Arahura's final sailing an emotional voyage for many passengers
It has been a sturdy and reliable workhorse, taking hundreds of thousands of travellers and countless tonnes of freight across the Cook Strait for nearly 32 years.
Now, after 52,000 crossings, Interislander ferry the Arahura has made its last passenger journey across the choppy stretch of water.
About 300 passengers, mostly ferry fans and shipspotters, set sail from Wellington to Picton in a carnival atmosphere on Wednesday and were ushered up the gangplank by the salty drone of bagpipes.
Among them was Upper Hutt man Ron Baulch, who was a passenger with his new wife on the rail ferry's maiden voyage on December 21, 1983.
To mark their union, the couple have been sailing the route every year since, and have fallen in love with Picton, where they plan to move in three years' time.
"It was a new ship, a new beginning and it was absolutely fantastic," he said of the first sailing. "There was a bit of a southerly and my wife got seasick, but it was fantastic."
The final voyage was more bittersweet for Upper Hutt widow Joyce Sheppard, who has made an annual pilgrimage on the ferry since she scattered her late husband John's ashes in Cook Strait at his request 16 years ago.
"It's a sentimental journey for me, and it's sad to see her go, but we've all got to move on," Sheppard said.
Arahura's finest hour was when itresponded to a mayday call from Russian cruise liner Mikhail Lermontov, which had hit rocks off the top of the Marlborough Sounds on Februray 16, 1986.
"Arahura under the command of Captain Brew arrived at the scene at about 9.30pm," Interislander general manager Mark Thompson said on Wednesday. "Her crew helped many of the 743 people onboard by transferring them via liferafts and boats to the ferry.
"It was a dark and raining heavily, but nevertheless Arahura's crew, with the help of some passengers, worked through the night to get people safely on board."
Arahura is the only ship in the Interislander fleet specifically designed for the often treacherous Cook Strait, and has clocked up almost 13 million kilometres.
It was the first ship in Australasia to feature a modern bridge with a cutting-edge cockpit-style design. Its capacity to handle even the roughest weather made it a vital part of the fleet.
Arahura will be farewelled on Friday night with a Wellington Harbour cruise carrying early crew, first passengers and some VIPs.
A fireworks display from its top deck is planned, and people were welcome to go down to the waterfront "to see her last hoorah", Thompson said.
Arahura's replacement Kaiarahi, formerly known as the Stena Alegra, is in Singapore undergoing sea trials after an extensive refit and will join Kaitaki and Aratere in the Interislander fleet in September.
After its final last sailings Arahura will be listed for sale with marine brokers.