Every day about 2000 people work at the Port of Tauranga's Mount Maunganui and Sulphur Point sites but the flow-on effects to the economy and other sectors are massive. It is the largest port in New Zealand and continues to break records across all of its sectors. A report shows it accounts for 43 per cent of the Bay of Plenty's GDP but chief executive Mark Cairns credits this amazing success to its people. Carmen Hall goes behind the gates to meet some of them.
The wake surges as the small launch bounces against the mega container ship. Despite the calm conditions the sea heaves between the two vessels.
The ship's steel stern is within a hand's reach. A pilot dressed in neon yellow and blue fatigues adjusts his helmet and tucks his radio into his pocket.
He reaches for the spindly rope ladder dangling down the starboard side. The launch slaps backwards and forwards in unison with the 245m, fully laden vessel.
The pilot has made contact and is scrambling up the ladder which sways beneath his weight.
He is welcomed onboard with a hearty pat on the back. Crew members wave and a hardened sailor smiles a gummy grin and shouts "gidday" over the din of diesel and ocean.
Every day and every night these exchanges take place on the Tauranga Harbour as ships and cruise liners are ferried in and out under the instruction of 11 Port of Tauranga pilots and other crew.
The Port of Tauranga is now worth $4.2 billion and has more than doubled in capital value in five years with its phenomenal growth showing no signs of slowing.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns says the port, which spans 190 hectares, has the space for further expansion.
On April 1 the company ranked 10th on the NZX50 with its market capitalisation rated at $4.2b, up from $1.8b in 2013. In the year to June 30, 2018, there were 1747 ship visits compared with 1651 over the same timeframes in 2017 and 1482 in 2016.
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It's 8.47am on a crisp Wednesday morning. The sea is dead flat and the sun is breaking through the clouds over Mauao.
Anna Willoughby has taken up her position in the driver's seat on the Arataki and is preparing to manoeuvre the vessel out of the harbour.
She is given clearance from the control room and checks off the state of the art systems that include touch screens, radar and a sophisticated GPS system.
The 35-year-old is the Port of Tauranga's only female pilot boat driver. She is responsible for ferrying the pilots safely on and off huge ships and cruise liners.
Willoughby and colleague Jarrod Barnett are heading out to collect pilot Troy Evans off the logging ship Pacific Basin which he has helped escort out of the harbour.
Crew members on the ship are running across the logs while others are shooting selfies on their cell phone of the landscape disappearing behind them.
Willoughby has an impressive seafaring background and says there ''is salt in my blood''.
She has skippered boats and yachts in Australia and the Mediterranean. Closer to home, she spent three years on crew transfer vessels dealing with the Rena shipwreck.
The mum of one followed that up with stints on the Port of Tauranga tug boats and another three years in its customer service centre control room. Willoughby holds a degree in management and tourism, a British Yachtmaster licence and a celestial navigation ticket.
Cairns says the deepwater port Willoughby navigates has some big advantages but it was not without risk. The port pumped $350 million over six years into capital investment including $50m into dredging the channels and at the time the port was worth less than $1b.
Dredging started in October 2015 and finished in September 2016. Larger container vessels which could hold 9500 containers started journeying from South America en route to China in October 2016.
''It is a very fast transit and takes 12 days up into China which is the fastest shipping time. With cargo like kiwifruit or chilled meat that means much more shelf time in the market so this service has proved to be very successful.''
Back on the launch, we are making good time to pick up Evans and glide past two recreational boats, one fisherman is hauling in his catch and gives a big thumbs up.
The transferral of Evans goes smoothly as he quickly clambers down the ladder and takes a seat inside.
The former marine officer and tug boat skipper enjoys being out on the ocean and says it's his job to help direct the ships in.
''When I get on to the bridge I have a discussion with the ship master on how we are going to get inside the port, we exchange information and then I take what is called the conduct of the vessel. They still have command but I'll direct the helmsman to steer a course.''
Evans says his biggest challenge to date was an outbound tanker with engine failure which he had to keep centred in the channel while waiting for the tugs to come out.
''I have never hit a wharf hard and I have never grounded a ship,'' he says before grabbing his gear in preparation to climb on to another ship arriving at the port.
The port is cashing in on transhipments with container volumes increasing 23.3 per cent in the 2018 financial year, Cairns says.
Containers were shipped in on smaller vessels from around the country before being loaded on to big ships. In 2018 the port of Tauranga handled 42 per cent of New Zealand's exports and 34 per cent of New Zealand's cargo. The Bay of Plenty Regional Council has a 54 per cent share in the port while 46 per cent is public.
In ''puzzle palace'' Phil Davey has his eyes pinned on four TVs and his ears glued to three phones.
He's chewing gum. He used to smoke but he can't do that any more. So he chews because there is no room for panic or stress in this operation, he says as his gaze shifts to the blue harbour views out the window.
There are 100 cameras for him and his mates to watch over and ships. Lots and lots of very big ships.
Welcome to the engine room of Port of Tauranga where seafaring national and international vessels dock night and day, 24/7.
''It gets a bit hectic but as long as you don't let yourself get stressed and you don't panic you can keep it steady by tackling one challenge at a time.''
Anything can go wrong out there, he says, waving his arm.
''A ship can lose its power and then you can't control it and it's just drifting. So the captain has to drop the anchors and you have to send the tugs out. It doesn't happen often but it's just like when a car breaks down.''
Squares and rectangles represent the ships while a blue line defines whether they are incoming or outgoing. The port can berth 15 ships at a time and stats on the screen hold information including the length, height and duration of stay.
''It's everything we need to know to work out how tight to squeeze them in.''
The berthage planner says that in the old days everything was written on a whiteboard and they only did three or four ships on the tide.
''Now they have tidal windows and each ship has a class on how big it is so we look at how many ships we can do on any tide, every day of the year, day and night.''
The largest exports out of Tauranga by volume is logs, Cairns says.
Figures show the top five export categories in the year to June 30, 2018 by revenue tonne included forestry products including logs 8.3 million tonnes. All other goods were 2.9 tonnes, dairy products 2.3 million tonnes, kiwifruit and steel followed by frozen meat. Those exports accounted for 15.4 million tonnes, he says.
In the future the port expects to see growth across new and existing cargoes, Cairns says.
It expects there will be growing volumes of vehicle imports, water exports and manufactured goods, as well as growth across most existing cargoes including kiwifruit volumes.
There are some imports the port doesn't want and that's where Jamie Hickey and Steve Wineti come in.
The New Zealand Customs Service chief officer and supervising officer help catch the bad guys and get drugs off the street.
In the past 18 months, in joint operations with the police, customs had made three major busts at the Port of Tauranga.
Hickey says they have found 46kg of cocaine hidden in a rudder and more than 200kg of meth stashed away in the door frames of shipping containers as well as 110kg of cannabis hidden in four cylinders under the hull of a ship.
The customs team of 13 works closely with the port which is important with covert operations, he says.
''If we need to keep it quiet they understand and are fantastic to work with. When you think about the community and damage drugs do to families and friends, we are trying to minimise that.''
People were getting more cunning and sophisticated at hiding drugs and with more big ships heading to the port from South America, it was an ongoing concern, he says.
But drug seizures were not the only activity keeping the team busy as the number of cigarettes being smuggled through the port jumped.
''We have seized 39,200 cigarettes in the last year.''
He says often they are alerted by port staff. On one occasion 47 cartons of cigarettes were intercepted from crew members going ashore and a further 150 cartons were found at the bottom of the engine room in a tank.
''We just seized another 1300 cigarettes yesterday.''
The team uses an x-ray machine on a trailer and a $4m x-ray truck which can scan one shipping container in less than 30 seconds.
The truck unfolds like a transformer and on average customs will scan 10 to 40 containers a day, Hickey says.
Mark Whitworth is also on the lookout for unwanted arrivals.
The Tauranga Cargo Services manager says stowaway bugs could severely damage the economy.
A 2019 port calendar splashes the 12 most wanted. Each month is dedicated to a dangerous critter - June highlights red imported fire ants which can hitch a ride on ships, boxes, shipping containers, cars, yachts and in soil.
The unwanted visitors hail from Australia, North America and South America. Meanwhile, the more publicised and feared brown marmorated stink bug takes out September followed by fruit flies in October.
A harmless looking giant African snail and pretty spotted lanternfly are other pests whose faces and statistics take out prime spots. The months coincide with when the rate of an incursion is high ''and we just roll month by month'', Whitworth says.
''On a weekly basis, there will be stuff that is suspicious ... and whether someone thinks it is a stink bug or lizards or snakes or snails out of the South Pacific.''
The calendar is an incentive for everyone who works at the port and every possible sighting is reported to the Ministry for Primary Industries.
''They are our eyes and ears.''
Whitlock has one eye on the weather and another on port productivity. He also oversees health and safety and environmental concerns and works alongside other main players including NZ Customs and Maritime NZ.
Kelly McIntosh climbs up on to the harvester and runs her small pocket torch over it.
The machine which has come off a ship from Australia is being held inside a large storage shed at the Port of Tauranga. The harvester has been flagged because documentation shows it wasn't cleaned before it was loaded. A big no-no with the Ministry for Primary Industries.
McIntosh, a quarantine officer with Biosecurity New Zealand is quick to point out all the contamination she has discovered including soil, seeds, eucalyptus leaves and spider webs.
''This is what we would call pretty dirty and heavily contaminated. You might think a few leaves are innocent but anything from the eucalyptus family is 100 per cent banned.''
Her boss, chief quarantine officer Janine Mayes, says it was just one example of the work her team of 10 carries out every day.
Around the corner in another shed is, according to its paperwork a new trailer - it's not.
Because of its declaration, the cargo was considered low risk but thanks to the eagle eyes of C3 staff who unloaded it - they called it in because it was covered in dirt, Mayes says.
Both importers would be charged for cleaning, manpower hours and it would be noted on their records.
But Biosecurity New Zealand has much more clout than that as Mayes explains in 2017 the DL Marigold was denied entry and ordered to leave the country because clusters of barnacles and tube worms were discovered on its hull.
New Zealand had taken the lead on biofouling and was the first country to take the stance.
In her office, the smell of lamb fills the air. The team has a roast in the oven for a shared lunch.
Mayer who has been in the game for 19 years wants to highlight another topic she is passionate about. Cruise ships.
There are three major cruise liners that come to Tauranga and most are accredited which means food and banned substances were less likely to be bought ashore.
''The liners like to provide a nice experience and we can hold people up on the gangway so that is a big incentive for them.''
As I gather my things to leave she wants to push one last message: biosecurity is everyone's responsibility so if you spot the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug or any other threat call the MPIs free hotline.
Container growth is another record being broken at the port and Cairns says they are planning for more.
The growth was a direct result of its six-year investment in building capacity to become big ship capable, he says.
''Australian and New Zealand shippers now have easy access to fast connections to and from North Asia, North America and South America.''
In the year to June 30, 2018 there were 1,182,147 containers through the port compared with 1,085,987 over the same timeframes the year before.
The Port of Tauranga has 220 employees on its payroll but estimates about 2000 work on its Mount Maunganui and Sulphur Point sites every day, Cairns says.
An economic report on the port by economist Dr Warren Hughes in 2016 shows the port accounted for 43 per cent of the Bay of Plenty's regional GDP.
Just under 150,000 New Zealand jobs could be associated with the Port of Tauranga and the port was one of the region's most valuable facilities, the report says.
Cairns says everyone working at the port has contributed to its success story.
James Oldehaver says his role is important because what he does has a visual impact, "it's not unseen''.
When it comes to cleaning, sweeping and tidying up Oldehaver is an expert, but these are no ordinary housekeeping duties, this is the Port of Tauranga's Mount Maunganui wharf where logs make a huge mess.
The port spans as far as the eye can see for more than 2km. Logs are stacked higher than houses and the smell of wood lingers.
It's an operational feat keeping the wharf spick and span that requires heavy equipment and machinery like keep road sweepers and log bucket loaders, not to mention manpower and logistical thinking.
The bulk cargo co-ordinator says logs are the biggest contributor to the dust problem and since he started the role last October he is honing in on reducing environmental impacts.
''We will never win this race straightaway but we are going to go a long way towards minimising our environmental impact and I work with all the companies on the port.''
In the year to June 30, 2018, Port of Tauranga handled 6.3 million tonnes of export logs, up 14.3 per cent on the previous 12 months, Cairns says. Sawn timber exports also increased by 10.3 per cent in volume.
The top three export markets were China, Korea and India.
Back in his office with sweeping views over the port Cairns is reluctant to blow his own trumpet.
He would rather talk about fishing or his secret passion for photography. He climbs up on a chair and pulls down a massive snapper that is mounted above his desk.
''Ain't this a beauty?''
Then he flicks through a slideshow of photos on his laptop that he took at his daughter's graduation from the University of Otago. The shots are sharp and clear.
An award for the port is looming, Cairns says but it is under embargo so there will be no scoop despite being pressured to spill the beans.
A few days later it hits the news.
Cairns has been awarded the prestigious 2019 Caldwell Partners Leadership Award from the Institute of Finance Professionals.
The judging panel praises the Port of Tauranga's excellent productivity rates, industry-leading safety record, increasing cargo volumes and shareholder returns that had compounded by an average 20.4 per cent since Cairns took the helm in 2005.
The award as far as Cairns is concerned recognises ''the extraordinary efforts of a fantastic bunch of people working at Port of Tauranga. I am proud to accept this award on their behalf and I am privileged to lead a company that has achieved so much," he says at the time.
We table another idea for a Who is Mark Cairns piece. An email from his communications manager says, ''I can try but he is a very humble man.''
Maybe next time.