For the 2000+ island residents that commute to Auckland for work, the relationship with the ferry service can be a little ‘love-hate’. Talk to a commuter and most can recite the ferry timetable as well as the alphabet. Some can also tell you the name of the boats in the fleet, the differences in the seat configurations, and their preference. They can also tell you which boats they don’t like, and how often they break down.
The only regular passenger ferry service between Matiatia and downtown Auckland is operated by Fullers. Being the only commercial operator they operate without competition or a subsidy from NZ Transport, which is a sore point for many regular passengers who feel this contributes to the high fare prices.
The preferred boats in the Fullers fleet tend to be the Superflyte and Quickcat, which are the largest in the fleet. Disappointingly though, for much of the summer the Quickcat has been out-of-service which has resulted in the smaller boats being used on the commuter runs which has lead to uncomfortably crowded trips and at times passengers being turned away from boats which are too full.
It has been a challenging time; the trouble seems to be that Fullers have an aging fleet that suffers regular breakdowns. The smaller boats in the fleet are not of sufficient capacity to cope with the increased number of visitors to Waiheke in the summer months as well as the regular commuters.
The Fullers service has been operating since the 1980’s when George Hudson and his son Douglas purchased North Shore Ferries and established the Gulf Ferries Company. By 1987 they had introduced the Quickcat, a catamaran with 650-passenger capacity, to the Waiheke route, which greatly improved the ferry services to and from the island. By doing this they effectively made Waiheke Island a viable residential option for many city commuters by cutting the trip travel time down to 35 minutes and offering increased services. Over the years the company has been sold and bought several times, rescuing it from receivership once in 1988. Today Fullers is owned by Souter Holdings while Douglas Hudson continues to hold the position of CEO.
So perhaps it’s time to replace some of the smaller and aging boats within the Fullers fleet? Well, rumours abound that a new boat may be on its way to enter service in the Fullers fleet. We asked Fullers directly and got a ‘no comment’ response from them.
Another very welcome improvement to their service though will be the planned introduction of Wi-Fi services on the ferries. This apparently is a rumour no longer with the service currently in a testing phase; it will be made available on the scheduled Waiheke – Auckland services at a date not yet specified.
We are hoping that the new boat rumour can be confirmed within the near future, and know many passengers would certainly be very happy to see the Jet Raider go and be replaced with a larger, more comfortable vessel. We’ll keep asking, and will let you know.