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

For the last six months the Ranui has been 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 launch 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.

Mr Edmonds, a former 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," he said.

He toyed with the idea of buying a boat, but didn't do anything until fellow Kohukohu resident Siobhan Hall saw a replica steam boat 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," he said.

One of their ideas had been to operate a regular ferry for cycle tourists, filling the "missing link" between Horeke, the western end of the 87km Twin Coast Cycle Trail, and unofficial cycle routes from Kohukohu to Cape Reinga.

Despite their initial disappointment, he and Ms Hall kept looking.

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

Not only well maintained and pleasing to the eye, she also had an interesting history.

Originally named El Alamein, she was built, with public donations, in 1945 for the rehabilitation of returned servicemen. After four years on Lake Rotoiti she was used for charter trips on Lake Taupō for more than 60 years. She was renamed Ranui and a cabin, and later a top deck, were added to what had been an open boat.

Mr Edmonds said she had been kept in such good condition that only a few minor adaptations were needed.

After updating the survey and some bureaucratic hoop-jumping, they began operating in October. She is licensed to carry 23 passengers and two crew, with up to 11 people on the top deck.

Originally Ms Hall and Mr Edmonds ran a regular schedule, with stops at Kohukohu, Rawene and Horeke, targeting cycle tourists in particular. However, there wasn't enough demand to fill several trips a day, so she sails in response to bookings. Dinner cruises are also planned.

"People just love it, it's hard to get them off sometimes," Mr Edmonds said, adding that the enterprise was a local service with tourist trips paying the bills.

Ms 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, buying her share.

The ebullient Mr Pinkney brims with stories of the Hokianga's rich history, and the present-day environmental threats facing the harbour.

"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," he said.

"You don't see many boats on 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 of Ranui's history, or www.ranui.nz for information about bookings.