13 Nov 2023

Waiheke ferries: Locals celebrate as new competitor sets sail

From Checkpoint, 5:37 pm on 13 November 2023

Aucklanders hopping to and from Waiheke Island are celebrating a new competitor offering trips on the route, with Island Direct setting sail for the first time on Monday. 

Its 50-seater vessel is scheduled to complete 18 crossings between Auckland CBD and Waiheke most days, and some of its tickets are going for nearly half the price of the long-running ferry operator Fullers360.

Owner David Todd is thrilled the day had finally arrived. 

"It's just amazing to be finally on the water with the boat... it's been seven to nine months of hard work to bring this to fruition," he says.

Until now Fullers360 has been the only ferry service going between Auckland City and Waiheke. 

It follows outcry from Waiheke commuters about a 19 percent price increase in July, on top of regular cancellations and delays.

However, Waka Kotahi on Friday released a report clearing Fullers360 of charging excessive fares.

Locals RNZ spoke to welcomed a new competitor. 

"It's overdue and competition - look at Air New Zealand and Jetstar, you know, when there's competition the patrons have benefit - so let's see what happens," said one person.

Another said the main thing would be if the new service was reliable. 

"Especially when you've got an appointment, you know, a lot of locals end up getting the ferry before the one they need to get to make sure that they're there [on time]. 

Island Direct will provide 18 crossings a day on its 50-seater vessel, except Tuesdays when there will be 12. 

Island Direct launched a new ferry service between Auckland and Waiheke Island on 13 November, 2023.

Island Direct launched the new ferry service on Monday. Photo: Supplied / Island Direct

The company is promising cheaper fares, with a pre-booked return trip to Waiheke going for $50 and one-way for $27.50 - $5 and $2 less than Fullers, respectively.

Fullers charges $95 dollars to prebook for a specific sailing. Island Direct does not charge extra to prebook.

To accommodate the busy sailings and avoid missing a ferry because it is too full, Island Direct is offering passengers the opportunity to book their ferry in advance - but walk-up tickets are also available. 

Locals Isla and Jeremy live and work on Waiheke and were on board the 6.45am service, heading into the city for an appointment. The biggest benefit to them is booking their ferry in advance. 

"A couple of times we're going to appointments and [have] not made it onto the ferry, even having a residence card." 

Others agreed being able to pre-book a service was a game changer. One man told RNZ people were having to line up for the ferry like cattle. 

"There used to be a time we could just walk on the ferry 15 minutes before. Sit down, relax, now they line you up like a somewhat weird version of a deranged Disneyland." 

Despite a slow start to the morning with just a few passengers on the first few sailings, Island Direct owner David Todd was optimistic things would pick up. 

"Look, the early sailings are really, you know, trialling our systems, but great to have some customers on board and yeah, we'll go from there." 

Multi-passes would soon be available for the Island Direct ferry service and passengers would be able to use their AT Hop or Gold Card on board.  

Fullers 360 has previously told Checkpoint it welcomed the new competitor and there was enough demand for both operators.