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Friends in final fling off failing footbridge

A handful of old school friends from Hamilton drove out specially to Raglan last Saturday morning to catch the noon high tide and jump for a final time from the old Kopua footbridge — a fond farewell to the now nearly 50-year-old structure which will be demolished soon after today’s official opening of the new bridge.

It was for old times’ sake that the four Richmond Park Primary School friends — now in their 40s — ventured to town at the weekend. Exchanges on Facebook had suggested up to 41 hardy souls might show up for a mass splash, but in the end only seven took the plunge into the estuary off the bridge rails.

The small turnout didn’t dampen the friends’ enthusiasm and certainly not that of Tepora (Debs) Stephens who tried to set the whole Facebook thing up while back in New Zealand from Australia as a VIP host for the Rugby World Cup.

A cousin of the Kereopas who lived here for 30 years, Debs donned wettie and aqua shoes while others stripped to their shorts and boxers for a final fling over the old painted rails.

Debs looked askance at the rounded rails of the new bridge just metres away but declared she wasn’t worried. “When you’re kids, you jump,” she told the Chronicle.

“But there’ll be an uproar if you (really) can’t jump,” she added, “and I’ll be back for that!”

Another of the four recalled jumping and grabbing a handful of mussels in days gone by — then sitting on the beach and eating them raw, straight out of the shell.

Longtime local John Kereopa, 52, was one of the few locals to join the Hamiltonians, after a clashing netball game apparently deterred others. He reckons he’s been jumping off the bridge since he was four years old and wasn’t about to stop now.

Kaumatua from Ngati Mahanga were to deconsecrate the old bridge and bless the new one today (Thursday) before it was to be opened at 9.30am , and the ribbon cut by Waikato District Mayor Allan Sanson.

About 200 Raglan Area School pupils were to take part in the ceremony, with the public able to walk across the old bridge one last time before crossing the new bridge for the first time.

Demolition of the old bridge will start almost immediately, says water & facilities general manager Richard Bax.

“We know that many generations of people have fond memories of this bridge so we are recycling the hardwood handrail with two benches to be made locally. These will be placed near the barbecue at Kopua Domain,” he says.

The opening itself was to make a contribution to the community with fundraising opportunities for Lions Leo’s Project for Youth, Raglan Operational Support, Te Mata and Raglan Area Schools.

“This new bridge with its distinctive lighting and colours of the sea and paua will, I’m sure, become just as much a part of Raglan’s identity as the old bridge,” says Mr Bax.

*Today’s 140-metre new bridge brings to three the number of footbridges that have spanned the Opotoru River estuary, the first built in 1929, and replaced by the second in 1963.

Edith Symes

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