work together, to share ideas, to share responsibilities, to be completely collaborative was what allowed the project to become a reality,” Palmer says.
Other key stakeholders were AECOM which undertook planning, design review and construction supervision, Holmes Consulting as the bridge designer, Fulton Hogan which constructed the path, and WEL Networks which installed the bridge’s electrical lighting.