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Cook Strait Rail Ferries on nzhistory.net.nz

"A pretty rough stretch of water" – Cook Strait Rail Ferries on nzhistory.net.nz

Passengers returning from summer holidays have been enjoying the best of inter-island crossings this year – a calm cruise through Wellington Harbour, Cook Strait and the Marlborough Sounds.

But a new feature on the NZHistory.net.nz website highlights the strait's reputation as a rough stretch of water that has earned the ferries some less-than-salubrious nicknames since the Picton-Wellington road/rail service began in 1962.

Much of that is due to the Roaring Forties ripping through the huge wind tunnel created by New Zealand’s mountainous landscape. There's also a "… patch of unnatural water called the Karori Rip, where the wind and seas meet the tide head-on."

Names from a long line of ferries – Aramoana, Aranui, Arahanga, Arahura, Aratere – conjure up as many yarns as an old battle or fishing trip. Yarns, facts and figures are on the website and some of the myths are dispelled.

"Those ferries have become something of a national institution," says Senior Historian Gavin McLean, a marine history specialist who researched and wrote the feature. "There would be few New Zealanders who haven't been on an inter-island crossing – and don’t have a story to tell."

Dodgy food, wildcat strikes, breakdowns and speedy 'vomit comets' are part of the Cook Strait ferry story.

But industrial action caused the cancellation of only 378 out of 21,654 sailings between 1986 and 1991. A larger number of cancellations were due to either bad weather or mechanical failures.

The "snack bar" offering only savoury mince, pies and 'smiling' sandwiches has undergone a dramatic image change though some kiwi traditions endure. Every year about 96,578 pies and 63,210 litres of beer are consumed on board the ferries.

http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/cook-strait-ferries reveals more about 'the floating bridge', its strikes and strandings, travellers' memories, and the rise and demise of the fast ferries.

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