Whanganui port is a little deserted. In fact, it looks pretty empty.

But if a local businessman gets his way, the deserted seaside docks will turn into a busy ferry terminal. A gateway to the South Island.

"We have got a 19-metre wharf there, so there is certainly capacity to take large vessels there," said Hamish McDouall, Whanganui's Mayor.

Whanganui businessman Neville Johnston wants the ferry to run between Whanganui and Port Motueka, in the Tasman region. He wouldn't talk to Local Focus for this story but he has some high-level support.

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"A freight ferry would be tremendous. I don't know about a roll on roll off, but with a bunch of backpackers arriving from Nelson and this being the entrance to the North Island, I think that's a fantastic idea," said McDouall.

Council has put money towards a feasibility study and if the numbers stack up, the mayor says it will have his blessing. The journey would take around 6 hours, twice the time of the Interislander, but it would cut town travel time for trucks travelling from Auckland to Christchurch by four hours.

Neville Johnston estimates the start-up cost at around $50m. This includes a major dredging operation at both ends.

"Our real limitation is the bar, and you have got to have a ferry with the appropriate draft," said McDouall.

Mr Johnston is tight-lipped over how he would fund such an innovative project, but there is no doubt it would bring life back into the old port.