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Lower Hatea River Crossing

Whangarei, New Zealand

Lower Hatea River Crossing

Whangarei, New Zealand


Whangarei District Council


2011 - 2013

Design Team

Knight Architects, Peters & Cheung (Novare Design), Eadon Consulting, Speirs & Major, Griffiths

Contractor Team

McConnell Dowell Transfield JV, McRaes Global, McKay


New Zealand Concrete Society Awards 2013

Civic Trust Award 2014

Architizer A+ Award 2014

Structural Award 2014

New Zealand Engineering Excellence Awards 2014

British Expertise International Award 2014

New Zealand Contractors' Federation 2014

Building Awards 2014 (Shortlisted)

Innovate NZ: Awards of Excellence 2015

Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia 2015

Building on sacred ground

The brief for the $32m NZ project was apparently simple: to provide a relief highway around the northern New Zealand city of Whangerai while expressing the art and culture of the local people. Except the central government funding excluded any provision for aesthetics and architecture.

The project involved a 265m-long crossing of the tidal Lower Hatea River, a popular destination for yachts. The brief required an unlimited headroom for river users and a 25m-wide opening section to allow vessels taller than 7.5m to transit the bridge.

The bridge is a rhythmic series of 25m-long spans with a central opening part. The mechanism is based on a traditional rolling bascule bridge typology, employing hydraulic actuators to raise the bridge. The structural steel deck supports are a graphic interpretation of the fish hook motif that is widely used in Maori culture. They also provide counterweight to reduce the energy consumed raising the 390-tonne lifting span.

The bridge was named Te Matau ā Pohe (The Fish Hook of Pohe, after a famous tribal chief) by the elders of the local Maori tribes, the ultimate proof of successful community engagement.

Silhouettes of people against  a cloud sky on the bridge at the opening ceremony.
Closed Lower Hatea bridge in distance with hills in background and cloudy sky
Maori people at opening ceremony walking across the deck at night with bridge lighting

“Knight Architects in the UK has achieved that very tricky thing; something apparently simple but extremely sophisticated. Beauty is not in the last lick of paint, nor some gratuitous addition to a quotidian structure in search of ‘iconic’ status. It is in the very heart of all good things. Aesthetics is everything.”

– Patrick Reynolds, writer, photographer and lecturer at the University of Auckland School of Architecture
Close Aerial view of the Lower Hatea Crossing in closed position
Daytime viewing looking up at the Maori fish hook Lower Hatea bridge in New Zealand
Closed deck, night view of Lower Hatea bridge.