Harbour ferry makes maiden voyage

The first passenger ferry on Otago Harbour in more than 60 years takes company and Dunedin I-SITE...
The first passenger ferry on Otago Harbour in more than 60 years takes company and Dunedin I-SITE staff on a harbour cruise yesterday. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
The first ferry service to operate on Otago Harbour in more than 60 years has carried its inaugural fare-paying customers from one side of the harbour to the other.

Elizabeth Jenkins, of Otakou, was skipper Rachel McGregor's first official paying customer on a crossing from Portobello to Back Beach, Port Chalmers and return, on MV Sootychaser, Ms McGregor's custom-built vessel specially designed for wildlife cruises and harbour crossings.

While in Port Chalmers, Ms Jenkins persuaded a couple of visitors to go on the ferry back to Portobello with her. After exploring the village and having a coffee, the pair returned to Port Chalmers on Sootychaser.

"So I had three fare-paying passengers on my first day of operation," the skipper said.

Before leaving Portobello to cross to Back Beach, Ms Jenkins said it was "utterly fantastic" there would be an operational ferry on the harbour again.

She expected to be a regular user of the service, which would have two crossings to and from Port Chalmers each day, between its regular wildlife tours. And she hoped other local residents would support the venture.

Earlier yesterday, Ms McGregor gave some of her new staff and two Dunedin I-SITE staff a complimentary two-hour wildlife and sight-seeing cruise around the lower harbour and Taiaroa Head.

She is familiar with the harbour and its wildlife, having worked as a wildlife guide at the albatross colony at Taiaroa Head and, for nine years, as a deckhand and skipper for wildlife cruises.

She has also worked on a variety of other commercial boats, including passenger, research, oil-spill recovery, search and rescue, dredger and work boats.

Her port-to-port cruises and wildlife tours are not being launched for another week, but she has a full day tomorrow, many locals wanting to experience a cruise or harbour crossing on Sootychaser.

She already has requests from quite a few cyclists interested in one-way crossings so they can ride down the peninsula from Dunedin, cross the harbour and return via Port Chalmers.

Once the cruise ship season is under way in October, she hopes passengers from the liners will take the opportunity to cross to Portobello by ferry and spend time there, rather than passing through on a bus.

The historic launch Elsie Evans was the last vessel to operate as a ferry on Otago Harbour, travelling regularly between Portobello and Port Chalmers until 1954.

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