Port Nelson and Interislander have had preliminary discussions about docking ferries in Nelson. Photo: Brittany Spencer

Ferry to Nelson?

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A Wellington to Nelson Interislander ferry route is being explored as a “plan B” after the Kaikoura earthquake caused damage to its Picton base earlier this month.

Port Nelson infrastructure manager Matt McDonald says they have held preliminary discussions with Interislander about docking ferries at Port Nelson, but stressed that it was a back-up.

“We’ve had queries from the Interislanders but it’s very much a plan B. They’re just putting a contingency plan in place in case there was damage at the Picton end that would mean they couldn’t berth there.”

On its website, Interislander says damage to its Aratere berth in Picton means it will be unable to operate that ship until at least this Sunday.

Matt says there are some very serious constraints at Port Nelson for a ferry service.

“We’re working with them to do what we can in the short term but if it was going to be a long term change then yeah, that would have major ramifications for the rest of our operation. It’s not just as simple as setting them up and putting a ship on the side of the port.”

After the earthquake Nelson mayor Rachel Reese asked her deputy mayor Paul Matheson to investigate if Nelson could host the ferries. He says he’s investigations didn’t lead far.

“Port Nelson were right onto it so I’ve just left them to it. But certainly the council would be supportive under the circumstances.”

He says whether the ferries come to Nelson or not, the region is in for a huge summer.

“We’re expecting some pretty heavy tourism figures. But we don’t know how many or where they’ll go. But they can’t go the traditional route from Picton to Christchurch, so where do they go? Here. And I don’t know if we’re ready for it – last year was big enough.”

Paul says freedom campers in Montgomery car park led to complaints from nearby businesses but this year could be worse.

“We’re standing here saying to ourselves ‘what do we do?’”

He says the council will need to be open to allowing freedom campers on city-owned land if there is a big influx of visitors this summer.

“We can probably move faster than most [in opening up areas for freedom campers] and if we find 500 in Montgomery we’ll have to find somewhere for them – fast.”