The celebration began with much pomp and ceremony including a bag pipe band and karakia (Maori prayer of blessing). It then continued with a flotilla on the river below (parade of watercrafts), and parade of classic cars, horses, and various community groups. Pedestrian traffic was then invited to cross the bridge on foot for the very first time before it would be open for motor vehicles. We even stood on the bridge as it was being raised and lowered to allow for boats passing through. (Obviously we were not ON the part of the drawbridge that was being raised !)
Something happened during this bridge opening that surprised me: I no longer felt like a foreigner. I immediately ran into dozens of people that I knew. . .and who knew me. Tugs from little gymnasts, smiles from parents, and welcomes from local residents I'd not seen in a long while all made me feel truly part of this city. I've experienced this sensation before, but for some reason, this time it was a bit stronger. Now that I have been in Whangarei for nearly two years, I am no longer just "that weird American pastor"; I'm a "local". That's a good feeling.