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Moving the Port of Auckland

A concept for moving the Port of Auckland to a New Deepwater Port - Portside Solutions & Whitehead Group

So.... Move the Port? Yes, that seems to be the consensus. How about keep it in Auckland? here's a plan.
Before we get into the concept, a small disclaimer...
Moving the Port of Auckland is not a good financial decision, especially because the only driver is for nicer waterfront space. The management of the port has a plan in place to allow for the next 20-30 years growth. However, the people of Auckland want it moved, the last Colmar Brunton poll showed that over 70% of the population would prefer it not to be there. All possible options should be considered, moving to North Port has some major draw backs, the cost of moving the containers to and from Auckland has been estimated to be over 1 Billion dollars a year, also North Port does not have the space to add 1 Million TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent) throughput a year and certainly no expansion plans for berth. There is less room there than in Auckland.
Spending such a significant amount of money needs careful consideration and all options need to be studied by independent experts. Those with experience, and no conflict of interest or hidden agendas.
This concept has been developed over many years in conjunction with a range of international consultants.

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The Concept


This proposal outlines an option for moving the ports of Auckland container and general goods terminal to a new 'Deep Water' location within the Auckland region, serviced by a 'cut and cover' and 'dredge and submersed' tunnel design. This is a 100% independent analysis completed by third party, utilising international port industry knowledge.


Business Drivers

There are few economic or financial drivers to move the terminal from its current location, however freeing up the land currently occupied would release between 1 to 6 billion dollars of city waterfront land. It would also provide land on the city side for a potential second harbour crossing.

The political and popular opinion of the people of Auckland appears to provide the impetus to move the port, and so, we must find solutions to do so.

This proposal, we believe, is the lowest possible overall cost, with the least amount of future costs for maintenance, and the highest possible return on investment.

Should the Port of Auckland move in whole, the cost to the people of Auckland would be significant, they would pay for it three times, once in the initial cost, their share of the estimate, 10 Billion Dollars, again to move the cargo and empty containers to and from the other location, and again in the loss of revenue from the Auckland Port to the owner, Auckland city council. Rates would increase significantly.


High Level Overview

The proposal provides for a new terminal in the Hauraki Gulf adjacent to the inner gulf islands, this includes a cut and cover, and dredge immersed tube design access to the facility.

The tunnel would take several years to build concurrently with the terminal, the tunnel would provide for 2 lanes of vehicular traffic and 1 line of rail road.


The main benefits are;


  • Savings of 1.2B annually for the countries GDP (savings derived from not transporting goods and empty containers between NorthPort and Auckland)

  • Reduced cost for transport of goods within Auckland as current

  • Jobs and associated industry kept in Auckland region


  • Port out of Auckland city waterfront, but still within city limits

  • No unsightly port infrastructure visible from the city

  • Deepwater location

  • 22km tunnel can provide access with little disruption (following the natural course of the Tamaki River)

  • 22km of tunnel is much better than 180 km of rail and tunnels for a Northport alternative

  • Port traffic would exit/enter in the centre of Auckland's industrial south at the Highbrook drive interchange

  • A transhipment terminal could attract Australian volume that would be onward transhipped to Australian ports, saving shipping lines money

  • Inner gulf location provides enough capacity for at least 100 years growth, with unlimited expansion potential 

  • Inner gulf location is ideal for the following reasons

    • Little or no dredging required for a natural deepwater port

    • 100 hectares of available expansion area (initially, could be expanded)

    • Over 3 km of berth length available to expand (further berth potential)


  • It would take much less time to build the tunnel and the terminal than any other alternative

  • Significant reduction in transport times to and from port to the important industrial zones in Auckland from current

  • Dredge and Submerse and Cut and Cover tunnels are the cheapest form of tunneling

  • Tunnel would provide 1 rail line and 2 traffic lanes

  • Auckland cargo kept in Auckland region

  • Infrastructure to build the tunnel could be used to build a second harbour crossing

  • A modern fast terminal could attract new transhipment volume, a deepwater port could handle the new super cpacity container ships built for up to 24,000 TEU size vessles. POAL can only handle about 8000 TEU size and Tauranga can handle up to 10,000 TEU size vessels


  • Freeing up inner city motorway for inner city traffic

  • Immersed tunnel design offers the highest earthquake resistance

  • The tunnel dredging’s could be used for the fill for the terminal

  • Tunnel would follow the Tamaki river and after construction, the river would be reinstated to original condition, no road or rail link visible

  • Auckland cargo kept in Auckland region

  • No need for further hub operations inland within Auckland region, all Auckland and north island bound cargo can be accommodated in this proposal at site. POAL already has hubs in Wiri, Tauranga, Palmerston North and Hamilton connected by rail. This proposal reduces further need for expansion or a western rail terminal that would be required in a North Port scenario

  • A transhipment terminal could attract Australian volume that would be onward transhipped to Australian ports, saving shipping lines money and reduce polution

  • Both Rangitoto and Motutapu would not be harmed or affected in anyway, any surface changes would be put back to original state, the small isthmus between the two islands has already been altered by man in the early 19th and 20th century with military and farming activities on both islands


Issues to overcome

  • Cultural issues around the significance of the site (Motutapu and Rangitoto, however both islands would not be touched)

  • Auckland maritime users objections to the areas involved

  • Environmental impacts

  • Resource Management Act

  • Break water required to defend the deepwater port from heavy seas

  • One of the longest dredge and immersed tunnel projects in the world however only the 70th longest rail/road tunnel

  • Political will for location of port

Alternatives considered


Moving the port to Northport would cost 10.3B NZD, the majority of the cost would be to build rail links and upgrade or build 6 new tunnels. The cost of moving goods to the main import region of Auckland would be a constant added cost forever after.


Manukau harbour looks good from a geographical perspective, however the channel, harbour entrance and bar are huge factors to look at other options, keeping the harbour dredged constantly would be a massive undertaking and would possibly be impossible to keep up with constant dredging.


Firth of Thames

The Firth of Thames meets the regional needs for nearness to market, however the dredging requirements for keeping a port there open would be prohibitive. It would also need a huge investment for road, rail and tunnels to bring the goods to the Auckland markets.


Hauraki Gulf

The location is the closest alternative to Auckland, presenting the least amount of cost for infrastructure replication, also the easiest and fastest way to provide a future proof port to service the New Zealand North Island freight demand.


Tunnel Options

Bridge/tunnel options

There are a number of alternatives to reduce cost to the project and bridging the gap between Rangitoto and Browns Island is one of the alternatives. However this idea has been abandoned due to the assessed negative image of having visible transport infrastructure in the Auckland gulf views.

Therefore in this proposal only a cut and cover with dredge and immersed tube design has been considered.

It may be possible to allow for around 5.4km of tunnel to be cut and cover should this process be a cheaper option than dredge and submerse. This would leave only 16.6km of dredge and immersed tube design.


Proposed development

The first phase of the development would include the tunnel access and 1150 meters of berth, with 52 hectares of land for the current container terminal to move to, also an additional 6 hectares of space for administration and solar farm for 120% of the terminal power requirements. Phase two would include additional berth for general cargo.

A tunnel connection using dredging and immersion tube design would mean lowest possible cost of infrastructure while also providing a hidden connection to the port, it would also be the fastest solution to complete with an estimated design to delivery of 7 years.


Estimated costs are 1.5 billion for the terminal and 2.6 billion for the tunnel

Total of 4.1 billion for the whole project, given the cost of moving the terminal to Northport is around 10.3 billion in today’s money, this proposal is better than any other alternative.

The costs have been extrapolated from the City Rail Link project costing 410 million per km.  These costs are very high level, based on local tunnelling costs and fair representation of international costs for similar projects. The costs of tunnels vary greatly, and the extremes are New York city projects costing up to 4B per kilometre to 40M per kilometre. The most significant costs for tunnel projects are the disturbance to traffic, purchasing property in the areas and the cost of land in the region and the cost of building in high density. The areas subject to requirements in this proposal are lower values and without many of the issues that drive costs up in other international projects. This price may be different when project is complete but should be much higher than the proposed project considering the CRL is under city streets and the proposed project runs unhindered up the Tamaki river.

The extreme upper end costs could be as high as 10B USD

With an extreme lower end cost 880M USD (for the tunnel alone, a further 1B USD would be required for the terminal development)

Given the long length of the proposed tunnel, it is envisioned that the manufacturing process of the tunnel segments would be achieved at a much lower cost level given the high number required. An Asian consortium with the required level of experience coupled with European design factors, could be used to achieve the absolute lowest possible cost for the highest possible quality product. Building the tunnel segments could be completed in Asia and towed to site.



There are a number of ways to fund the project

  • Govt. funding

  • Local regional funding

  • Returns from the sale of land from the old port, navy base, and associated facilities

  • Infrastructure levy on all containers and goods for the Auckland region

  • Private equity in the terminal and potentially in the tunnel with tolls



This alternative concept has the least amount of environmental impact than any of the other proposals. To transport 1 million twenty foot equivalent containers in both directions between Northport and Auckland will add huge amounts of carbon footprint to the goods consumed in Auckland. Adding cars and other bulk cargo, the emissions for NZ are drastically increased. This proposal also reduces the vehicles sitting on the motorways in Auckland pouring out emissions and barely moving. Increasing the flow and putting the trucks and rail directly into the heart of the industrial areas without sitting in traffic queues relieves the loads and increases the flow throughout the city.

Cultural issues

The island of Motutapu is an Island of national cultural significance. This is one of the oldest islands in the Hauraki gulf sitting side by side with the youngest (Rangitoto). There is evidence of the earliest known human occupation of the Auckland region with footprints discovered in Sandy Bay on the North Eastern part of Motutapu, these footprints are in ash layers from the Rangitoto volcano eruption.

Both Rangitoto and Motutapu are important historic sites for New Zealand and the integrity of the islands must not be compromised.

This proposal is intended to cause the least amount of disruption, and no long term effect to the physical nature of either island. Any disturbance to the isthmus or current physical footprint of the island could be returned to its natural, or before disturbed state after the project is completed.

We must also assume that any port option, for any alternative site in New Zealand, would have some form of impact to the local and regional people, and the flora and fauna of those areas. This proposal has the least ongoing disturbance of any proposed alternative to date, there are very few immediate neighbours, and this particular stretch of coastline is one of the least visited and used by the Hauraki Gulf/Auckland boating community.

A small portion of the port would be slightly visible from the north bays, however using port automation currently being implemented as at the current site (POAL), there could be very little or no light pollution for a terminal working 24/7/364.

All terminal design would include environmental impacts having the lowest possible footprint. New Zealand is a land of innovation and this port could be built with the most modern means of terminal design having a zero-carbon footprint and surplus energy requirement. Providing the shipping line customers unprecedented levels of productivity and reducing costs to other stakeholders, for example allowing easy access and fast turn times to the trucking industry, also a super fast on dock rail access allowing containers to be transported to all other connected transport hubs in North Island supply chain. Given such high levels of productivity, the shipping lines would most likely prefer Auckland over alternative solutions to meet the Auckland freight demand.

Why NorthPort is not the right solution

North Port has around 20 hectares of log marshalling yard with over 700 hectares available to develop away from the terminal. 

Berth length - short, up to 1.4 kms could be built, POAL currently use 2.5 km. A modern terminal for the size of Auckland demand should have 3 full size berths with room for expansion as volume grows. Each berth should be 500 meters, assuming it was built for the worlds biggest ships at 400 metres long.

Future expansion needs - there is no where to go after the berth has been expanded, there is room for marshalling containers logs and other bulk commodities, but they will need to be staged and delivered just in time to the berth for loading.

POAL current footprint = 75 hectares - the entire current footprint of North port would be required for the Auckland demand.

Network to service the port, only 1 rail line that needs significant upgrading, in reality an additional line would be required for at least 15 trains per day in both directions.


North Port

Logs take up 20 hectares currently. With a demand drop of in logs over the next 10-15 years there is scope for additional volume (at the cost of Auckland to move) 
Filling in between only adds another 30 Hectares
There is fewer growth potential than even the current site at POAL.

Overlay of 60 hectares of containers

without any room for bulk cargo, this is the approximate space required for 1.5 - 2 million TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent) of containers, containers alone will mean that the oil refinery would have to go.


In between the oil refinery and log port

this shows just how little room there is, this is only an additional 30 hectares, not enough room for the current Auckland Freight demand, not including cars or other bulk. It also only allows for another 800 meters of berth. Auckland currently fully utilises almost 2.5km of berth.

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1.3 KM of Berth

Capacity of 1.5 M TEU

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Terminal Behind Rangitoto

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Phase two, double the size

3 M TEU or added space for multi cargo, cars, Navy etc.

Allows for future growth and purpose built for bigger ships attracting new volume

Tunnel Construction


Hidden service tunnel

Follows Tamaki river

Cheapest form of tunnel system

Train and vehicles access


safe and secure

reduced carbon footprint

Deepwater Ports are built at sea in many countries

download (1).jpeg

Doraleh Container Terminal

Built 2 km at sea

Port of Longbeach

1300 mtrs berth, purpose built 14 cranes for 1.1 M TEU

Khalifa Container Terminal

Built 6.5 KM at sea, 2.5 M TEUwith a total capacity of 15 M TEU when all phases complete

Get in Touch

We are committed to Aucklands needs. Questions or comments? We’d love to hear from you, so don’t hesitate to reach out today.

+64 21 982 553

0800 247 9393

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