A kauri launch with a long history is bringing the era of water transport back to the Hokianga Harbour.

Since October the Ranui has been plying the Hokianga's waters, shuttling cycle tourists across the harbour, offering sunset cruises, hosting floating parties and even standing in for the car ferry when it broke down earlier this year.

The 10-metre vessel is owned by Kohukohu residents Dimitri Edmonds and Craig Pinkney, who operate it both as a tourism venture and as a service for Hokianga locals.

Edmonds, an ex-fisherman, musician and B&B owner, had long lamented the absence of boats on what was once one of the country's busiest harbours.

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"You could go a month or two without seeing a boat on the water. The Hokianga was home to the first boat building yard in New Zealand and it seemed sad that the harbour just wasn't being used any more."

Watch Craig Pinkney talk about Ranui's history:

Co-owner Craig Pinkney talks about the history of Ranui, a kauri launch built for old soldiers in 1945 and now plying the waters of the Hokianga.

Edmonds toyed with the idea of buying a boat but didn't do anything about it until Siobhan Hall, another Kohukohu resident, saw a replica steamboat for sale and asked if he was keen to go halves.

"We fell in love with her and put down a deposit, but when we pulled her out of the water we found she had rot," Edmonds said.

One of their ideas was to operate a regular ferry for cycle tourists. A boat could provide the "missing link" between Horeke, end point of the 87km Twin Coast Cycle Trail, and unofficial cycle routes from Kohukohu to Cape Reinga.

Despite the initial disappointment Hall and Edmonds kept looking.

"We looked at several more boats but we were pretty ambivalent about them, until we spotted Ranui for sale in Tauranga on TradeMe."

Now based at Kohukohu in North Hokianga, Ranui was originally built for servicemen returning from World War II. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Now based at Kohukohu in North Hokianga, Ranui was originally built for servicemen returning from World War II. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Ranui was not only well maintained and pleasing to the eye, it also had an interesting history. Originally named El Alamein it was built with public donations in 1945 for the rehabilitation of returned servicemen.

After four years on Lake Rotoiti, near Rotorua, it was used for charter trips on Lake Taupo for more than 60 years. It was renamed Ranui and a cabin, and later a top deck, was added to what had been an open boat.

Edmonds said the boat had been kept in such good condition only a few minor changes were needed. After updating the survey and some bureaucratic hoop-jumping they started operating in October.

Craig Pinkney and Siobhan Hall enjoy the view from Ranui's top deck. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Craig Pinkney and Siobhan Hall enjoy the view from Ranui's top deck. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The boat is licensed to carry 23 passengers and two crew with up to 11 people on the top deck.

Originally Hall and Edmonds ran a regular schedule with stops in Kohukohu, Rawene and Horeke, targeting cycle tourists in particular.

However, they found there wasn't enough demand to fill several trips a day, so it now sails whenever it's booked. As well as excursions and cycle transport they offer sunset cruises, floating birthday parties and all manner of charter trips. Dinner cruises are also planned.
"People just love it, it's hard to get them off sometimes," Edmonds said.

Both see it as a local service with tourist trips paying the bills.

The 10m kauri launch Ranui is now a regular sight plying the Hokianga Harbour. Photo / Peter de Graaf
The 10m kauri launch Ranui is now a regular sight plying the Hokianga Harbour. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Hokianga residents were eager to tell the Advocate that the Ranui shuttled passengers between Rawene and Kohukohu — including a group of stranded cyclists — when the car ferry broke down in March. It sprang into action within an hour, a full day before the official back-up vessel.

Hall has since had to pull out of the venture but she is still involved, often as a volunteer deckhand.

Another Kohukohu resident, flounder fisherman and raconteur Craig Pinkney, bought her share.

The ebullient Pinkney is brimming with stories of the Hokianga's rich history but also the present-day environmental threats facing the harbour.

Ranui co-owner Craig Pinkney at the wheel. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Ranui co-owner Craig Pinkney at the wheel. Photo / Peter de Graaf

"The boat's special because it really brings the Hokianga together. We have a lot to do with Horeke and Rawene and we get a lot of local families who haven't been on the water in years. Just getting people on the harbour has been really magic," Pinkney said.

"You don't see many boats in the harbour now, which is a real shame. This was a highway with about 2000 boats by all accounts. It's nice to be able to bring back an old era, and that's what people love."

■ Go to waitematawoodys.com/2015/08/03/el-alamein-ranui for more history of the Ranui; visit ranui.nz for information about bookings.