After three years' effort, Whanganui Conservation Department rangers hope to be using a big, powerful metal boat to shift loads on the river this spring.

The barge Rawhiti, usually based at Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands, was in Whanganui for a while last September. It was surveyed and trials were done, but then the river level dropped too low for it.

It arrived again in early August and was welcomed to the Whanganui River by Pipiriki kaumātua Bobby Gray, on August 5. Then it was towed to Whanganui for electrical servicing.

It should be back at Pipiriki for trials - weather permitting - on August 13.

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The Conservation Department (DOC) vessel is used in the Bay of Islands during its busy summer season. On the Whanganui River it will be used to prepare riverside Whanganui National Park campsites for our busy summer season, DOC senior ranger Jim Campbell said.

It's big enough to carry a small digger, then ease up onto the riverbank and let down a flap so the digger can drive ashore.

Powered by two big 115 horsepower Yamaha motors it will be fast enough to plane along the water surface. It will carry bulky and awkward loads like fadges of gravel and motorised wheelbarrows - work normally done by helicopters and jetboats.

Ranger Shane Woolley will be the barge skipper on the Whanganui. Photo / Bevan Conley
Ranger Shane Woolley will be the barge skipper on the Whanganui. Photo / Bevan Conley

A water depth of 1.5m at the Pipiriki Wharf is enough for it to operate within the park, skipper Shane Woolley said.

He usually drives jetboats. He'll have a deckhand aboard Rawhiti with him, and a jetboat nearby to ensure safety.

Campbell and Woolley are excited at the opportunity to use the barge this year. They have paperwork and more training to do, but the end is nearly in sight.

"We are quite confident that it's going to do the job for us, but we have to prove that to our superiors and make sure that it's safe," Campbell said.

"We've been working toward this for three years, to get to this space to actually trial it."

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