Meet Rachel McGregor, skipper and wildlife tour operator
At 23 years of age and after having been offered a full-time job as a wildlife guide at Taiaroa Head, I found myself now working with one of the largest sea birds in the world. How my views on birds swiftly changed! I was observing these graceful giants daily and learning how interesting these long lived and hugely oversized sea birds really were. I found myself hunting around in storage, trying to find that old bird book that my grandfather once gave me! When my grandfather gave me a bird book when I was 9, I could not have thought of a more boring present, at the time!
Despite my initial lack of enthusiasm for birds, my passion for other wildlife came early on.
As a child growing up in British Columbia, I had many opportunities to see animals in the wild and had my first experience on boats as a child.
Upon leaving high school, I worked a few jobs in cafes and customer service before discovering the excitement and fun of tour guiding on the Otago Peninsula. In 2004 I finally found myself working in the area I now truly feel the happiest and absolutely myself, on commercial vessels. I have now spent more than 18 years working on and skippering commercial boats on the Otago Harbour including passenger, research, oil spill recovery, search and rescue, dredger and work boats. I'm still involved in marine oil spill recovery work today. My favourite job was my stint for the local port company operating the dredging gear on the split hopper, trailer suction dredger, New Era. It's 58 meters long, 11 metres wide and carries 1200 tonnes of 'product'. I worked here for 4 years, before Port To Port was born and I was forced to move on and dedicate my time to the business full time. Working on the dredge was interesting, challenging at times, (strangely) fun and exposed me to alot of different types of machinery and systems, and has given me valuable life and work-boat experience and most importantly, allowed me to spend all day, every day on the ocean and harbour.
Port To Port is born.....
In 2015 and again in 2017 I had the urge to start my own business to own a commercial boat and use it to transport passengers around the harbour and out to sea.
The first time around (in 2015) it wasnt to be, as nothing seemed to fall into place. It wasnt the right time.
But in 2017 things seemed to line up and one by one, I started to achieve what I was setting out to do, and what was the start of Port To Port Cruises & Wildlife Tours. I wanted to work with people again and to share my knowledge and help locals and visitors alike get closer to Dunedin's spectacular wildlife. The business was officially registered on December 21st 2017.
A 'One Woman Show'
Things have changed since covid! From trying to figure out how to get people onboard our first year, to marketing towards cruise ships, the second year, to covid and very few trips the third year!
These days I find it easier to do it all myself! You'll get me on the other end of your phone call, your email, text message, social media comment, the helm, the paperwork, the maintenance, the toilet brush!
Now its a big job, but its a one woman show. In times of extreme busyness (pre covid) I'm backed by an equally friendly, knowledgeable team who help man (or woman!) the boat and run the tours. I have been interacting with local wildlife for more than 18 years and I choose guides with similar experience. We know exactly where to look and the best places to view wildlife by weather and season.
I am also a mum to a 9 year old boy, Ashley, who is often the person behind making the lolly bags for the children's Quarantine Island Treasure Hunts. Passengers affectionately refer to Ashely as 'cabin boy! He can sometimes be found hiding behind the curtain at the front of the boat! (He's a little bit shy!)
Introducing MV Sootychaser
MV Sootychaser was custom-built by Osprey in around eight months. Launched September 2018, it was the largest trailer boat Osprey had built at the time, and the first boat of its kind to offer passenger services on Otago Harbour.
It is 8.8 metres long, 2.8 metres wide, is a trailer boat (yes I take it in and out of the water every day). Its powered by a 300 HP Yamaha, 4 stroke, 4,2 litre V6 motor. And a 25 HP auxiliary.
There is a bathroom onboard and cooking, showering and sleeping facilities! It is heated by diesel heater and we have a liquor licence onboard for private groups and work dos. We are surveyed for 20 passengers and we can operate from Timaru to Stewart Island, but we stay on the Otago harbour for the majority of what we do.
We also have a custom bike rack fitted for transporting electric and manual bikes across the harbour to link the Otago Peninsula Cycle Loop trail. We can take up to 12 electric bikes, or 15 manual bikes and their riders.
The vessel has been custom built for maximum passenger comfort, viewing, speed and outstanding viewing opportunities.
The vessel is named Sootychaser after the Sooty Shearwater, New Zealand’s muttonbird. The Sooty shearwater comes into New Zealand at the start of October. As we are out on the boat during this time, and the shearwaters are often around, it feels like we are always chasing them - hence the name.
The MV Sootychaser is designed to give you:
- Close viewing of wildlife - MV Sootychaser has been specially designed to be low in the water to get up close and personal with local wildlife and the open deck gives sweeping views. The vessel’s shallow draft allows us to get closer to places often out of reach to other, larger boats.
- Speed to go where the wildlife is - Mv Sootychaser is speedy so we don't miss special and spur-of-the-moment viewing opportunities. After all, these moments are the most exciting part of our Dunedin wildlife tour.
- A comfortable trip - MV Sootychaser has been built with passenger comfort in mind. Onboard you’ll enjoy a heated cabin, modern bathroom facilities and comfortable cushioned seating inside and out. The boat's stable design means a smooth, comfortable ride for everyone.
- Quick ferry transfers-Passengers utilise the Port To Port ferry service to get to the shallow waters of Portobello, Quarantine Island and Port Chalmers to visit cafes, restaurants and pubs or a walk, cycle or a picnic. 10 minutes accross, 2.4 kms in distance approx.
Now is the time to experience one of the best things to do in Dunedin. I look forward to welcoming you aboard MV Sootychaser for an exhilarating harbour boat cruise.
Whether you live in Dunedin, or are visiting, we look forward to welcoming you on board MV Sootychaser and providing you with a memorable, interactive and immersive experience on the water.
Thanks for reading our story!:)
Port To Port cruises and Wildlife Tours