The teal-coloured Ika Rere electric ferry leaves its berth on the Wellington waterfront to head out into the harbour. The Wellington skyline is behind it.

Jeremy Ward is super proud that a ‘little’ company from Wellington is leading the charge for electric passenger ferries.

East by West Ferries is the proud owner of Ika Rere, the first electric high-performance passenger ferry in the southern hemisphere.

“It’s incredible. It’s the first and it’s been a hell of a journey for us. I just can’t understand why a little company like ours is leading the charge,” laughs the East by West managing director.

Powered by partner Meridian Energy, the carbon-fibre 19-metre catamaran has a passenger capacity of 132 with three crew. There’s an on-board café and seating inside and out.

The ground-breaking project has attracted global attention.

“It’s been so exciting to lead the way. We have had so much interest in it. Not only from every New Zealand operator who I know from my time as president of the New Zealand Maritime Transport Association but from the industry globally,” says Jeremy.

His talks at global marine and hybrid electric conferences in Europe and the United States captured attention. So did the initial LinkedIn video of Ika Rere’s first sea trial which had more than 50,000 views.

“We’ve since had CEOs of many different companies reach out to us, and they are watching us with interest,” says Jeremy.

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Alongside the two diesel ferries, Ika Rere cruises across Wellington Harbour to and from Queens Wharf to Days Bay.

The ferry was designed and built to complete one return run of 25km before shore-based charging at 1 megawatt for 15 minutes. Currently charging is from a 300 kilowatt charger at the overnight berth opposite Foxglove.

Another first-of-its-kind is the electric propulsion and power management system. It was custom-developed and designed to suit the route and charging infrastructure.

With 72 batteries weighing 5,500 kilograms on board, the shore-based charging infrastructure has been vital, though a mammoth and costly task, Jeremy says.

“When we eventually get to four times of what we can currently do, to get 1 megawatt of charge the lights of Wellington will dim,” he jokes.

Developing the electric ferry

To take the vessel from the drawing boards onto the water, East by West created a subsidiary, Wellington Electric Boat Building Company (WEBBCo).

A team of New Zealand-based experts began the project in 2018. The team included boat builders, composite engineering experts, naval architects, electrical specialists, design specialists, vessel designers, and power providers.

“Our collaborative approach with a team of leading New Zealand maritime experts alongside our experienced in-house build team was key. We’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved together.”

Jeremy is also proud that the ferry is the result of New Zealand-based research and design. Helped with backing from Meridian Energy, Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority (EECA), Greater Wellington Regional Council, Callaghan Institute, and WellingtonNZ. All driven by the desire to tackle climate action, he says.

“In 10 years’ time I don’t think you’ll see diesel-powered passenger ferries. Fully sustainable public transport is where we’re headed, it’s the way of the future.”

Jeremy Ward, East by West Ferries managing director

“East by West has been running this route for more than 30 years and we knew it was time to think outside the box with our next ferry upgrade.

“We had to put a stake in the ground and find a new solution that was going to tick all the boxes. Including our responsibility to the environment,” says Jeremy.

“We knew it was time to be bold and that’s why it made sense to partner with Meridian Energy which only generates electricity from 100% renewable sources — wind, water and sun.”