The MV Sootychaser ready to go in its Nelson shipyard.
The weekend of 22-23 September will find Otago Harbour full of celebration as scheduled ferry service returns between Portobello and Port Chalmers. Skipper Rachel McGregor of Sawyers Bay will be launching a new harbour ferry and scenic cruise service, Port To Port Cruises and Wildlife Tours, that will be running twice-daily ferry crossings as well as scenic cruises from September to March, with a special slate of activities planned for the inaugural weekend.
McGregor, a veteran of both the wildlife cruise business and commercial maritime vessels, is starting the new venture to bring together her passions for skippering boats and showing people the wonderful sights the Harbour has on offer. While she enjoys the commercial work she’s been doing, she notes,”Personal skills go to waste on a dredge. It doesn’t care if you’re friendly or not.”
McGregor’s beautiful new metallic purple-blue ferry, christened the MV Sootychaser, was custom built to her specifications and made its way down the South Island this week from the Nelson shipyard (Osprey Boats) where it was built. The craft is designed with a wide beam for stability and comfort and both inside (heated) and outside seating areas for excellent views and comfort. The vessel is expected to be able to carry 24 passengers for ferry crossings, or 14 for scenic harbour cruises.
Skipper Rachel McGregor with the team of shipwrights that built her new ferry.
McGregor is renovating the original ferry ticket shed next to the Portobello jetty as Port To Port’s base of operations on land. Tickets can be purchased in person or booked online (preferable) on the Port To Port Cruises and Wildlife Tours web site. Harbour residents should be on the lookout for half-price cruise and ferry crossing offers for locals during service’s first month starting 13 September, and McGregor hopes to soon add a ten-trip discount card to the mix. Interested passengers should ring 020 416 24250 to confirm dates for these discounted trips.
While she’s excited about showing the sights to thousands of tourists expected this season, she seems even more enthusiastic about getting Dunedin residents out on the Harbour. “Every time I take locals out, they’re amazed at what we have right here. There are ship graveyards that are visible right in the water, and shipwrecks on either side of the mouth of the harbour. Many people don’t know that they are there.”
In the meantime, the launch weekend is expected to be fun for all ages, with day passes available on Saturday 22 September for trips between Portobello, Carey’s Bay, and Quarantine Island Kamau Taurua, with family friendly entertainment at each destination. On Sunday 23 September, half-price discounts will be available for guided harbour cruises. From then until 31 March, there will be two ferry crossings daily (at 12:45-12:55 and 3:15-3:25) as well as multiple harbour cruises. Visit portotoport.co.nz for timetables, prices and other details.