Celebrating first crossing
It will be a historic day for the Interislander ferry service next Monday when it celebrates its 50th anniversary of crossing Cook Strait.
It will be an equally special day for Blenheim's William "Bill" Cox.
Bill was on board for the memorable first ferry from Wellington to Picton on August 11, 1962.
At the time he was private secretary to then Minister of Railways John McAlpine.
"I'll never forget that voyage, although it does give away my age somewhat," said Bill, who dedicated his professional life to working for the railways.
Cook Strait is notorious for its rough seas but the inaugural voyage on the Aramaona was sailed in excellent conditions.
He recalled how, ironically, the only problem was encountered at the end of the journey when the ship accidentally came into contact with the wharf.
"There were a large number of launches around the ferry at the wharf.
"One of these launches, which was packed with people was almost crushed between the ferry and the wharf, and the only way to avoid this was to hit the wharf," said Bill, who was on the top deck at the time and was almost thrown off his feet from the jolt of the collision.
The ferry arrival was a major happening for the people of Picton with much fanfare, while a gala event was held in Wellington before the ferry's departure.
New Zealand history website nz history.net.nz reveals that the North and South Island railways were separate systems before 1962 and New Zealand Railways struggled to compete with ships for inter-island transport.
In the days before container shipping, rail freight between the islands had to be taken by rail in a wagon to Wellington, unloaded and transferred on to a ship bound for Picton or Lyttelton, then loaded into another wagon before being taken by rail the rest of the way.
A passenger service was run by the Union Company between Wellington and Lyttelton.
The major advantage of the new ferry was that rail freight cars could be rolled directly onto the ferry through its rear doors, then rolled out again on the other side and continue on its journey.
Initially the ferry service was one return trip a day but a second trip was soon added.
Today the Interislander runs four return trips daily with an extra one during the summer months.
The 50th anniversary voyage will be a special one for Bill, who has accumulated an impressive collection of railway, ferry and general New Zealand transport books, newspaper clippings and other historical documents.
"I got invited after I called them [Interislander] up and asked if something was being done for the 50th anniversary," Bill said.
Once the Interislander management discovered who Bill was, he was invited to be on board for the 2.30pm crossing.
He was also offered a complimentary crossing to Wellington, from where the anniversary crossing will depart.
Interislander general manager, Thomas Davis said it would be great to have Bill on board.
"We are planning some celebrations for each of the crossings on the day but the 2.30pm ferry has been designated as the official crossing with some official guests like Mr Cox."
- The Marlborough Express