Wellington Scoop

Debate continues – temporary terminal planned for big new interisland ferries

ferry terminal at Kaiwharawhara

Report from RNZ by Catherine Hutton
A new shared ferry terminal for Wellington won’t be built in time for the arrival of KiwiRail’s two new supersized boats. Instead, the Wellington Regional Council says an interim terminal will be built on the Interislander site at Kaiwharawhara.

In time, the site will be expanded to accommodate rival firm Bluebridge, but whether they will share a terminal is yet to be decided.

The megaferries, three times the size of existing interislanders, are due to arrive in the next four to five years.

But there’s disagreement about where to moor them, and nothing is yet designed.

KiwiRail wants them at Kings Wharf, nearer to central Wellington.

But the council and other harbour users say the big new Interislanders should share a site at Kaiwharawhara with its rival Bluebridge.

Regional Council chairperson Daron Ponter said a multi-use ferry terminal was more efficient, particularly in terms of things like carparking.

“If you’re taking your car as you go into the facility, you’re not making a choice between whether you go to Bluebridge or whether you go to the Interislander, you’re going to the next allocated carpark, for the next ferry and there’s no distinction made.

“So, the facilities right from the carparking, to the counter facilities in the terminal are being shared, just as they are in an airport,” he said.

Ponter says to meet KiwiRail’s timeframes and have the wharf ready for 2024 they would have had to start the design two years ago.

“The ferries can’t go anywhere else, it’s not as if they can park up at any of the existing facilities that we have. The existing facilities at Centreport just cannot cater for these ferries, so if we don’t get it right and the timings not right, they just won’t be berthing,” he said.

Ponter said because it can’t reach agreement with KiwiRail, they’re left with no option but to have an interim facility, which means Bluebridge would stay at its site on Kings Wharf until 2026.

“Doing the transition approach is likely to be more expensive than if we’d had more time and were able to put in a multi-user facility. If KiwiRail is committed to having these ferries by 2024 or 2025 then that’s no longer going to be possible, we are going to have to go to a transitory approach,” he said.

Ponter says the full costs of the project aren’t known because the detailed design hasn’t been done.

Information released by the Treasury puts KiwiRail’s costs at $925 million, that includes designing and building the new ships, its contribution to the ferry terminal infrastructure and paying for consultants and experts. It doesn’t include the likely huge cost of rerouting roads and other infrastructure.

Wellington City Councillor Nicola Young said, given the sums of money involved, it might be a good time to pause.

“KiwiRail should slow down their ferry renewal programme, push the deadline out. This is a huge investment and it’s critical for our country’s transport, freight and quality of life to have the State Highway One going across Cook Strait. We’ve got to make the right decisions and the right decisions take time,” she said.

Ponter agrees, questioning whether it’s the right time to be making bold decisions on very large ferries.

“Should we be looking for some transitory arrangement where KiwiRail purchases second hand ferries for a period and we move to a new model, over a longer period of time,” he said.

Joe Fleetwood, general secretary of the Martime Union, said his organisation supported the decision to buy bespoke ferries, which had worked well in the past.

“The old Aramoana, Arahanga, Aratika and Aranui, so if you purpose build them and pay outright, kept for their duration – maybe 15-20 years – they’ll have probably paid for themselves, maybe 10-fold,” he said.

In a statement KiwiRail says it’s still in discussions with the regional council and CentrePort about the location of the new terminal and denies that Kings Wharf is no longer an option. This despite a study by CentrePort, which has found Kaiwharawhara was the preferred site for the new terminal. This was consistent with the findings of an earlier report released in April.

Ponter says the council will apply to the government for fast-track legislation to speed up the design and building process.

City councillor Young has filed a notice of motion that the council support the building of a new multi-use ferry terminal at Kaiwharawhara. It requests Mayor Andy Foster communicate this to KiwiRail’s shareholding ministers Grant Robertson and David Clark.

The notice, which states the council’s opposition to KiwiRail’s plans for a new terminal at Kings Wharf, was signed by all 15 councillors yesterday. Councillors will vote on it at a council meeting on 16 December.


  1. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 26. November 2020, 10:50

    What a mess: new, bigger, safer ferries are long overdue but are likely to need a temporary terminal at Kaiwharawhara – which (Sod’s Law being what it is) will probably be right in the way of the eventual permanent multi-user terminal. The current Interislander terminal belongs in the last century – it hasn’t improved a hell of a lot since it was built in 1962.

    The current situation and the need for a temporary facility (which ferry users will end up paying for one way or another) is an indictment on all the parties involved. Get your collective act together, for goodness sake – this is a vital link between our main islands, for passengers and for freight.

  2. Groggy, 26. November 2020, 13:37

    “We’ve got to make the right decisions and the right decisions take time” and with WCC involved that means decades. Kiwirail are right to forge ahead or nothing will ever happen.

  3. K, 26. November 2020, 15:55

    @groggy what do you mean? Kiwirail are right to forge ahead with what? Sulking because they don’t get their preferred exclusive use terminal in the heart of the city where everyone else thinks is a terrible idea?

  4. michael, 26. November 2020, 19:13

    What makes Kiwirail think they have the right to ruin not only the harbour and the public’s ability to enjoy it, but also the entrance to the city as well.

  5. Groggy, 27. November 2020, 11:24

    @K – Kiwirail are right to forge ahead with plans to purpose-build new ferries, as this is a key freight connection between the islands. If they wait for WCC and GWRC, who have become incapable of making and sticking to a decision, it will never happen. LGWM is the ultimate example – it has achieved nothing over many years.

  6. Andrew, 27. November 2020, 14:05

    I have to agree with Chris Calvi-Freeman and Groggy, this is an important project that needs to be completed in a timely manner. That we only have one rail-capable Cook Strait ferry is an impediment to the growth of rail freight and our efforts to reduce transport related emissions. As a region, our inability to achieve timely progress on major infrastructure projects has become an embarrassment.

  7. Cr Daran Ponter, 29. November 2020, 18:19

    @Groggy, errr, GWRC is very capable of making a decision thank you very much. In fact the decision that the new ferry terminal should remain at Kaiwharawhara was formally made (unanimous decision) by GWRC on 9 April 2020.

    Thanks to Cr Nicola Young, the WCC will soon be making a similar decision.

    Every month that Kiwirail delays in getting on board with Kaiwharawhara is another month of design and build time lost for the new ferry terminal.