The Aotea Maersk, the largest container ship to visit New Zealand, docked in Port of Tauranga today.
People crowded on the base track of Mauao to catch a glimpse of the biggest ship to ever come into Tauranga Harbour were not disappointed.
With cameras at the ready there were gasps of awe as the massive ship cruised into the harbour.
Capable of carrying 9,640 TEU (20 ft container equivalents), the 347 m long vessel arrived from Chile in the first port call on Maersk Line's enhanced Triple Star service, which now offers a fast weekly connection to North Asia.
The service provides New Zealand exporters and importers with a direct service to important North Asian markets including Taiwan, China, Korea and Japan.
The Aotea Maersk's arrival is the first to take advantage of the port's recently completed $350 million investment in dredging and infrastructure to make it big ship capable.
The ship was welcomed by Transport Minister Simon Bridges, Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby, BOP Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder, and Australian High Commissioner Peter Woolcott, as well as officials from the Port of Tauranga, Maersk Lines and Kotahi.
Mr Bridges said the arrival was a historic day for transportation in NZ.
"Ships like this coming in weekly means much more efficiency per container and a lot more containers will help us to do better than the rest in continuing to deal with the tyranny of distance from global markets."
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said he was delighted the port had ended up with a bigger vessel than expected, as the dredging programme was originally intended to service 6,500 TEU vessels.
"The highlight for me is we're seeing a much larger ship than we expected, so we are probably five years ahead of when we expected that."
Mr Cairns said the infrastructure investment programme would have been impossible without the agreement by freight and logistics company Kotahi, in partnership with Maersk, to commit to 10 years of cargo across the Tauranga wharves.
Maersk Line Oceania managing director Gerard Morrison said the new ability to bring in larger vessels through Port of Tauranga was very important to the company.
"It's a culmination of a number of years work to try and get scale into a very difficult country to manage from a freight perspective," he said.
"The freight rates we are receiving are at all-time lows and so really we see our job nowadays first and foremost as being to try and match our cost base to the commercial environment we're working in. Scale really helps with that."
In addition, he noted that the new mega ship access allowed Maersk to connect NZ to a global network that was already in place, the Asia to South America service.
"It's connecting NZ directly to North Asia and back again," he said.
Kotahi chief executive David Ross said the visit was a great step in the right direction to ensure NZ achieved a secure, sustainable export supply chain.
"Seeing this vessel arrive puts into perspective what can be achieved by working in collaboration with logistics and infrastructure partners, exporters, importers and the wider industry," he said. "It recognises Maersk Line's commitment to the New Zealand market."
The Aotea Maersk:
• One of 11 vessels in the service rotation.
• Capable of holding more than double the number of containers of ships that currently dock in NZ.