It's full steam ahead for a long-running project to restore a vintage ferry and create a unique steam-themed tourist attraction in the Bay of Islands.
For the past nine years the steam boat Minerva has been undergoing painstaking restoration by a band of volunteers who meet every Friday on Cobham Rd.
The Kerikeri Steam Trust project has stalled at times — once due to a dispute over how the restoration should be done and at what pace — but with the structural work now all but complete the next phase, installing the boiler and twin steam engines, is finally about to begin.
Some time this month the 109-year-old, 20m vessel is due to be moved to Opua Industrial Estate where extra space and a concrete pad will aid the engineering work.
The Minerva will be housed partly inside a former building supplies shed made available by council-owned company Far North Holdings.
The target date for moving the vessel is a week's time, but that will depend on weather and a multitude of other factors.
Shipwright and project manager John Clode said the kauri-hulled vessel had been heavily modified since it was built as a passenger ferry in 1910, so bringing it back to its original appearance involved rebuilding it practically from the deck up.
The structural work was now all but complete with volunteers busy last week fitting the sponsons, the wooden bumpers which run around the top of the hull.
Once the bulwarks were installed the job of fitting the engines and boiler could begin. The original wheelhouse had been removed many years ago so it had to be rebuilt from scratch using donated kauri from a building dating back to the 1880s.
The boiler will be custom-built by a Kiwi engineering firm while one of the two steam engines, from a World War II minesweeper, is on its way from Canada.
Clode said the vessel would run on wood waste instead of coal so it would leave no carbon footprint or black, sooty smoke.
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The waste could come from Kerikeri's Mt Pokaka Mill, where it would be pressed into pellets about the size of chicken feed or into larger briquettes.
Kerikeri Steam Trust chairman Ian Faulkner said once funding came through the boat could be in the water within 12 months.
The trust had lodged a joint funding application with the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway and the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, which links Horeke in South Hokianga with Opua in the Bay of Islands.
The idea was that people would be able to take a steam train from Kawakawa to a new railway station at Colenso Triangle, near Opua, then transfer via a new jetty to the Minerva for a steam boat trip to Waitangi.
That would create a steam excursion unmatched in New Zealand.
The venture would also be integrated with the cycle trail which will run alongside the railway from Kawakawa to Opua. Cyclists could, for example, ride their bikes one way and return by train, or load their bikes onto the ferry for the trip to Waitangi jetty.
Faulkner said in total 52 volunteers had worked on the boat over the years. The most that had turned up on a Friday was 16 but a core group of eight showed up week after week and had become a "pretty effective workforce".
Last month the project clocked up 10,000 volunteer hours, Faulkner said.
Clode said the reasons volunteers kept giving up their Fridays ranged from learning new skills to physical activity and social interaction.
''I see them get a lot of satisfaction out of learning new skills and old techniques that just aren't done these days.''
A colourful history
The SS Minerva was built in 1910 by Charles Bailey Jnr to ferry passengers between Auckland's Queen St wharf and Howick.
In the 1920s it was put to work towing kauri logs on the Kaipara Harbour; after its boiler and twin steam engines were replaced by a diesel engine in the 1940s it was used as a fishing vessel, a family home and, most recently, an America's Cup viewing boat in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf.
It reportedly even served as a floating brothel for fishermen in the Chatham Islands.
Its last private owner, ex-Navy man Nigel Foster, donated it to the Kerikeri Steam Trust on the condition it be restored as closely as possible to its original state.
The 20m, 28-tonne ferry was moved to a vacant lot on Cobham Rd, in central Kerikeri, in 2010 for what was initially anticipated to be a two-year restoration project.
Its original capacity was 200 passengers but in its new incarnation the Minerva is likely to be licensed for 120.
Its two 42-inch propellers will be driven by twin two-cylinder compound Sisson steam engines operating at 180 revs per minute.