Interislander - Cook Strait Ferries


By the early 1970's increasing volumes of freight were being carried across Cook Strait. In response to demand, two freight ships were commissioned - the Arahanga in 1972 and the Aratika two years later.

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Arahanga's hero shot!

The history of Arahanga

Arahanga was known as a workhorse of the then New Zealand Railways/Interislander fleet for 28 years. It carried trucks and rail wagons but did carry some cars when there was space. Initially it could carry 36 passengers which was increased to 100 in a refit in 1984.

Arahanga was slightly larger than its predecessors.

Arahanga is historically interesting as the last passenger ship to be built at the famous Clydebank John Brown Shipyard, builder of such famous ships as the Queen Mary and both Queen Elizabeths.

The Scottish company, went into liquidation during construction of the Arahanga but the dedicated workers decided to finish the contract themselves. The New Zealand government had to guarentee that suppliers would be paid. The workers delayed construction for as long as they could to hang onto their jobs meaning that Arahanga arrived 10 months later than schedule. At one stage during construction there was a fire on the ship - possibly another attempt by the workers to slow the build?

Another Arahanga "claim to fame" was that it was the first crewed by New Zealand Railways staff. The Aramoana and the Aranui were provided under a contract with the Union Steam Ship Company.

Arahanga remained in service and when the ship’s service was withdrawn the commercial vehicle cargo role was filled for almost three years by the chartered vessel Purbeck with help on passenger and commercial vehicle services from the fast ferry the Lynx.

The Arahanga was retired on the 27 March 2001 after making almost 32,700 crossings of Cook Strait.

The Launch

In February 1974 when the Arahanga was scheduled to be launched, blizzard conditions prevailed. Lady Blundell, the wife of the New Zealand High Commissioner in London Sir Denis Blundell neatly and successfully broke a bottle of champagne across the ship’s bow and named the ship Arahanga.

Off to a great start was soon dashed by a blizzard which prevented the ship moving and it sat on the stocks for another two days until the weather cleared. Only then the Railways representative could press the button and send the ship down the slipway and into the Clyde.



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The crew who travelled to Scotland to collect Arahanga in 1972. 

Glen Wyllie was one of the crew who went to Scotland to collect the Arahanga in 1972 for its long journey to New Zealand. He sent us this fabulous photo of the crew clipped from the newspaper. Glen is on the bottom right.

Arahanga Specifications

Meaning of name: Bridge or ladder

Construction: The last ship built in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders' yard in Glasgow, Scotland

Weight: 3,914 gross tonnes

Length: 127.5 metres

Capacity: 36 passengers and 50 rail wagons

Tell us your Interislander story

Most Kiwis have a memory of a trip on the Interislander or maybe you or your whānau worked on the ferries. We are keen to hear your stories. We will add each to the ship pages so they reflect the connections people have to each of the ferries. Photos are gratefully received as well.

You can email us your story at