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Keith Rankin: Auckland's Ports (Air and Sea)

Auckland's Ports (Air and Sea)

by Keith Rankin
17 December 2004

It may not be well known, even in Auckland, but Auckland has two international seaports: Auckland and Tauranga. The Port of Tauranga and TranzRail (now Toll Rail) jointly operate an inland ''metroport'' at Southdown (see, between Onehunga and Otahuhu. Businesses deliver and collect their freight at the metroport, as if it was the actual port of Tauranga. It operates through an "integrated transport system".

Thus the Ports of Auckland and the Port of Tauranga are head-to-head business rivals. (While the Ports of Auckland company actually operates two seaports; one, Onehunga, is for domestic shipping only.)

These two businesses are in strong competition with each other. Ports of Auckland responded to the Tauranga challenge by creating their own inland port - with its own dedicated rail link - a few kilometres away, at Wiri, between Manukau City centre and Auckland International Airport.

This competition between the country's two biggest port companies has created significant benefits to the New Zealand economy. And, through its emphasis on rail travel between inland and outland ports, there have also been important environmental benefits. The now abandoned "eastern corridor" motorway became harder to justify once the road bottleneck to the Auckland City port was eased by the Wiri rail link.

There are important lessons for the aviation industry in Auckland.

If Tauranga can be Auckland's second international seaport, then Hamilton (rather than Whenuapai) can be Auckland's second international airport. Where then would be Auckland's metro-airport?

Whenuapai, the air force base in northwest Auckland, will be sold in about 10 year's time. In just over a decade, Auckland's northwest will be fully connected to Auckland International Airport (at Mangere in south Auckland) by motorway.

The part of Auckland that most needs air transport links to Wellington, Christchurch and Australia is the fast-growing and affluent north-east: from Albany and East Coast bays to Whangaparaoa, Orewa, Warkworth and Matakana. People from these places currently have a hideous time getting to Mangere.

There already is a small airport at Dairy Flat, between Albany and Orewa, and right beside the existing northern motorway. Dairy Flat is the perfect location for a commuter airport - a metro-airport - that can link with Hamilton.

Hamilton is currently poised to become the "Luton Airport" of New Zealand, with its focus on the Queensland holiday market. (Southern Queensland is an equivalent destination in New Zealand to Spain in England.)

With a shuttle link from Dairy Flat, Hamilton would be an ideal northern site for Virgin's Pacific Blue to operate to Australia, Fiji and Christchurch from. Dairy Flat would not be the only commuter link to Hamilton. Tauranga, Rotorua, Taupo and Thames would also naturally feed into Hamilton Airport as a northern hub, in competition with Auckland.

Auckland International Airport needs competition to keep it honest and efficient, just as the Ports of Auckland provided better service once it had competition from Tauranga. What are the advantages of a Hamilton / North Shore link vis-à-vis the development of Whenuapai?

Hamilton and Dairy Flat are available now; 2004 rather than 2014. Auckland's north needs an air solution right now. Further, the case for the increased use of Dairy Flat - in conjunction with Hamilton - will not be weakened by future expansion of Auckland's road network. The motorway access to Dairy Flat is there now. The Orewa-Puhoi extension of the northern motorway, which will inevitably integrate the Matakana area northeast of Warkworth into the Auckland commuter zone, will further strengthen the argument for a metro-airport at Dairy Flat.

Whenuapai's future is integral to the economic success of New Zealand's largest city. But not as a civilian airport. Ports of Auckland have bought the Northland Regional Council's stake in the Northland Port Corporation, which operates ports at Whangarei and Marsden Point. Whenuapai, which is close to the Auckland-Whangarei rail link, could become an industrial zone to rival those in Auckland's southeast. Further, Whenuapai, instead of being Auckland's second airport, could in fact become the Ports of Auckland's second inland seaport.

Hamilton is already Auckland's second international airport, and services a much greater hinterland than Whenuapai. Let the New Zealand aviation industry follow the creative lead of its maritime cousins. It makes more sense to fly over central Auckland than to tunnel under it.


© 2002 Keith Rankin

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