A $2.5 million slipway cradle marks a new stepping stone for the growth of the marine industry in Whangārei.

With a morning blessing Heron Ship Repair, which is located along Port Rd, formally put their new slipway cradle into operation, replacing a 60-year-old structure that was "well overdue for replacement", Nick Eilering, general manager of Heron Ship Repair, said.

"As a marine engineering company, the slipway is the backbone of our facility. It enables us to haul out a variety of vessels for a variety of works – survey work, new builds, refits and other modification projects," Eilering said.

The new cradle can carry up to 1800 tonnes of weight or ships up to 90m in length.

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The construction took about a year, and while the 120 tons of steel were shipped from outside the region, most other material and labour were sourced locally to complete the project.

"Every single piece lined up when the final installation took place. This is a true testament to the local skill base and craftsmanship we have here in Whangārei," Eilering said.

Heron Construction co-owner Greg Kroef, left, and Heron Ship Repair general manager Nick Eilering. Photo / Julia Czerwonatis
Heron Construction co-owner Greg Kroef, left, and Heron Ship Repair general manager Nick Eilering. Photo / Julia Czerwonatis

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Whangārei hapū Ngāti Kahu o Torongare, represented by Dick Shepherd and Tu Panapa, led the blessing yesterday morning and said the cradle was a wonderful asset to the marine hub.

"To me, all the bits and pieces are coming together that will eventually make this harbour a hub for the region," Shepherd said.

"Sometimes we don't hear about these kinds of projects within our community, but they are exciting for Whangārei."

The slipway cradle was installed over the Christmas period after a year of construction. Photo / Supplied
The slipway cradle was installed over the Christmas period after a year of construction. Photo / Supplied

Heron Ship Repair was started by Henk and Mary Eilering in 2006 and changed ownership in 2018 to the Kroef family who have been working on expanding the business over the past 18 months.

Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Steve Smith, who attended the morning blessing, said Whangārei's marine industry had a long history but had experienced difficulty sustaining momentum in the past.

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He said there used to be an inherent lack of connection and infrastructure but new collaborations between businesses along Port Rd had opened up opportunity for development and growth of the industry.