The idea of an inter-island ferry link between Whanganui and Motueka appears to be gaining traction with at least one South Island trucking firm backing the concept.

The link has been promoted by Whanganui businessman Neville Johnson and is a project he has been working for the past six years.

In an earlier Wanganui Chronicle interview, Mr Johnson said his plan envisages a roll-on, roll-off ferry service from Castlecliff to Port Motueka carrying heavy trucks, campervans, cars and passengers.

A start-up fund of $50 million would be required for the project. This would cover the dredging, land reclamation, vessel leasing, infrastructure, costs of employing 20 shore staff and administration costs. He said it could also generate up to 28,000 fare-paying clients a year.


The Stuff website reported that Mr Johnson's proposal had been welcomed by at least one transport operator in Motueka.

Karl Westrupp, managing director of Westhaul Transport Services, said an the inter-island route was a substantial part of his business operation but a link between Motueka and Whanganui would shave hours off travel time between the South Island to Auckland.

Mr Westrupp said any reduction in travel time would open up significant avenues for transport operators and local industries.

"We've had a few meetings with Neville and we're 100 per cent all for it, not just from our business point of view but from a Tasman district point of view.

"It's a six hour ferry ride from Motueka to Whanganui and then six hours by truck from Whanganui to Auckland. That's 12 hours (overall) which is unheard of."

As well as the commercial benefits he said the ferry link would offer a loop for visitors to connect directly with Tasman and the West Coast, which could have a huge impact on tourism.

Newly-elected Tasman district councillor David Ogilvie said he was first made aware of the ferry proposal when Mr Johnson spoke at a Motueka Community Board meeting several months ago and said on what had been presented so far, Mr Ogilvie saw the idea as a positive addition to the town and Tasman region.

"All the information I've received is that it looks a goer, financially as well as actually," he said.

Port Motueka has a sandbar that is subject to frequent change and some work would be needed to allow larger vessels to enter. In his initial assessment Mr Johnson said Midwest ferries would provide the necessary infrastructure at both ends, including any dredging and land reclamation needed.

Mr Ogilvie believed that while there were environmental issues around that, he believed Mr Johnson had given appropriate consideration to them.

"When those issues were raised he didn't think it was a major. It was all very positive and the community board accepted it as a possibility."

Talley's Group owns the main wharf at Motueka and company director Andrew Talley confirmed that Mr Johnson had outlined the proposal to them as a potential user.

Mr Talley stressed those discussions had not involved Talley's being an investor or partner in the project but said an alternative North Island transport link from the Tasman region would be significant for the area.