‘Monarch’ vessel changes hands

Outgoing owner of Monarch Wildlife Cruises and Tours Neil Harraway (centre) with new owners Ike ...
Outgoing owner of Monarch Wildlife Cruises and Tours Neil Harraway (centre) with new owners Ike (left) and Jerad Haldan, of the Otago Peninsula Eco Restoration Alliance. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A pair of American conservationists are stepping up to man the helm of a more-than-70-year-old Dunedin tourist vessel.

Monarch Wildlife Cruises and Tours, which has offered guided tours of Otago Harbour for nearly 40 years, has been bought by Jerad and Ike Haldan — a United States couple who also own the Otago Peninsula Eco Restoration Alliance (Opera), a private ecological reserve near Harington Point.

Outgoing owner Neil Harraway said he bought the now 72-year-old 17m-long MV Monarch in 2013, and 11 years was a "pretty good innings" to have been at the helm.

He had planned to sell the tourist attraction before he turned 70, but this was put on hold once the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

When the opportunity arose to pass the Monarch on to the Haldans, he was really happy as they had already worked closely together to transport tourists to the Opera reserve, Mr Harraway said.

"I will miss it; I will miss being out there — but, hey, I can get out there on my own."

Opera director and co-owner Jerad Haldan said Monarch was iconic.

"The boat is in great condition and as long as you love and care for a wooden vessel, it will last forever.

"It’s a core institution in itself and just deserves to continue travelling the harbour and allowing people to experience the wildlife out there," he said.

Monarch was their No 1 customer, bringing about 5000 people to the Opera each year, Mr Haldan said.

Owning Monarch meant it could be protected and continue to run as an eco-tourism-focused business in Dunedin. And it had the potential to expand opportunities to experience the entire Otago Peninsula, he said.

Mr Harraway said an average of 20,000 people a year boarded Monarch, with the harbour tours dating back to the mid-1980s.

Back when he was the one buying the vessel, he had tried to keep its original feel and imagined any changes Opera may make to the vessel or its route would be an "evolution rather than revolution of any kind", he said.

Manning Monarch had let him observe others’ excitement of seeing New Zealand wildlife for the first time, Mr Harraway said.

It was an honour to be able to share Otago’s wildlife with such a wide variety of people.

"From everyday tourists to real expert enthusiasts, there’s been something for everyone," he said.

"It is very cool to be able to show them a little touch of the subantarctic."