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Tauranga-Mount Maunganui ferry service by Max Avery
"For Archives, Ferry File - July 1997"
A typed filed within the AV Project, "With their Lifetime"
Ferry Trip to Mount (Photo 04-432)
In a sense, the ferry service between Tauranga and Mount Maunganui has now turned the full circle, for the present ferryman, Norrie Mackenzie, is a great-nephew of Charles Millar, who ran a ferry service between the two centres in the summer of 1906-1907, and for three successive summers.
Mr Millar was proud to advertise that his oil launch Amy, with a speed of eight knots, was licensed by H. M’s Customs to carry 30 passengers. Specially built for fishing and picnic excursions around Tauranga, she would run during the 1906 summer season to the Mount every Thursday afternoon, also Sunday afternoons, except the second of the month, when she would make a trip around Motuhoa Island. Parties camping at the Mount would be carried by special arrangement.
Charles Millar’s was probably the first, albeit seasonal, scheduled ferry service offered between Tauranga and Mount Maunganui. It preceded the establishment of the long-running Faulkner Brothers ferry service on the same route by three years.
Norrie Mackenzie decided to follow in the wake of his great-uncle Charles just 83 years later. In December 1989, he located the launch Reremoana on the Waikato River, bought her, brought her to Tauranga, refurbished her and put her on the Tauranga-Mount Maunganui ferry run. There were a number of coincidences in that action. The Reremoana had previously been a ferry in Faulkner Brothers’ fleet, and, like his great-uncle Charles, he planned to run the service just over the summer season.
In his first season, Norrie Mackenzie ran an hourly service which extended through to early March 1990, with Andre Jansen and Cedric Brown as ferry masters. The hourly service proved too difficult to maintain, however, and successive summer services until 1995 with the Reremoana were to a two-hourly timetable. She was sold in March that year to Turtle Charters in the Bay of Islands.
“By then, because the Reremoana had only a 44-passenger capacity, I was being forced to charge $6 for a one-way ticket to make her pay, and that was really too high a price,” said Norrie.
So he put a larger craft, The Spirit, on the run for the 1995-1996 season, and managed to bring the one-way fare back to $3 and stay in business. “And that,” said Norrie Mackenzie, “is as low a fare, in terms of real value, as has ever been charged for the harbour crossing.”
The Spirit, 44ft long, 16ft in beam, was built by John Oliver in Tauranga in 1975 and ran first on Lake Rotoiti as the Rotoiti II, and then on the Waikato River as the Spirit of Waikato. Norrie Mackenzie bought her in 1991 and used her as a charter boat on the Tauranga harbour, where she is licensed to carry 80 passengers”.
Last year he re-powered The Spirit with twin 130 horsepower six-cylinder Ford diesels, driving Hamilton jet units, and - another coincidence - brought her cruising speed up to the eight knots that his great-uncle Charles claimed for his oil-engined Alma!
Norrie Mackenzie plans to continue the service next summer from his pontoon on the Edgewater-enhanced Strand waterfront, still charging the $3 fare, running two-hourly service seven days a week. In doing so he is carrying on a service began as long ago as 1866, when the November 24 issue of the Tauranga “Argus” recorded William Jones, waterman, offering boats at hand, day or night.
But it was probably not until John Daniel Faulkner advertised in ‘The Bay of Plenty Times” on December 17, 1909, that his oil launch Spindrift would run a regular service to Mount Maunganui, twice a day, beginning the very next day, December 18, that there was a continuous scheduled ferry service across the harbour.
It seems likely that Mr Faulkner carried the service on through the winter of 1 910, for the next year he found it necessary to commission the construction of a much larger purpose-built ferry, the 43-passenger Farina. The construction of a railway works camp at Mount Maunganui at that time, for the Waihi-Taneatua line, set the seal of success on the Faulkner ferry enterprise. The steam ferry Ruru (90 passengers) was purchased in 1917 and she later helped cope with trade generated by the building in 1924 of the Armstrong-Whitworth works camp, also at Mount Maunganui.
Seasonal summer demands steadily increased, and during World War Two Faulkner’s ferries provided the main link between the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Central Flying School at the Tauranga aerodrome and the township across the water. Later, when regular air services were established, passengers went from Tauranga to the aerodrome by a ferry/taxi combination. The Reremoana, Shamrock Leaf and Waitere were added to the fleet during this period.
The mainstays of the service were two of John Daniel Faulkner’s sons, Robert (always known as Barley) and George, and Barley’s son Charlie. George was the more colourful of the two partners, and his language was inclined to be forceful at times.
Once, when George was berthing what was then called “the church boat” alongside Salisbury wharf at Mount Maunganui on a blustery winter’s Sunday evening to take worshippers to service in Tauranga, the ferry was slammed alongside by a wave, so hard that the launch railing was shattered. George came to the wheelhouse door, saw the splintered wood, and gave vent to his feelings with an awe-inspiring string of oaths in which he scarcely repeated himself for several minutes.
Whether it was the rough water or the rough language which was too much for the worshippers is not clear, but when the ferry skipper looked up, they had all melted away into the wintry night.
It was George Faulkner who told the author, during an interview in 1 966, that during the days when there was no liquor license at the Mount, and up to 250 cartons of beer were ferried in one crossing, “You would see more fight in 10 minutes then, than you would in 20 years today.”
When Mount Maunganui began to develop after the war, Faulkner Brothers bought and converted a Royal New Zealand Navy 72ft harbour defence motor launch, renaming her Aotearoa. This ferry, with her 137- passenger capacity, carried the bulk of a steadily-growing commuter trade from 1949.
The opening of the Maungatapu-Matapihi causeways and bridge on May 1, 1959, sounded the death knell for the ferry service. The new link cut the road distance between Tauranga and Mount Maunganui by more than half. Passenger traffic fell off considerably. The Farina had already been sold, and in 1 965 the Aotearoa went to new Auckland owners. Ironically, Faulkner Brothers had in a sense contributed to their own demise by hauling barge-loads of concrete piles for the project.
So, the fleet, along with trade, had diminished considerably when the ferry service was bought by Mr Leo Dromgool’s North Shore Ferries Ltd. in 1969. Custom picked up in the late 1970s, justifying the addition of the Miss Russell to the fleet in 1978, but not long after that another decline set in. One by one the ferries were sold, first Shamrock Leaf, then Miss Russell, then Reremoana and Waitere.
Reginald Biggs, a Dromgool ferry skipper, and his wife Diana bought the service from the Dromgool company in 1986, renaming it Tauranga-Mount Ferries Ltd., and carried on with a former Auckland “blue- boat”, the Olive Rose. Less than two years later, in July 1988, the Biggs announced the closing of the ferry service on the 29th of that month. The Tauranga Harbour bridge had opened in March that year, and Mr Biggs observed that it was so efficient, his service was carrying only 20 passengers a day.
But there was a break of only two days.
Harbour Transport Ltd., a long-established Tauranga company, began a twice-daily ferry service on August 1, 1988. Manager John McGill announced that the service would continue at least until Easter, 1989 - which it did, using the ferry, Miss Ida. The company then faded from the scene, and a few months later Norrie Mackenzie picked up the ball and is still running with it: “I think there will always be a place for a seasonal ferry service,” he says. “People like a harbour cruise. They like to look at the land from the water, to get a different perspective.”
Faulkner's ferry leaving Salisbury Wharf in Pilot Bay c. 1950 (Photo 99-024)