A $20 million redevelopment of the main wharf at Port Nelson is about to start to help future-proof the region's import and export sectors.
The port company's infrastructure manager said it will improve the resilience of the city in the event of a large-scale natural disaster, as well as allow larger ships into the regional port.
Allanagh Rivers said Port Nelson was a lifeline utility provider under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act and would be critical during the recovery phase if the region was not accessible by road or air.
"This redevelopment will ensure the port can be operating in a limited capacity within days of a disaster," Ms Rivers said.
She said the multi million-dollar redevelopment of the port's main northern wharf would also future-proof the region's import and export sectors, and would move main wharf operations further away from residential neighbours.
Port Nelson was aiming to attract larger ships, including cruise vessels of up to 300 metres.
Contractors recently started drilling investigations for geotechnical purposes, at the port's entrance known as The Cut, and inside the harbour to the port's northern wharves.
The port company was planning to dredge areas of the shipping channel to allow for larger ships, and before work began to extend the port's main wharf.
Port Nelson is owned by the Nelson and Tasman councils.
Ms Rivers said the size of container vessels servicing the port had risen significantly in recent years, and the trend was likely to continue.
She said the wharf redevelopment formed part of a wider programme of works including the purchase of a new tug, future crane replacement and proposed additional dredging of the harbour channel.
The first phase of the project would be to demolish the century old wharf before replacing it with a concrete and steel berthing facility. The new section of the wharf would be operational by late 2020.