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STAFF REPORTER

Bridge access across the Opihi Gorge has been restored after almost 25 years.

Trampers will now be able to cross the gorge by bridge, instead of clambering up and down the cliffs and crossing the river. The bridge’s restoration followed a three-year community campaign.

The Fairlie Lions Club led the campaign to get the bridge replaced, after it was washed away by a flood in 1994.

Club secretary Norman Blakemore said it had enlisted the “incredible” services of the New Zealand Defence Force to install the 1.8 tonne bridge, using one of the NZ Air Force’s helicopters.

The new bridge was installed last week.

“We got the entire community supporting us but after we built the bridge our problem was – who could lift it. So, many thanks to the Defence Force for getting behind our project.”

Moving in . . . The Fairlie Lions Club’s campaign to get the bridge over the Opihi Gorge reinstalled came to fruition with the services of the New Zealand Defence Force helicopter, pictured flying it in. PHOTO: SUPPLIEDMr Blakemore said the 13km track linking Opihi Gorge Rd with Raincliff had been “very popular” in the past and hoped it would return to popularity now access across the river was easier.

“We hope that trampers will rediscover it now that a new bridge has been installed.”

Royal New Zealand Air Force Flight Lieutenant George McInnes said the force’s NH90 helicopter lifted the 1.8 tonne bridge from a nearby paddock to the gorge.

He said the installation, which involved flying down the narrow gorge, provided the crew an opportunity to practise their skills in airlifting heavy and irregular underslung loads.

“We are pleased to support the community here in Fairlie and the Mackenzie Country.”