Ferry service turns 50 today

23:36, Aug 12 2012
Blue ribbon event: The ribbon is cut before the first car drives off at Picton after the Aramoana’s first Cook Strait crossing from Wellington on August 13, 1962. Railways Minister John McAlpine does the honours.

Interislander celebrates half a century of moving freight and passengers across the Cook Strait with celebrations in Picton, Wellington, and on board the company's newest ship, the Aratere, today.

Fifty years ago today, the Aramoana made its first sailing from Wellington to Picton.

It was the first roll-on roll-off ferry on the route, with trains, trucks and cars able to drive on and off seamlessly. There was also no need for cranes to shift freight, substantially reducing turnaround time and costs.

Interislander general manager Thomas Davis said the anniversary was a significant milestone, and a great opportunity to recognise the service that this iconic business had delivered and the crucial link it provided between the North Island and South Islands.

Since the Aramoana first went into service on 13 August, 1962, it and its successors have carried more than 35 million people and covered more than 10 million nautical sea miles, he said.

Today, Interislander's three ferries, the Kaitaki, Aratere and Arahura make about 4500 sailings a year, carrying a 785,000 passengers, 52,000 rail wagons, 72,000 trucks bout and 210,000 cars. Interislander is owned by KiwiRail.


Ray Munro, who was one of the central figures in setting up the original Rail Road Ferry office and accepted the first bookings for the Aramoana, was interviewed by KiwiRail for a commemorative magazine for Interislander's 50th anniversary.

He said that when the Aramoana went into service in 1962, it changed the nature of interisland transport and was one of the most significant events in New Zealand's transport history.

"For the first time, a vehicle or railway wagons could be driven aboard a ship in one island and driven off in the other without having its load disturbed."

Mr Munro said the service dramatically stimulated interisland traffic and South Island tourism but it also sealed the fate of conventional coastal freighters.

Roll-on-roll-off ships made it possible for rail wagons and vehicles to be loaded directly on to the ship and off again at their destination. It was a big change in meeting the needs of the supply chain, and it came at a time when the flow of freight, particularly from north to south, was accelerating.

"Previously, ships had been loaded and unloaded using cranes. Having road and rail cargo loaded directly dramatically reduced turnaround times and costs."

Today's 2:30pm sailing of the Aratere from Wellington to Picton has been designated the "official birthday sailing" and past employees and people associated with Interislander are travelling across the strait to recount some memories of Interislander's past 50 years.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee will take part in the celebrations.

Special birthday cupcakes would be handed out to staff and passengers at the Wellington terminal before this morning's 8:15am Kaitaki sailing, with special entertainment.

There would be live radio broadcasts from the Picton terminal before the 10:25am Aratere sailing and the 1:05pm Kaitaki sailing.

About 1500 anniversary cupcakes were expected to be given away to passengers sailing with Interislander today.



On August 13, 1962, the first ferry to link the North Island and South Island started a once-a-day return service.

In its first year, the Aramoana carried 207,000 passengers, 46,000 cars and 181,000 tonnes of freight.

Today, Interislander's three ferries, the Kaitaki, Aratere and Arahura make about 4500 sailings a year carrying about 785,000 passengers, 52,000 rail wagons, 72,000 trucks and 210,000 cars.

In 50 years, the Aramoana and its successors, the Aranui, Aratika, Arahanga, Arahura, four Lynxs, and the Kaitaki have carried more than 35 million people.


The Marlborough Express