While the rest of Whanganui waits for the port redevelopment to proceed, one business is tracking upwards as it ships around New Zealand from its base at the port.

Doug Smith runs Coastal Bulk Shipping, a company he and a "family" of relatives and friends have owned since 2010.

The company owns and operates the MV Anatoki, a small Whanganui-based vessel that moves bulk cargo between ports around New Zealand.

Mr Smith says the business is growing and there is significant potential for further growth.

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"For the calendar year to the end of December we moved slightly over 20,000 tons of cargo.

"We picked up some business as a result of the Kaikoura earthquake [which took out road and rail links] but we have continued to build on that cargo. For the first three months of this year we have done over 7000 tons of cargo and that's with the South Island's road and rail back in full swing.

"We're working on some significant potential growth and working to develop the cargo."

The Anatoki primarily brings grain up from the South Island, transports dolomite from Golden Bay and takes urea from Kapuni to various South Island ports. It also transports about 100,000 posts per year to Marlborough vineyards.

"The main change has been the northbound grain and dolomite is starting to build again," Mr Smith said.

"Dolomite will be coming through as chip and be processed for aerial spreading. These are niche markets that we are trying to continue to develop.

"River ports were the mainstay of ports in New Zealand 100 years ago but now Whanganui is the only river port currently operating. Its history is significant as far as maritime people in New Zealand are concerned.

"I'm sure west coast ports will start moving forward in the not-too-distant future and hope we will be part of that."

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The planned redevelopment of the port should have little impact on Coastal Bulk Shipping.

"The [Whanganui District] Council needs some credit - most councils in New Zealand wouldn't have spent the money they did on the port," Mr Smith said.

"Some of the smaller towns with ports have walked away from them. The council has enabled us to have some faith in the ongoing viability of the port and develop our cargo around that."

Reactivating the rail line at the port would make sense and would significantly reduce the impact of road transport to move cargo but was not currently likely to happen, Mr Smith said.

MV Anatoki
MV Anatoki is a "handy little ship" which has its own following on Facebook and always attracts onlookers when it comes in and out over the Whanganui bar.

It is 51m long and can carry 800 tons of heavy bulk cargo - the equivalent of about 26 truck and trailer units. The 7000 tons of cargo moved so far this year equates to 233 truck and trailer loads.

The Anatoki is the only small coastal ship left in New Zealand and is able to negotiate shallow harbours such as Whanganui.

The ship is currently transporting dolomite from Bluff to Napier. It will then take fertiliser to Timaru and return with a load of barley.