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Interislander celebrates 50 years

Media release – EMBARGOED until Monday 13 August
13 August 2012

Interislander celebrates 50 years

Interislander is celebrating half a century of moving freight and passengers across the Cook Strait, 50 years to the day since the Aramoana made her first sailing from Wellington to Picton and after considerable scepticism that Cook Strait ferries could operate successfully.

“This is a significant milestone for Interislander, and a great opportunity to recognise the service this iconic business has delivered to New Zealand over the last five decades and the crucial link it provides between the North and South islands,” says Interislander’s General Manager Thomas Davis.

Hugh Jones, the Marine Department’s naval architect given the job of designing Aramoana, Aranui, Arahanga and Aratika, says the introduction of the Aramoana was an interesting and challenging time. “The media said the whole thing was a ‘red herring’. People said it wasn’t going to work. In their view, if the Union Steam Ship Company couldn’t make the service pay, Railways definitely couldn’t.”

But it did work, and since the Aramoana first went into service on 13 August 1962, she and her successors have carried more than 35 million people and covered more than 10 million nautical sea miles.

“These days, Interislander’s three ferries Kaitaki, Aratere and Arahura make around 4,500 sailings a year, carrying some 785,000 passengers, 52,000 rail wagons, 72,000 trucks and 210,000 cars,” Mr Davis says.

“Over the last 50 years, Interislander has become a true Kiwi symbol, and not many New Zealanders can say they have not travelled on the ferry at least once. In fact, the service has become so well known, it featured as the ‘I’ on The ‘A to Z of New Zealand’ stamp series in 2008 along with the Beehive, Edmonds and the Haka.

“The rail ferries were established to provide a national rail network, and as markets have changed, so have we to provide a service for our freight customers and passengers who have been loyal customers over the years, and without whom, there would be no Interislander,” says Mr Davis. “Today, Interislander is celebrating its 50th anniversary with those who have got us to where we are today – our staff, our freight customers and our passengers.”

Monday’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 will join us onboard to recount some memories of our past 50 years. The Minister of Transport, Hon Gerry Brownlee, will assist in farewelling the sailing from Wellington.

Between 7am and 8am on Monday morning, special birthday cupcakes will be handed out to staff and passengers at the Wellington Terminal before the 8:15am Kaitaki sailing. Radio will be broadcasting live from the terminal with competitions and promotional giveaways, and Kaitaki’s onboard ukulele band will be helping to spread the birthday cheer. Additionally, players from some of our sponsored sports groups, including the Wellington Lions have been invited to come to the terminal to help celebrate the milestone.

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

A total of 1,500 50th anniversary cupcakes are expected to be given away to all passengers sailing with Interislander on Monday. Special anniversary cupcakes and copies of an official Interislander 50th magazine will also be delivered to the office of the Transport Minister on Monday morning to distribute to all Cabinet Ministers.


To view an online version of Interislander’s official 50th magazine please visit:

Cook Strait ferry facts

Magnificent twelve

Eight conventional and four fast ferries have sailed on Cook Strait in the colours of New Zealand Railways, SeaRail, Interisland Line and the Interislander.

Last orders

Arahanga was the last passenger ship to be built by the famous Clyde-side shipyard of John Brown and Company, builder of such famous ships as the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.

Air supply

One of the stranger episodes in the history of Cook Strait ferry services was the use of aircraft to move passengers and vehicles when sailings were halted by industrial action. Airforce Hercules and SAFEAIR Bristol Freighters operated between Blenheim and Wellington six times between 1969 and 1983.

Mission unaccomplished

Aramoana went to the aid of the stricken Lyttelton-Wellington ferry Wahine in 1968 but was unable to provide material help because of the strength of the storm and the difficulty of lifting people from the water.

Strait ‘life-boats’

Cook Strait ferries are known as the “life-boats of Cook Strait” because of their role in rescuing people in jeopardy after boating or shipping mishaps.

New Zealanders prefer

The humble New Zealand pie is one of the most popular ferry foods. Passengers eat more than 55,000 pies each year.

First fast

The first fast ferry trip between Wellington and the Marlborough Sounds was made in 1992 by the Patricia Olivia as part of a re-fuelling stop on a journey to South America.

Love affair

The first Director of Maritime New Zealand, Russell Kilvington, came to New Zealand as a Steer Davies Gleave consultant to SeaRail in 1991. He fell in love with the country and decided to stay.

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