Find out the history of Million Dollar Cruise

Million Dollar 1

Ngaroto, after a sojourn of just over 52 years departed Rotorua by truck bound for Mana, just north of Wellington where she was delicately lowered back into the sea for the second time in her life, after a half century interval.

Ngaroto in Rotorua

Million Dollar's End of Rotorua Days

She then undertook a very uneventful passage across Cook Strait to the Nelson shipyard of Marine and General where they sandblasted the original lead based external paint off. She had been fitted with doubling plates whilst in Rotorua to prevent the ongoing erosion of her hull on the shallow pumice bottom of the lake. When these were removed her hull was found to be wafer thin in parts so sizeable sections of her original plating then had to be replaced.

Renovation Time

Whilst this was occurring, the rest of the hull was completely stripped back to a bare shell with only the engine, gearbox and internal propeller shaft remaining in place.

Million Dollar Repair

The boat look a complete wreck and had we known then the cost of the finished article, I think we would have walked away and found a more affordable alternative, however “in for a penny in for a pound” so we carried on.

Million Dollar Renovation

New windows were next up with all of the previously painted brass window surrounds completely refurbished.

Next up was all new electronics and radios along with new life jackets, life rings and associated safety equipment. The exterior was then painted, wooden handrails and seating was then fabricated and all the exterior, woodwork was covered with a wonderful South African product called ‘Woodoc”‘ which left a stunning shine to them all.

Engineers then came back on board for a complete service of the mechanicals and initial sea trials were satisfactorily completed after a new and articulated rudder was installed and exhaust outlet adjusted to exit into the airstream.

We then moved onto the expensive and highly skilled part which was the wonderful mahogany and teak interior. This was exquisitely hand crafted and it was inspiring to see that New Zealand craftsmen could achieve such amazing results.

Shiny Million Dollar Interior

As Million Dollar 1 slowly came together with her new carpet and luxurious upholstery, Betty and I realised that we had achieved something quite special.

After a 6 month intensive rebuild, Million Dollar 1 was ready to depart Nelson and begin her new life on Queenstown’s beautiful Lake Wakatipu.

Million Dollar Leaving Nelson for Queenstown

Million Dollar Being Loaded Into The Water

Ngaroto (Million Dollar 1) in Rotorua

On arrival in Rotorua, Ngaroto was launched and undertook her maiden voyage on Saturday 24th September 1955 for Judd and Jean Davy who had commissioned her construction in Great Britain.

She was licenced by Maritime NZ to carry 117 passengers (as a Million Dollar Cruise boat she was licenced for 49 passengers) and had a Foden 120 HP Diesel engine and because of her riveted and welded construction was expected to have a life expectancy of 50 years (after a huge refurbishment by Million Dollar Cruise it has now been 66 years!! And still going strong).

The Primary role was trips to Mokoia Island and the famed hot water pool of Hinemoa. Further to the adult patrons, she also took many school children and Guides and Scouts on excursions to Mokoia Island.Evening excursions slowly evolved as private business ‘drinks’ cruises became more common.

Ngaroto (Million Dollar 1) in the 60's

By the mid 1980’s Ngaroto had 2hr Mokoia Island cruises scheduled at 10am and 2pm. A lunch cruise was also included offering meats, salads and cheesecake all for $25.00, $10.00 for children. They also had a BBQ cruise at 7pm returning 10pm. (very busy schedule indeed!!) Full bar facilities were available on board and extra private cruises could be arranged.

Brochure for Lake Rotorua Cruises

The proprietors were now Bryan and Robyn Coleman who had purchased Ngaroto off the Davy’s some years prior.

This happy situation continued until the late 1990’s when the landing charges at Mokoia Island escalated to prohibitive levels. Ngaroto was then sold to the new operators to Mokoia Island, however she soon fell into utter disrepair and was bought by Wayne and Betty Perkins in early 2007 as a semi derelict hulk.

But that’s another story about the start of the Million Dollar Cruise.

Cruises in Queenstown

Million Dollar 1 had an interesting history of her own long before she passed into Betty and Wayne’s care and was originally called Ngaroto (many lakes).

She was built at the Rowhedge Ironworks in Colchester in the United Kingdom from riveted Corten steel so that she would be able to cope with the caustic waters of Lake Rotorua. It was based on a traditional English River Boat (think African Queen) design being very broad beamed with a shallow draft and suitable for estuaries, rivers and shallow lakes.

Million Dollar Cruise Being Built

Hundreds were built and exported to the Colonies to develop transport, communications and as an efficient way of moving large amounts of produce in their cavernous holds. This firm once built a 70 foot version which was then disassembled and packed into 70lb loads to then be back packed hundreds of kilometres into one of the inland African lakes and reassembled.

Most had First Class seating in the rear for Ladies and Gentleman whilst the wheelhouse area was normally the Second Class area complete with a bar and was more suitable for working class folk or Civil servants. The outside areas were mainly utilised by the local populace or livestock. Million Dollar 1 is widely considered to be the last of her kind afloat.

Million Dollar Cruise Original Interior

The photos show her initially in the early stages of her construction, then being officially launched into the river Colne on the 22nd August 1955 by Lady Clifton Webb who was wife of the New Zealand High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

Million Dollar Cruise's Official Opening

Also shown in that photo from the left is the Mayor of Colchester, Jean & Judd Davy (the owners and future Captain), Lady Webb, Rev Lester Brewster (from NZ who blessed her) the others are friends and family from the UK.

Shipped from London Time to head to New Zealand
Next photo is with her superstructure disassembled and packed inside being readied to be lifted onto a Dutch ship to be transported to New Zealand. Owing to a dock strike the port cranes could not be used, however as the ships derrick was being used the front spreader on the sling broke and she fell back into the Thames bumping the Lighter in the process and putting a dent in her bow which is still there to this day. After that episode Ngaroto was towed to Holland.

Next photo is of her being loaded onto the Norwegian ship Torrens to come from Rotterdam to Auckland, then being loaded onto a World War 2 Tank transporter to continue her journey by road to Rotorua where she was then reassembled and cosmetically completed including drapes.

Million Dollar Being Towed
The next two photos are of her working for a living as the flagship and pride and joy of Rotorua as she journeyed across the lake mainly to the sacred island of Mokoia for the next half century which is when Betty and Wayne entered into her life.

Finally on the waterTime for passengers

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Million Dollar Cruise When Purchased

After he sold the Hydrofoil Wayne had a variety of careers until he met up with the love of his life Betty.

Together they planned to return to the lake with a lovely traditional launch and so the search began. Eventually they found the bare bones of what they wanted in Rotorua being a gorgeous old English steel river boat from the 1950’s in a very dilapidated state.

Million Dollar Cruise Strapped Up Ready To Go

So after purchasing what was basically a hulk they transported her to just north of Wellington and then sailed her across Cook Strait to Nelson. The gifted craftsman of that City completely stripped her back to bare steel and started a massive refurbishment and rebuild over a six month period retaining only the propulsion plant and steel hull, everything else was replaced and she emerged like a butterfly from a chrysalis as the stunning Million Dollar 1.

Million Dollar Cruise Boat in Transit

Her journey then continued on the back of a truck down through the Lewis pass and on into the Mackenzie country to her final destination the cool clear waters of Lake Wakatipu where she rapidly became Queenstown’s favorite Launch.On the water and away she goes

Wayne Perkin's Old Hydrofoil

Find out the history of Million Dollar Cruise.