The Motor Vessel Wairua has travelled through waters that it has not touched for 81 years.

The vintage riverboat negotiated 19 rapids as it travelled 50 kilometres up the Whanganui River to reach its destination, Downes Hut.

It was a journey captain Sam Mordey has been wanting to make since 2017 after the vessel handled the rapids well when he took it to Parikino in April that year.

On June 26, with no jobs booked for the following day, Mordey approached Wairua deckhand Blair Greenem and said, "Bugger it, we're off".


Mordey said it was about eight in the morning when they departed from Taupo Quay.

"We knew it would be tricky getting to Parikino. There's a lot of wood and a lot of erosion up there which causes a few navigational issues for us," Mordey said.

"We were sailing through Parikino at 11.50 and we hadn't had any issues getting through there, it was relatively straight-forward."

Despite navigating rapids while also dodging wood, the worst thing that happened during the journey was when the boat hook fell overboard.

At 2.25pm, Mordey and Greenem arrived at Downes Hut, built by Thomas William (TK) Downes whose association with the Whanganui River began in the 1900s.

Mordey said he felt a real sense of achievement.

"There's no one alive who has taken it up there before," he said.

"I've been to Downes Hut many times over the years, but to stand on the shore outside the hut and look down to see the river boat is something completely new.


"I've been doing this for 14 years, so new experiences are a bit hard to come by."

Mordey began volunteering at the Whanganui Riverboat Centre when he was 13 years old, eventually becoming a member of staff.

He later worked for Q-West boat builders before purchasing the MV Wairua from Dave McDermid in 2016 when he was 23.

The MV Wairua was built in London by Yarrow & Company in 1904 and sent to Whanganui in kitset form for A. Hatrick & Company.

The vessel launched that year, working between Pipiriki and Whakahoro, carrying passengers, mail and cargo over 80 km and 100 rapids on the Whanganui River.

In 1938, the MV Wairua was decommissioned to be used as a pontoon for other vessels, but eventually it was neglected and sank into the mud.

Up stepped McDermid with a group of other local men who salvaged the vessel, restoring it over 19 years.

The Motor Vessel Wairua relaunched in March 2006, and now offers picnic trips to Hipango Park, scheduled cruises to Upokongaro and personalised charters.

Mordey said he saw a significant increase in passengers boarding the vessel last year.

"We're probably the fastest-growing business in our part of the industry.

"We are up considerably on this time last year overall, but it's funny because the last month was quite down in numbers."

The MV Wairua will end its service for the season next month and undergo some work.

It will be waterblasted, painted and inspected before returning to the water in September.