Wellington Scoop

New site for KiwiRail’s mega-ferries challenged by harbourmaster


Report from RNZ by Catherine Hutton
KiwiRail’s plan to dock its new mega ferries in Wellington’s inner harbour has a major problem – the city is too windy. And Wellington’s harbourmaster is also warning the new site could mean recreational boaties are no longer able to use the water.

KiwiRail has committed to buying two new huge Interislander ferries which are more than 200 metres long and 30 metres wide.

A resized Wellington wharf is needed to dock them and KiwiRail wants to move closer to town, right beside competitor Bluebridge at Kings Wharf.

KiwiRail has commissioned a series of simulations of how the new wharf would work with ferry movement in the harbour.

The three ships they used were similar to, but not an exact match, to the two current Bluebridge ships and the ones KiwiRail wanted to buy.

Wellington regional harbourmaster Grant Nalder likened the simulation to a giant video game.

“They have got the port loaded in, so you’re looking at a screen and you’re looking at Wellington city. And you’re on a ship’s bridge. What the ship is depends on what you purchase and plug into the computer. So you get the manoeuvring characteristics of whatever you would like to put in there and you run exercises, ” Nalder said.

During the two-day simulation, 28 exercises were conducted – 14 had a risk score of low to moderate and eight exercises were found to have a high to very high risk.

The simulation revealed that KiwiRail’s proposed new wharf adjacent to Kings Wharf would reduce the ship’s turning area by about 200 metres.

Nalder said in Wellington’s prevailing northerly wind the ships would need to turn as far north into the inner harbour as they could before backing in. And as the wind increased, so did the likelihood of needing a tug. And tugs were not always available.

“The tugs can work any hour of the day, there’s a resourcing issue there. If they’ve got a tanker at Seaview, that’s 40 minutes for the tugs to cross the harbour, so increased tug use could lead to delays, because if a ferry needs a tug to get into a birth and the tug’s not available they need to wait,” he said.

The proposal sites a working berth on the port’s east, while on the western side will sit a lay out berth for a ferry either in maintenance or not sailing due to bad weather.

But the report found that separation between the two ships is at one point only 50 metres.

The fear, outlined in KiwiRail’s own report, is that in a strong southerly wind this gap could soon be lost, resulting in a possible collision.

“When Strait Shipping are backing in they are to the west of the new wharf and if the ship is there, if there are any problems, wind, mechanical etc, you’ve got the potential of making contact with a KiwiRail ship,” Nalder said.

As the harbourmaster, he is responsible for the safety of everyone – from paddle boarders right up to cruise ships and tankers.

At the moment in the inner harbour, Bluebridge operates four arrivals and departures each day, successfully avoiding recreational harbour users. With the Interislander using the same space, that figure jumped to at least eight, and Nalder saw the possibility of queues forming.

“I’m sure the companies would work to stagger their timetables, but they don’t always run to timetable, you get delay, you get other issues. So, potentially for quite a large part of the day there will be a large ship moving in Lambton harbour,” he said.

The end of recreation in the inner harbour?

Port Nicholson Yacht Club commodore Pedro Morgan said it would end racing in the inner harbour and others were affected.

“The harbourmaster has made it clear that KiwiRail’s plan will end the recreational use of Lambton Harbour. This will be the end of sailing, rowing, ocean swimming and waka ama, in the central city,” he said.

Even Wellington’s annual fireworks display would be at risk under KiwiRail’s plan. “KiwiRail needs to know that Wellingtonians won’t accept that,” he said.

Morgan said he would like some of the capital’s MPs, including Grant Robertson, to speak out against people losing access to the harbour.

Proposal feasible – KiwiRail

In a statement, KiwiRail said the simulation showed the proposal was feasible and the risks appeared manageable. It pointed to Picton where the Cook Strait ferry berths worked adjacent to a large marina.

“In the busy summer high season, Interislander and Bluebridge are safely running extra services in and out of Picton several times a day when recreational craft are also at a peak. Subject to the right harbour management controls being in place, we can operate safely and successfully in Wellington too,” it said in a statement.

And it said the fireworks took place further out in the main harbour, not adjacent to the Kings Wharf area. KiwiRail said it would work with the port, regional council, harbourmaster and others to undertake more detailed work.


  1. K, 28. October 2020, 16:22

    There is an obvious solution to this which would also remove cross town traffic from central Wellington and also protect the city long term from the impact of sea level rise. It’s expensive, but would kill 3 birds with one stone.

  2. Dave B, 28. October 2020, 17:56

    “An industrial area right in the heart of the city”?, “The end of recreation in the inner harbour?”, “The end of sailing, rowing, ocean swimming and waka ama in the central city”?, “Wellington’s annual fireworks display at risk”?, . . .

    Scaremongering much! The Picton ferry terminal manages to co-exist with all these activities.

  3. Mike Mellor, 28. October 2020, 20:11

    Dave B: the Bluebridge ferry coexists with these activities, but not the Interislander. The new ferries will be twice the size of the current Interislanders, and with both ferry services in the inner harbour there will be at least twice the number of movements that there are now, with at least half of them being at least twice the size (and therefore much more susceptible to wind).

    I don’t know whether this will have the full effects described, but it will be a different ball game.

  4. Kevin Anderson, 29. October 2020, 9:43

    What is the situation if the ferries had extra powerful thrusters? If the thrusters are powerful enough could you override the wind when berthing?

  5. K, 29. October 2020, 11:03

    @Kevin Anderson: thrusters are no match for gale force winds from the south or north directly against the large flat sides of a ferry, especially the much larger ones being proposed – tugboats would be essential (and actually are fairly expensive to the ferry company when used each time to berth – at least they were when I worked for one of these companies).

  6. Keith Flinders, 29. October 2020, 11:27

    Thinking laterally in respect of the inner city location, why can’t the new KiwiRail berthing facilities be at right angles to that proposed. That is parallel with the south side of the container storage area. Granted such a location would not be as efficient land use wise when it comes to getting wagons, cars and trucks on/off.

    If parallel then the recreational use of that section of the inner harbour would be much less impacted. The reclaimed land in that area is only useful for storage use and transit use as we have seen in recent years.

  7. Mike Mellor, 29. October 2020, 12:56

    An inner-city location is clearly much better for passengers without vehicles (as the current Bluebridge terminal demonstrates), so if the new terminal is at Kaiwharawhara provision for foot passengers needs to be much better than now.

    There have been proposals to provide a link from the terminals to a station on the railway line, and that should be looked at seriously.

  8. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 29. October 2020, 13:06

    One word answer Keith: wind.

  9. Joe Worker, 29. October 2020, 14:13

    Has consideration been given to the hundreds of trucks and thousands of cars that would have to go to the new interislander site. There’s little room now. What of the rail freight – how will that get to the proposed new site; and the ferry shunting yard – again there’s very little space. Clogging one of the main routes into Wellington seems the worst thing to do. But I’d be happy to hear thoughts on where they expect to park all the trucks, trains, cars and campers.

  10. Keith Flinders, 29. October 2020, 19:27

    Chris: Observing the Bluebridge they only seen to get into strife in high winds after they turn towards the old overseas passenger terminal in readiness to reverse into the berth. Running parallel with the south side of the container storage area seems not to be an issue, but then I have never taken the helm of anything larger than a trailer sail boat.

  11. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 29. October 2020, 22:27

    Yes Joe, it’s madness! If all ferries used a new terminal at the Kaiwharawhara site, rail sidings are already available, and a new interchange could be built above the urban motorway, serving both the terminal and providing improved access to Ngaio Gorge, taking pressure off the existing traffic-lights controlled intersection at Ngauranga.

  12. Marty, 29. October 2020, 22:40

    Move the ferry to Mana. Faster and more comfortable cruise to the northern entrance of the Sounds. This would also mitigate earthquake associated risks to interisland traffic. Time to think ahead and big.

  13. Joe Worker, 30. October 2020, 6:44

    One problem with that Marty. The bar at the entrance to the inlet. No way could you get get ships in through there and dredging is not an option. Too narrow as well. There is or was a plan to put all the ferries at the current interislander site and develop it. It also has the space to expand. Again. Kiwirail’s idea of putting a terminal opposite their head office doesn’t deal with the rail freight, freight trucks, campers, and cars leaving and arriving every day. Simply not enough room. Are they going to have a crossing for rail freight across Aotea Quay? There’s another agenda here at play because the proposed terminal isn’t big enough to deal with the volumes. It doesn’t stack up. It’s smaller than the one they currently use. Anti competitive?


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