Thu. Dec 2nd, 2021

Fishing and Outdoors

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Cover story: Ranui on Hokianga

5 min read

Ranui at its home berth of Kohukohu

The Hokianga Harbour in the Far North can get passed over by travellers opting for the glitzier Bay of Islands and Doubtless Bay regions an hour or so up the road, but for those who want to see beautiful water vistas and countryside at a more sedate pace without the crowds and traffic madness, then a boat tour on the historical Ranui may just be the way to go.

Built in Auckland by Mac McGeady (Supreme Craft) as an open boat with a small cabin and forward bunkroom, the originally christened El Alamein was launched in 1945 for use by WWII returned servicemen who were rehabilitating in Rotorua Convalescent Hospital.

Having a shallow draft and with seating for up to 40 people, the 32’ vessel (10’ 6” beam) had been purpose-built and donated by the Patriotic Fund of the Joint Council of the Red Cross and St John, specifically for use on Lake Rotoiti.

Sold into private ownership in 1949 and re-named Ranui sometime around then, the vessel was fitted with a full cabin in 1951 and marine surveyed to allow for the carriage of paying passengers.

Aside from a stint as a private vessel, Ranui was to ply her trade commercially on Lake Taupo for many years before being purchased in 2016 by two Kohukohu locals, who had been searching for a suitable vessel to put into service on the Hokianga Harbour.

“My friend Dimitri [Edmonds] and I simultaneously came up with the idea to have a passenger boat that could show off the Hokianga Harbour and its upper reaches to tourists and piggyback on the rising popularity of the Kaikohe/Okaihau/Horeke section of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, where riders either return up the trail to the start or can explore the other side of the harbour from Kohukohu onwards,” says Siobhan Hall.

Despite the Hokianga Harbour being the ‘main highway’ for transportation of goods, people, and produce in years gone by, at the time of Ranui’s purchase, there were no commercial passenger boats working the harbour. Connecting cycle trail riders with accommodation providers in Kohukohu and running tourist and charter tours seemed like a viable option.

“Dimitri and I looked at a number of boats around the North Island, with some needing a lot of work to meet survey standards and others needing work just to stay afloat,” says Siobhan.

After an extensive search, the Ranui was found semi-retired docked in Tauranga and, fortunately, was still owned by a commercial operator, which meant the vessel was still in survey and able to be put to work with the new owners once some refurbishment and the relevant red tape had been taken care of.

With Ranui being certified to carry out taxi services and sightseeing tours with a maximum of 23 passengers, along with an upper viewing deck refurbished with new furniture, Dimitri and Siobhan worked the business known as Ranui on Hokianga Ltd through until October 2018.

At this point, commercial fisherman and local identity Craig Pinkney purchased Siobhan’s business share, followed a short time after by Kohukohu-based building company owner Brian Crooks, who brought Dimitri’s share.

“For us, it was never about running the business, but establishing (by doing) a venture that would help provide work in our small community and which could be eventually operated by experienced businesspeople who could promote the service and region,” says Siobhan.

With Craig and Brian firmly at the helm, so to speak, the next step was preparing for the future. For this, the directors appointed Viv McGowan to oversee the set-up of systems and processes to support the day-to-day running of the business.

In the space of a year, Ranui on Hokianga had transitioned from its humble beginnings, with the installation of robust admin processes, a sophisticated booking system (Rezdy), refurbishment of the website, and greater social media presence. 

“We have established tourism representation across NZ Tourism physical and electronic sites and developed strong business relationships with other local providers to supply packages to attract visitors,” says Viv.

“Our greatest growth has been in cycle transport through our connection with the Twin Coast Cycle Trails agencies, in particular Northland Experiences.”

All of the initiatives, along with Dimitri as a stand-in skipper and Siobhan crewing when available, have quickly helped make Ranui a well-known and popular attraction on the Hokianga Harbour.

“For Brian and me, we wanted to build on what had been established and provide some runs, which connected people not only to the harbour but also to the settlements and more well-known areas such as Rawene, Opononi, and Ōmāpere,” says Craig.

The Hokianga region has numerous water- and land-based activities for visitors

The business now runs a number of different excursions, ranging from a harbour tour that stops off for a bite of lunch, historical tours, environmental tours, or straight out chartering of the boat, taking guests on a cruise or to a destination of their choice. Also, during the summer months, those with a slice of romance in their heart may opt to see the big orange orb drop below the horizon on a sunset cruise.

Historical tours have been a popular fixture, and with Craig’s family commercially fishing on the harbour for more than 50 years, there’s a lot of information he’s happy to share with those willing to listen.

“Outside the Bay of Islands, the Hokianga has some of New Zealand’s oldest European history, evident in a lot of colonial architecture and places such as the ex-shipbuilding works in Horeke, which was established in 1826 and was probably New Zealand’s first corporate company,” Craig says.

The largest ship built at Horeke was the 400-tonne Sir George Murray in 1830 and not too far along the road is the harbourside Māngungu Mission Station, where unknown to many, the largest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi took place. It was here in front of 3000 visitors, more than 70 chiefs added their assent to the document. Imagine the sight of all those wakas berthed along the beachfront, which nods to the power and influence the region once had.

Going along with Craig’s in-depth knowledge of the area is his passion for the environment and to hear him speak about reclamation of tidal mudflats, changes in harbour water levels through to fishing catches can be a fascinating experience.

“I’m a passionate environmentalist, so on appropriate cruises, I like to show people not only the current state of the harbour but also to discuss changes that have taken place in the past and how some activities today may affect the Hokianga Harbour of the future,” Craig says.

“Our aim is to provide a service that enhances the local area and community through entertaining and educational cruises along with the goodwill Hokianga is known for.”

It took vision and a considerable amount of searching, but it looks like Ranui is an ideal boat for the Hokianga Harbour and being a historical vessel in its own right aligns with its home berth of Kohukohu, along with the surrounding small towns and settlements, all of which have fascinating backstories of their own.

For more information, visit ranuionhokianga.co.nz or search Ranui on Hokianga on Facebook

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