There were claps and cheers and great huffings of steam as Whanganui's Waimarie paddlesteamer was hauled ashore for its five-yearly marine survey on Saturday morning.

People lined Dublin St Bridge and both sides of the river as the operation began with a karanga from Mariana Waitai and toots from the paddlesteamer and traction engines.

Project co-ordinator Richard Sheppard said there had been lots of preparation but the big moment was all over in less than ten minutes and all powered by steam.

"Nobody else in this country could pull off a trick like that."

Steve McClune and Ian Chamberlain (centre) are intent on hauling the PS Waimarie out of the Whanganui River.
Steve McClune and Ian Chamberlain (centre) are intent on hauling the PS Waimarie out of the Whanganui River.

Work began early on Saturday, with a rehearsal at 7am. The Waimarie was towed upstream to Dublin St Bridge by Whanganui's Coastguard vessel, with two others in place to help it turn. The tide was right, the river was in a slight flood and the sandbank left behind there by last year's flood had been washed away.

The boats manoeuvered the Waimarie into position on its cradle. It was chained in place, before being hauled out of the water by two traction engines from Feilding. A third traction engine was on hand but unneeded.

"They were only operating on quarter power. It was magnificent old world technology," Mr Sheppard said.

He could have asked the army for tank recovery vehicles to do the hauling, but decided traction engines would provide more "spectacle".

Underneath all that spectacle was very thorough preparation, with a practise run last week. About $30,000 had been spent on testing, surveying, soil compaction and civil engineer expertise.

The $1.5 million, 70-tonne paddlesteamer will now have a thorough inspection for loose rivets and damaged plates. She will be water blasted, sand blasted and have her hull painted, and be given a new operating certificate.

All that will hopefully be done in three weeks, to get her back on the water for the tourist season.

The total cost of the survey could be as high as $250,000, Mr Sheppard said. The main sponsors are the Powerco Wanganui Trust, Lion Foundation and First Sovereign Trust.

But Mr Sheppard said everyone asked for help has been "magnificent" in giving their time and expertise - especially Loader I.D. Ltd and Emmetts Civil Construction & Crane Services.

What will happen to the site after the survey is finished has yet to be decided. Horizons Regional Council and iwi required it to be returned to its previous state, with silt replaced.

The six concrete slabs under the slipway will definitely have to be removed, because they could wash away in a flood. But Mr Sheppard said leaving some kind of slipway for canoes, kayaks and waka ama is a possibility.

After two and a half years he's no longer the chairman of the Whanganui Riverboat Restoration and Navigation Trust, but intends to stay involved as a volunteer. He sees a good future for the boat as a tourist attraction, with enquiries coming in from Australia and the United Kingdom.

Its biggest difficulty is keeping enough volunteers available for seven-day operation and charters, he said.