Wharf lease key to speedy Barrier ferry

By Wayne Thompson

Great Barrier Island is being promised a new, fast passenger and car ferry service if the operator can win a long lease on the Auckland waterfront.

But island residents fear operator SeaLink's proposal will be swamped by alternative plans for the development of Wynyard Wharf, where the ferry terminal is, and the Tank Farm.

SeaLink chairman Giuliano Ursini told Auckland Regional Council members yesterday that the company wanted to be "part of the solution" for improving the waterfront and shipping services to the Hauraki Gulf.

The company runs its passenger, vehicle and freight service to Great Barrier Island from a terminal at Wynyard Wharf.

Mr Ursini said the company's lease on the wharf terminal had only three years to run and that uncertainty made it impossible to invest $10 million on upgrading the terminal or to plan for the future.

The company believed the island had great potential for expanded eco-tourism and could bring over one of its Australian-based fast ferries - the Sealion - to shorten the duration of the 90km voyage to make it more attractive.

A SeaLink vessel now took 4 1/2 hours to make the trip from Auckland.

The Sealion could slash this time to three hours.

The company was concerned that the nature of its lifeline service to the island made it seem an industrial operator.

"We are told that freight won't fit in with the vision for that area," said Mr Ursini.

As an alternative, the company was suggesting that it have a swept-up terminal in the present place and dedicate it to passengers and cars.

The industrial side of the service - freight and trucks - could move away from the public eye to the other side of the reclamation where there were slipways and shipyards.

He said the company envisaged earning 32 per cent of its revenue from freight, trucks and contracting and 68 per cent from a modern Wynyard Wharf terminal serving passengers and cars.

After hearing Mr Ursini, the ARC strategy and planning committee resolved to advise ARC subsidiary Auckland Regional Holdings, which owns Ports of Auckland, that it "strongly supports continued provision of facilities" by Ports of Auckland and Sea and City Auckland for coastal shipping in Auckland and Manukau Harbours.

Tourism Auckland chief executive Graeme Osborne said Great Barrier's tourism was suffering from a reduced service and he supported a fast ferry connection.

The island's community board tourism spokesman, Paul Downie, said reducing the trip to three hours would be "very satisfactory" and would boost the number of weekend visitors.

He said he told Auckland City Council that keeping the SeaLink combined passenger, freight and vehicle service at Wynyard Wharf was of the greatest importance to the island's economy.

"We've heard all sorts of hare-brained schemes like relocating to Gulf Harbour or to Thames," said Mr Downie. "But all our feeder traffic comes out of Auckland."

Fullers ferries run to the island in the summer and do the trip in three hours.

The Sealion

* 49.8m long.
* Top speed: 16 knots.
* Capacity: 354 passengers, 63 cars or four coaches and 42 cars.
* Could cut the Great Barrier trip from 4 1/2 hours to 3 hours.

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