Whanganui's iconic paddle steamer puffed itself back to life on Thursday, taking to the river in its first official journey of the 2020/21 season.
The Chronicle was on board as over 80 passengers embarked the vessel, with many proclaiming their excitement for their first voyage on New Zealand's last remaining paddle steamer.
For Rotorua's Pauline Kingston, the cruise was the activity she was most excited about when she planned a trip to Whanganui.
"It's a beautiful day, and what more could you wish for than cruising up the river with a scone and a cider," she said.
It was the cider that was the centre of attention on the cruise, with the Waimarie launching its own trio of Whanganui brewed tipples in a partnership with Roots Brewing Co.
The trio of drinks, the Riverboat Lager, Paddle Wheeler Draught and Skipper's Cider, are all made in Whanganui using mainly locally sourced ingredients.
Andrew Henshaw, owner of Roots Brewing Co, said the drinks were a fantastic project to be involved in.
"We wanted to create something local for one of our most iconic attractions. It's a local drink; almost all of the ingredients are produced here in Whanganui.
"They're looking very popular on board today too."
Manager of the PS Waimarie Phil Pollero agreed, saying he was excited to see how well the brews do in the galley.
"We've sold quite a few today, we've sold a box of cider and a few beers too."
Pollero says the new drinks add to the excitement of the season that is already looking surprisingly busy with the increase in Kiwis finding new domestic destinations with the absence of international travel.
"Typically, most of our patronage are New Zealanders anyway, around 70-75 per cent. If people are touring the country like they are already, I'm hoping our numbers are going to be comparable or even better."
On board the vessel was a tour group, led by Auckland-based Sharron Hickman of Exclusive Tours, who was halfway through an eight-day tour around the North Island.
"Whanganui is a lovely town. It's a shame and a good thing at the same time that you're not on the main route, otherwise you'd be thrashed to death with tourists."
Pollero says that he hopes tours like Hickman's continue over the summer, not only boosting patronage numbers for the Waimarie, but also injecting cash into the Whanganui economy.
"I really hope it's a ripper of a summer."
The 2019/20 season was cut short due to Covid-19, which meant the ship was packed up sitting empty for the first few weeks of lockdown. Ten days before lockdown, figures were released showing Whanganui had one of the strongest summer tourism spends on record.
"Last season just prior to lockdown, our numbers were 10 per cent higher than the previous year. We hope we can do the same this season."
The PS Aotea was first brought to Whanganui from London in 1899. Renamed the PS Waimarie in 1902, the paddle steamer operated until 1952, where an accident led to it sinking. Over 40 years later, the vessel was lifted from the riverbed in 1992, before being restored and relaunched in 2000.