Interislander - Cook Strait Ferries


Aramoana was the first 'Interislander' operated by New Zealand Railways.

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The history of Aramoana

Before the Aramoana, ships crossing Cook Strait had to loaded and unloaded with cranes meaning double handling and delays. When the Aramoana sailed from Wellington to Picton on 13 August 1962, it become the extension of State Highway 1 and the Main Trunk Railway Line. For the first time cars and railway wagons were loaded onto the ship. 

In its first year of operation Aramoana carried 207,000, 46,000 motor vehicles and 181,000 tonnes of freight. This was more than double targetted - the service was a success and significant changed with increased volumes of goods and tourism to the South Island.

Aramoana's introduction wasn't all smooth sailing. New berths had to be built in Wellington and Picton.

"While going stern first into the berth at Picton, strong winds caught the vessel, setting her towards the wharf," said Victor Young in Ships of Wellington. "Attempts to correct the situation were frustrated by further gust. A small spectator boat moving between the ferry and the wharf left the ship no room to manoeuvre and the Aramoana hit the wharf. There was considerable damage to both the ship and wharf."

Repairs were made just in time for the first commercial sailing on 13 August 1962. It began with one return sailing six days a week, increasing to two daily returns due to demand.

Aramoana was withdrawn from service in 1983 with the introduction of the Arahura.

The First Sailing

The Aramoana's first passenger crossing between Wellington to Picton on 13 August 1962

Stories from the Aramoana

"I remember, in 1962, when I was in Standard 4 at Glenholme primary school, Rotorua, our class had a trip to Wellington. A highlight was when we were given a guided tour of the Aramoana. I never got to actually sail across Cook Strait though until 1971 when my girlfriend and I did our first “roadie”. Amazing memories." Barbara Mills.

Stephanie got in touch with us after we mention the first Aramoana sailing in a recent newsletter:

"My Dad was on the first sailing. He was John Le Cren the chief photographer employed by the NZ Railways. He took many photos that day and subsequently. He loved the ferry journeys so much that he asked to have his ashes scatted at the head of the Tory channel. I didn’t get to sail on the Aramoana until 1963 but I am now a Member of the Nautical Miles club and sailed in the ferry with our motor home just last Thursday."

"My first trip was within a month of the service starting up. A group of us from school (under parental supervision) were shouted a ‘Day Excursion’ to Picton, and back.

I recall it being a bit rough, with waves breaking on the windows of the forward observation lounge. Enduring memory was just how smart the Union Steamship Officers looked in their uniforms.

Many may not remember that NZ Railways never actually crewed the vessels in the beginning."  Gavin Sowry  

"One anecdote that comes to mind immediately is an occasion onboard Aramoana early 1980's, a hard case Purser was talking with a group of American tourists on the outside deck who were fascinated with the dolphins swimming with us. The Purser had the American group convinced that they were trained dolphins bringing the late mail bags out from the north island to go south with us. The American crowd actually believed it especially as the Purser called to me as I passed by and told me to go ask the Captain to slow down a bit as the dolphins were struggling with an overlarge mail bag. I walked away in the direction of the bridge trying to keep a straight face." Noel T Nielsen

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Aramoana specifications

Meaning of the name: Pathway over the Sea

Built: William Denny & Brothers Ltd, Dumbarton, Scotland

Specs: 3,968 gross tonnes, 112.2 metres long

Carrying capacity: 788 Passengers /70 cars / 30 rail wagons

Crew: 90

Tell us your Interislander story

Most Kiwis have a memory of a trip on the Interislander or maybe you or your whanau 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 greatfully received as well.

You can email us your story at