Over 1000 people walk across partially-built Manawatū Tararua Highway

More than 1000 people gathered on Sunday to walk across the partially-built Manawatū Tararua Highway.

The new route, which sits between Ashhurst and Woodville, was commissioned after a major slip in 2017 left the old road impassable.

Around 1500 people put on their walking shoes to trek across the new Manawatū Tararua Highway.

Despite the punishing heat and at times gruelling terrain, many of them wanted to see the progress being made on the new road.

"It's cool. I'm really looking forward to coming back and driving it when it's finished," one person told Newshub.

"They never opened up Transmission Gully for us so we thought we better come up and do it, and it's a major feat of engineering," another said.

Construction on the $620 million highway started back in January 2021 after a huge slip in 2017 left the Manawatū Gorge Road virtually impassable.

"We've made good progress over the years. Just recently we celebrated moving six million cubic metres of earthworks, and we're nearing our bulk earthworks completion," Waka Kotahi spokesperson Grant Kauri said.

Despite that progress, the highway's opening has been slightly delayed due to COVID-19 and unforeseen engineering problems.

"Originally we were scheduled for a December 2024 opening, but due to those challenges we're now looking to open the highway next year," Kauri explained.

Communities on both sides of the gorge have been struggling since the old road's closure.

Newshub spoke with locals in Woodville who said the new route can't come soon enough.

"It'll shorten the time from Woodville to Palmerston North from 30 minutes currently to 20 minutes max," one local said.

"I think it's a great idea and a great thing - it'll open up the drive for everyone and make it more efficient," another added.

But with the completion date still far off, today's walk is the closest Kiwis will get to travelling across the new highway.