Attracting people back to the Lyttelton waterfront is one aim of the Lyttelton Port Company's $1 billion long-term vision, released on Thursday.
The report suggests moving general cargo east, away from the town, to address the impacts of a round-the-clock operation on nearby homes.
Other plans include opening up and enhancing public access to the waterfront, a marina and commercial developments along the waterfront.
Lyttelton Port Company chief executive Peter Davie said the long-term vision was across 30 years but immediate work such as replacing wharfs was already under way.
The port's $400 million earthquake insurance payout had acted as a catalyst to the project, he said.
"It really speeds up our plan and allows us to build a port for the future.
"So it means we can move ahead faster than we would have previously and build something that really is start of the art for the ships."
The $1 billion price tag would be made up of the insurance money, as well as debt and retained earnings.